Seeing Dogs’ Trustee, Stephen Anderson, and Seeing Dog, Barney, and their quest to end discrimination against them
Seeing Dogs matched me with Barney in 2016. I will be forever grateful to all those who have been involved in his training, particularly John. Barney has given me a new lease of life, as well as giving me my best friend.
When I was matched with Barney, I started going out quite a lot more. Naturally, this involves getting a lift to certain destinations. The overwhelming majority of drivers are professional, friendly, welcoming and seek to earn a fair day’s living for a fair day’s work. However, there is a significant minority who think that they do not have to take us. This is for a number of reasons:
- They claim that they are scared.
- They claim it goes against their religious beliefs.
- They claim that they are not legally required to do so.
- They claim that the dog is dirty and will get hair everywhere.
- They claim that they have an allergy.
All but the last one are not acceptable reasons to refuse access. In the case of the latter, the driver must immediately demonstrate that they have a medical exemption by presenting an exemption certificate. Of all the drivers who have refused, or attempted to refuse to take us, none of them actually possessed such a certificate. To date, 18 drivers have refused to take us, that’s about 1 in 20 times I go out and get a cab.
The law is extremely clear. Sections 169 and 170 of the Equality Act make it an offence by, and I quote, ‘failing or refusing to accept a booking for the vehicle:-
if the booking is requested by or on behalf of a disabled person or a person who wishes to be accompanied by a disabled person, and
the reason for the failure or refusal is that the disabled person will be accompanied by an assistance dog’.
Section 169 is for taxis, Section 170 is for Private Hire.
When these incidents started happening, I decided to do something about it and implemented a zero-tolerance policy. In each case, the complaint is dealt with by the local licensing authority, which in my case is Transport for London (usually it is your local authority/council). After completing a statement, supplying my evidence and waiting a few months, these cases then go to court. Due to Covid, some cases have been left outstanding for more than two years, but as I write this I have successfully prosecuted six drivers and been awarded a total of £600 in compensation. In total, drivers have had to pay fines in excess of £4,000.
The complaint takes 4 key stages:
- Initial complaint. Contact your local licensing authority who will advise on next steps.
- Taking of a statement. An investigator will make an appointment to get a formal written account of what happened. The driver will then be interviewed under caution, meaning that anything they say may be used against them (saying nothing may also be used against them).
- Revocation of their license or prosecution. Normally authorities do one or the other. If it’s the latter, the court will set a plea hearing. If the driver pleads guilty, the matter is dealt with then. If not guilty, it goes to trial.
- Trial. This is where the witness/witnesses go to court and both they and the driver are questioned. The magistrates (of which there are 3) then decide if the driver is guilty or not. It may be a distract judge instead, however this is rare.
To refuse access is a level 3 fine, meaning up to £1,000. In practice, they normally pay about £600-£700 and compensation of £100 can be given to the victim.
As you can see, there is no doubt that these refusals place a significant burden on the owner to prove guilt. They also take up a significant amount of time and you don’t see any benefit for prolonged periods. However, I think it is vital that I stand up to these people and say that I am worthy of being treated the same as everybody else. After all, the law is written in the way that it is for a reason. The view from the summit is worth it.
I would like to place on record my sincere thanks for all the support that the team at Seeing Dogs have given me as I take these drivers on. Sometimes just knowing that the whole team have my back is a huge comfort. I also applaud everyone at TfL for their hard work as well as Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service for serving me so well.
If you are an assistance dog owner, take screenshots of everything. If something feels wrong, film it. The rest will sort itself out. Ask for proof if they claim to have an allergy and persist until they either show it or tell the truth. If a refusal is occurring, ask them directly ‘are you refusing to take me?’ If they say ‘yes’ (and they do 90% of the time), they’re toast. Questions in court are easy. Answer honestly with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ unless the question requires elaboration. It’s surprisingly easy once you get going and you don’t pay anything.
As I say in all my statements, Barney has changed my life. Although these incidents leave me quite sad, I wouldn’t change him for the world. Could you help to change another life like mine? Please consider donating to Seeing Dogs today!
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