In November 2018, Terri Balon tried to book a private hire taxi from Preston, but was refused after she told them she was travelling with a guide dog. In their recent decision, Preston Magistrates’ Court decided against the private hire operator, ordering them to pay £1779. This included a fine of £200 and compensation of £1000 – which as far as we’re aware is the highest amount awarded in a taxi refusal case.
Terri, who happens to be RNIB’s Regional Campaigns Officer for the North West of England, had made clear to the private hire company that she should have the same access to taxi services as everyone else. But she was still refused.
Guide dogs are a vital mobility aid for their users, and being turned away can leave people unable to do everyday activities, and undermine their independence.
Under the Equality Act 2010, private hire operators and taxi drivers cannot refuse a booking from a disabled person because they are travelling with an assistance dog, or charge more money for the journey. A driver must have a valid exemption certificate if they are unable to take an assistance dog for medical reasons.
Unfortunately, Terri's experience isn’t uncommon, or restricted to private hire vehicles. New figures show 76 percent of guide dog users have been illegally turned away by businesses and services.
In Terri’s case, she was determined to challenge her refusal, which led to the decision against the private hire company. The company has apologised, and said it has taken steps to prevent this happening again, according to the Lancashire Post.
Irrespective of how confident or resilient you are, the constant risk of being refused because you rely on your guide dog has a corrosive effect on that confidence, and one’s ability to be independent. This happened whilst I was working, and supporting two volunteers who are partially sighted and registered blind. So the refusal also highlights how it can impact our ability to carry out and retain our jobs, in a climate where 1 in 4 people who are blind and partially sighted are not working.
RNIB and Guide Dogs are teaming up in a new fight against guide dog users being illegally turned away from businesses or services, such as taxis, shops and restaurants.
We’ve launched our Equality Act toolkit, for guide dog users across England, Scotland and Wales, and the Disability Discrimination toolkit, for guide dog users in Northern Ireland. These toolkits provide information and advice to help people understand their legal rights and include practical information to challenge access refusals.
For more information, or to receive the toolkit in a different format, you can speak to the RNIB Sight Loss Advice Service by calling 0303 123 9999 from 8am to 8pm weekdays, and 9am to 1pm Saturday.