Trust forced to produce an equality policy

Photo of NBTA campaigning

December 2016 - By Peter Underwood

After years of ambivalence about it's responsibilities under the Equality Act of 2010 it seems the Canal & River Trust may have finally been forced into adopting proper policies.

The Trust has long been inclined to question just how much it could be held to account under the legislation and, back in March 2014 it was saying: “Whilst the Trust is not a ‘public authority’ named in Schedule 19 to the Act, for the purposes of the Act and the Specific Duties Regulations which flow from it, the Trust recognises that it does exercise some public functions as a statutory navigation authority including in respect of boating and, when exercising those functions, the Trust is subject to the general Public Sector Equality Duty March 2014.

By April this year The Floater's Allan Richards was using a second Freedom of Information request in an attempt to get them to provide a copy of the policy made by the Canal & River Trust pursuant to the Equality Act 2010.

Its initial response was to refer to a policy document predating the Equality Act. It then failed to answer the Freedom of Information request.
It seems to have taken a referral to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) which began reviewing whether Canal & River Trust (C&RT) is fully meeting its Equality Act obligations to finally get a response and C&RT announced in mid November that it was “updating our published policies to reflect our obligations and current practices under the Equality Act – this will include how we assess and implement reasonable adjustments for disabled people and how we assess impacts and avoid unlawful discrimination against all protected characteristics – including in respect of pregnant boaters.”

It went on to say: “We will be happy to make this document accessible on our website and refer to it in other related documents - so that boaters who are not already aware of our current practices are aware of the updated published policy.”

The Trust said its enforcement officers already received training in equality and will continue to do so and that it would continue to consider equality adjustments where appropriate in line with our obligations under the Equality Act.

It becomes clear further down the statement that the announcement had been triggered by the review by the EHRC which took place after the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) asked the EHRC to intervene in a case where C&RT started enforcement action against a pregnant Bargee Traveller, in violation of her Equality Act rights.

In addition, the EHRC raised the issue that C&RT's enforcement policy is making it increasingly difficult for the children of boater families to attend school. The EHRC was also concerned that 'reasonable adjustments' should be made for an indefinite period if the protected characteristic requires this.

The Trust's response is: “We are currently seeking to assist boaters with school aged children establish compliant patterns of movement – any request to relax our requirements for this group we will balanced against a number of other legitimate aims, including our duties to manage the waterways, the need to mitigate congestion around certain parts of the network and fairness to other boaters.”

Like others, the NBTA has been campaigning since January 2014 for CRT to meet its Equality Act obligations not to discriminate against people on the grounds of disability, age, pregnancy and other protected characteristics.

The organisation says the campaign was triggered because it was getting an increasing number of reports of disabled, elderly and ill Bargee Travellers being evicted or threatened with eviction because their age or disability meant that they could not comply with the movement requirements claimed by C&RT to be necessary.

Thde NBTA says its campaign led to CRT accepting that it had a duty to provide 'reasonable adjustments' to its enforcement procedure for disabled boaters but the Trust did not publicise this widely.

The NBTA claims it found that many boaters who were in enforcement were entitled to such 'reasonable adjustments' but were not aware of their rights.

The NBTA says: “In March 2016 the NBTA held a meeting with C&RT in which C&RT agreed to include information about Equality Act rights in enforcement letters and to do so within one month, but C&RT has reneged on this undertaking.

Pressure has also come as a result of a meeting earlier this year, betweenMichelle Donelan MP and C&RT after a number of liveaboard boater families on the Kennet and Avon Canal contacted her for help because C&RT's current enforcement policy against them has made it increasingly difficult for their children to attend school.

Ms Donelan met with C&RT Chief Executive Richard Parry in June 2016 and sent a proposal to him for reduced movement in term time balanced by greater movement in school holidays.

He has not yet responded to this proposal.

At the same time another NBTA member with school age children has had one-to-one discussions with C&RT about this matter but she has reported that the response from CRT has not been encouraging.

The EHRC met with CRT on 4th October 2016 and will continue to review CRT's progress regarding compliance with the Equality Act.

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