Regulator highlights discrimination against people with ‘hidden disabilities’

A regulator has called on local councils to check that they are not discriminating against people with ‘hidden disabilities’.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has published the new guidance after three London boroughs failed to make reasonable adjustments to their services to assist people with disabilities.

‘Hidden disabilities’ are physical or mental disabilities that are not immediately apparent. For example, someone with an acquired brain injury may not have the same capability to read or write, but may appear fully functional to the eye.

The Ombudsman has highlighted three individual cases where local authorities did not do enough to assist someone with a hidden disability.

In the first example, the London Borough of Hillingdon did not suspend housing benefits payments despite an autistic resident having told them that she had returned to work. This meant that she had accrued an overpayment of around £1,000.

When asked to repay the money owed, the autistic resident was not assisted in navigating the system and was told that she must use the telephone, despite finding it difficult because of her condition.

Two other councils, the London Boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth, also failed to make reasonable adjustments for two men with severe dyslexia. According to the report, the councils insisted that the men fill out written forms rather than use the telephone.

Commenting on the new guidance, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said: “The Equality Act 2010 requires councils to anticipate the needs of people who may need to access their services. This means when councils are alerted to the fact someone might need to be treated in a different way, they should ask that person what adjustments are needed, and consider whether these are reasonable.

“It can be difficult for people to navigate complex council procedures, yet in all three cases, the councils were made aware that these people needed additional help, but none was given.

“We recognise the significant challenges faced by public service providers in adapting their processes to the needs of people who may require adjustments, particularly where the services have been automated. But this is a duty councils must meet and needs they must anticipate.”

Welcoming the move, brain injury charity Headway said all organisations must ensure that procedures are non-discriminatory.

“These cases are clear examples of organisations having procedures which don’t take hidden disability into account,” said Headway’s Public Affairs Manager, Dr Clare Mills.

“Acquired brain injury can often leave people with lifelong effects which are not visible, but which can make life extremely challenging. Headway backs the Ombudsman’s call to all local authorities to check their procedures.”

The report comes shortly after the Government extended the Blue Badge scheme to people with hidden disabilities. The scheme allows people to park closer to public amenities than other drivers.

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