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Reasonable adjustment policy

28 June 2013

Introduction

The SRA serves and protects a diverse society by regulating and providing guidance to a diverse profession.

We must take reasonable steps in the way that we work with disabled people so they are not disadvantaged in comparison to people who are not disabled. There are also rules for providing reasonable adjustments for our employees which are not covered by this policy.

This policy does not seek to explain how we will approach every situation, it is intended as a general statement of our policy and

  • confirms our commitment to improving accessibility for everybody that we deal with;
  • sets out some of the basic principles of our legal duty to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people; and
  • sets out the factors that we will take into account in dealing with requests for reasonable adjustments.

Many of the arrangements that we offer for disabled people can also be made available for those who don't have disabilities. For example a person may find it easier to read our information leaflets in a larger than usual font.

What is a reasonable adjustment?

A reasonable adjustment involves making a change to the way that we usually do things to ensure that we are fair to disabled people. This may involve:

  • departing from our usual practice in the way we do things, if we find that the current position places disabled people at a substantial disadvantage, for instance by allowing more time than we usually would for someone who has complained about a solicitor to provide information that we need; or
  • providing specialist equipment or additional support, such as a sign language interpreter for a solicitors' workshop event; or
  • making sure our buildings do not present obstacles for disabled people, for instance by providing a lift or ground level meeting rooms.

We will not make assumptions about whether a disabled person requires any adjustments or about what those adjustments should be. We will discuss the requirements with the person concerned and seek to reach agreement on what may be reasonable in the circumstances.

The Equality Act 2010 requires us to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled people, defined by the Act as those who have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on that person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This will, in some circumstances, mean that disabled people receive more favourable treatment than non-disabled people, which is lawful in the context of disability.

Our legal duties can be different depending on the nature of a person's involvement with the SRA. We have set out below the three main reasonable adjustment duties that apply to the SRA.

Duty to make adjustments as a public body

In regulating solicitors and recognised bodies, the SRA is exercising a public function and it has a duty to make reasonable adjustments in that context—this will apply to all our inquiry or investigation work and to any disciplinary or other action that we are taking against solicitors or other regulated individuals.

In the language of the Equality Act, the duty applies if the way that we carry out those functions, any failure to provide an auxiliary aid, or any physical feature (usually of our buildings) puts disabled people at "a substantial disadvantage" compared to someone who is not disabled.

We will use our best efforts to agree in advance with the individual in question the reasonable adjustments that we are able to make and provide reasons when it may not be possible.

Duty to make adjustments as a qualifications body

The SRA also has a duty to make reasonable adjustments as a qualifications body. This will apply, for instance, to our admissions function and to the issuing of practising certificates although it does not apply to the competency standards that the SRA sets—for example we won't be able to adjust the standard for passing the Legal Practice Course (LPC) examinations.

However, the SRA requires LPC providers to make reasonable adjustments to the way the outcomes are assessed to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of a disability. LPC providers should anticipate the types of requests for adjustments that might be made by disabled students and consider in advance how such requests might be dealt with so as to remove any disadvantages from the assessment process.

In the language of the Equality Act, the duty applies if the way that we carry out these functions, the absence of an auxiliary aid, or any physical feature, places the disabled person at a "substantial disadvantage" compared to someone who is not disabled.

The duty requires the SRA to consider what can be done to overcome any such disadvantage, and whether an adjustment can be made which is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case.

Duty to make reasonable adjustments as a service provider

In some circumstances the SRA is a "service provider". For example we provide advice and information via our contact centre.

In the language of the Equality Act, our duty to make adjustments as a service provider applies if the way that we carry out these functions, the absence of an auxiliary aid, or any physical feature places the disabled person at a "substantial disadvantage" compared to someone who is not disabled.

The duty requires the SRA to consider what can be done to overcome any such disadvantage, and whether an adjustment can be made which is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case.

The public sector equality duty

In addition to the duties we owe to individual disabled people, the SRA also has a wider duty to actively promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. Our equality duty also applies to other characteristics protected by the Equality Act.

One of the ways we are working towards meeting our disability equality duty is by reviewing our policies and practices to identify possible barriers for disabled people so that we can minimise those barriers and anticipate the reasonable adjustments that we may need to make. This review process is called equality impact assessment.

An example is the equality impact assessment that we carried out for our complaints procedure: we identified that requiring people to submit their complaint in writing could present a barrier for some disabled people and so we revised the policy to make sure that people could raise their complaint in a variety of ways.

Requesting reasonable adjustments

We will let people know that we can provide reasonable adjustments, for example in the following ways:

  • By including a paragraph in written communications (e.g. acknowledgement letters);
  • By asking whether an adjustment might be required over the telephone;
  • by including a note on our published documents indicating that we can provide the document in an alternative format on request;
  • by publishing this policy on our website; and
  • by working with key representative groups and others to raise awareness of this policy.

Types of reasonable adjustment we can offer

Whilst we will consider each request for reasonable adjustments individually, there are some common adjustments which we will offer as a matter of course and some other adjustments that we can make particular arrangements to provide.

The adjustments will always be agreed with the person concerned to avoid making incorrect assumptions about a person's needs.

Some examples of the the simple reasonable adjustments that staff can make may include:

  • providing documents or correspondence in a larger font size
  • providing documents on coloured paper or with a specific colour contrast which can often help people with conditions such as dyslexia
  • allowing a person who has a learning disability or mental health problems more time than would usually be allowed to provide further information—except where there is a statutory deadline which we have no power to change
  • using email or the telephone in preference to hard copy letters where appropriate, which may assist those with a vision impairment
  • speaking clearly to the people who we deal with and offering additional time to cover the issues they need to discuss—this will help everyone understand our processes and procedures
  • using plain English appropriate to the person we are dealing with and avoiding jargon
  • arranging meetings in rooms which have appropriate facilities.

Some other arrangements that we can provide will include:

  • providing information on audio tape—either informally or through a specialist transcription agency,
  • providing a sign language interpreter, either in person or in DVD format,
  • translating documents or correspondence into Braille,
  • communicating with people through their representative (whether or not this is a legal representative) or advocate, if requested and approved by them,
  • helping someone who has mental health problems to understand and manage the regulatory action we are taking by arranging a single point of contact with the SRA,
  • arranging a face to face meeting to provide more tailored support and assistance. We will not, however, be able to provide any legal advice or represent individuals in any capacity,
  • arranging for a solicitor to attend an adjudication hearing in person rather than providing written comments on the issues,
  • arranging home visits for those who have particular mobility difficulties.

A minority of requests may require more detailed consideration and our approach to these requests is discussed in the section below.

Our response to requests for reasonable adjustment

In the majority of cases we will be able to agree and deliver the required reasonable adjustments with a minimum of delay. In some cases, we may need to consider in more detail how best to overcome the difficulty a disabled person may be experiencing. For example, where the adjustment requested may be difficult to provide or where it may interfere with our regulatory obligations.

How do we decide what is "reasonable"?

The Equality Act does not define what is "reasonable" but guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that the most relevant factors are:

Will the adjustment help in overcoming the difficulty that the disabled person may have? The adjustment should be designed to fully address the disadvantage it is meant to overcome—for example providing a meeting room which is accessible by wheelchair may not properly overcome the barriers faced by the wheelchair user if there are no disabled toilet facilities also available.

How practical is it to provide the adjustment? For example it may not be practical for an SRA caseworker based in the Midlands to visit a disabled person who lives in Cornwall, but we may be able to arrange for an agent to carry out the visit.

What are the resource implications of making the adjustment? It is more likely that an organisation like the SRA will be expected to finance a costly or resource intensive adjustment than a small organisation, but cost will still be a factor to take into account.

Would the adjustment cause disruption to others? For example, it would not usually be reasonable for a caseworker to drop all other cases and devote all their time to one person, as others would inevitably suffer. The amount of extra time provided must therefore be "reasonable" in all the circumstances.

Monitoring

The SRA will record and monitor the reasonable adjustments that have been requested and made. This will allow us to review the services we provide and help us identify whether there are any wider steps that we can take to improve our services.

Dealing with complaints about our service

We are committed to providing a high standard of service, dealing with everyone in a way that is fair, and free from discrimination.

If someone is dissatisfied with the arrangements we have made for providing reasonable adjustments, we will respond in accordance with our complaints handling policy. Further information about our complaints policy is available at www.sra.org.uk/complaints.