A4: Access is too expensive and others might lose out

Claims the cost of adjustment is too expensive

One of the genuine reasons an organisation can refuse an adjustment as “not reasonable” is if it is too expensive. However, “too expensive” is considered in the context of the entire organisation’s resources, not the budget allocated to a single department. Larger service providers are expected to be able to afford more for an adjustment than smaller ones.

Many adjustments cost little or nothing. It is likely for example, that even a small business would be expected to cover the cost of a portable ramp for less than £100. Even if an adjustment is expensive, it might still be reasonable. We once saw a charity with £200 million a year of turnover claim that a £300 adjustment was too expensive.

Other people will lose out

Variants on the “unaffordability” excuse include trying to make you feel guilty about the cost of adjustments and saying or implying that if they make ‘expensive’ adjustments for you, other disabled people will lose out, or the service will be withdrawn entirely for everyone.

Tells you to pay for the access

It is unlawful for an organisation to ask a disabled person to cover the cost of their reasonable adjustments. Sometimes organisations try and tell the disabled person they have to pay extra or pay for their own support, which is not legal. If this happens, tell the organisation to read Section 20(7) of the Equality Act.

Genuine affordability issues

There may be occasions where making an adjustment is genuinely too expensive, usually for a smaller organisation or sole traders. In these cases, the service provider still has duties to disabled people to consider alternative ways of providing the service, or to access funding.

How you can check affordability

You can often get access to the accounts of UK based organisations, and get an idea of the kind of money they have.

Company financial information

Companies House has financial information for UK (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) companies. It also has official legal addresses and information about directors. This means you can get an idea of the overall financial status of the business and guess whether your adjustment’s cost is reasonable or not.

Charities – financial information

Charity accounts and trustees information can be found at each of the three regulators below:

Public authorities

If you deal with a single department of a public authority, find out what the parent organisation is. With anything related to a council that would be the “local authority”. For healthcare that might be the NHS Trust. Look at organisations’ websites, often on the ‘about’ pages or the webpage footers as this can contain key information.

Once you have the name of the relevant parent organisation, you can search online for “ORG-NAME + accounts”.

Responding to ‘unaffordable’ or ‘guilt tripping’ claims

Unless the organisation is definitely unlikely to be able to afford your access, we recommend responding to them to ask:

  • What they think the costs of making the adjustment will be.
  • How and why that cost is too expensive for them.
  • What their financial resources are, and for a link to their latest accounts.

We know of a Deaf person who asked for a BSL/English interpreter for an event, and was told “unaffordable” by a charity with a £200 million a year turnover. When this refusal and turnover was pointed out to the charity’s social media team, they backtracked very rapidly and arranged the interpreter.

Unaffordable might still not be a reasonable excuse

Even where an organisation might struggle to afford adjustments, it may be worth responding to ask them:

  • What options for access have been explored?
  • Have access-sharing agreements with similar or larger organisations been considered?
  • Have the organisation considered accessing funding to provide or improve access?

This is because the duty to make reasonable adjustments is continuing, and where one option is not ‘reasonable,’ other options that might reduce the ‘substantial disadvantage’ may still be reasonable. The anticipatory element of this duty means that they should have considered alternatives in advance, for common disadvantages and barriers.

Guilt tripping

Unless the organisation is likely to struggle with affordability, ignore guilt-tripping entirely. You may wish to ask the organisation to provide evidence that giving you access would actually cause problems, as “stating it” is not sufficient in legal terms.

Codes of Practice

The EHRC and ECNI Codes of Practice have some guidance around costs of adjustments.

The Codes of Practice also discuss charging the disabled person for adjustments.

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