Friday, 29 May 2009

Why Businesses Need to Understand the Disability Discrimination Act

One of the main services my company offers is that of “Access Auditing” for all manners of organisations be them small, medium, large or public/private sector and it always amazes me just how little many businesses know about the Disability Discrimination Act and their requirements. It is somewhat worrying that many do not understand that they do have a duty under this Act and that they are often placing themselves in a position where they could face legal action.

So what should all businesses know about the Disability Discrimination Act............

Firstly, all businesses must wake up and realise that they need to know about the Disability Discrimination Act and that ignorance could mean they face a legal action for misconduct in the future.

From the personnel stance, the main thing to consider is that any business with less than 15 employees must not and cannot refuse employment to someone due to disability. It is a requirement that all reasonable adjustments are made to your business premises and business practice to ensure that it is accessible to all.

From the customer stance, making your business accessible can only be good. Recent research by the Equality & Human Rights Commission found that whilst 1 in every 10 businesses would prefer not to alter their premises to make them suitable, 8 in every 10 believed that by doing so they would have a positive impact on their business. Figures also show that the spending power of disabled people is estimated to be around £80 billion per year (Source DWP). Can you, as a business, afford to discriminate against potential customers?

As a business, the best and most effective action to take is to conduct an Access Audit by a qualified Auditor. This will result in a full report that will highlight what barriers exist and what action needs to be taken.

Concerns about adjustments are usually founded on misconceptions – the main one being that implementation of adjustments will cost a lot of money. However, this is rarely the case and simple and effective changes can be made at little or no cost at all. An effective Auditor will take into account your business annual turnover and all recommendations will take into account what will be deemed reasonable for you and your business.

As an idea, adjustments can be made simply by:-

1. Removing barriers i.e. removing an unnecessary step etc

2. Alternatives to existing i.e. adding a ramp, providing clearer signage etc

3. Avoid a potential barrier i.e. a simple change to the internal premises

4. Provision through other means i.e. larger print, web accessibility etc

There are very few exceptions to the Disability Discrimination Act and you are required to make reasonable adjustments even if your business has no disabled employees or customers. Whilst some buildings may have restrictions on alterations i.e. listed buildings, they are not completely exempt and solutions are expected to be found.

Like many, you could choose to ignore the Disability Discrimination Act but the consequences are far reaching as the Act makes it unlawful to treat a disabled person less favourably and DDA claims are on the increase and figures show that last year an average of over £33,000 was awarded (Source: Employment Tribunal Services).

Can your business afford to do nothing?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

And the Winner is......................

Last night’s awards managed to both dazzle and impress me .The size of the event - the d├ęcor, attendees and the presentations – far exceeded my expectations, and really displayed the high calibre of businesses within our area.

One highlight of any black tie event is the dinner. There is almost something deliciously indulgent about sitting down at a table with white tablecloth and gleaming glassware/cutlery. As the servers began to weave their way through the throng of tables, the distinct aroma of each course signalled that moment of unadulterated escape for our taste buds, from the light Pimms dressing on the Poached Scottish Salmon to the Chicken wrapped in Parma Ham and finally the pleasure of the Trio of Cheesecakes (pecan, raspberry, double chocolate). Delicious!

People watchers were in their element. The men in their black-ties all appeared so dignified but there were also one or two that tried to add their own flair of individuality be it with a bright coloured bow-tie or an elaborate cumbabund.

The women were dressed to impress with an equal balance of short cocktail dresses to long gowns. Whilst the majority were black, a glimpse of colour regularly caught your eye to brighten the event.

And so on to the Awards themselves...............

Cheers rang out around the marquee as each category and the relevant short-listed finalists were announced by the Capital Gold DJ, David Jensen. With 12 categories and mine being the eleventh, nerves did begin to settle in but finally the “Entrepreneur of the Year” sponsored by South London Business was being called. All of the short-listed companies:- Alchemy Events, Boogles, DP Consulting (Disability Services) Ltd, Independent MindBodySoul Ltd, JP Creative and Le Cassolet were introduced.

Unfortunately, I did not win but was awarded “Highly Commended”. The winner of the “Entrepreneur of the Year” category was awarded to Independent MindBodySoul Ltd.

Whilst I would have been delighted to win, I am both extremely pleased to have been short-listed and to have been awarded “Highly Commended”. Myself and my team work hard to promote our company ethos of “inclusion for all” and whilst at times it is challenging to make the improvements we envisage, it is most definitely worthwhile and awards such as these reinforces our belief in what we do.

The awards presentation was followed by a prize draw, photographs and strutting our stuff on the dance floor – though not everyone had the natural ability of John Travolta!

May I say congratulations to all those companies throughout the night that were short-listed, awarded Highly Commended and the actual Winners. Well done!

An excellent evening all round.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

South London Business Awards - Tonight!

Tonight is the night for the South London Business Awards Ceremony which is being held at Selhurst Park Stadium and as you all know, I am a finalist. As you can imagine I am both excited and nervous. Excitement about the event as a whole but nervous about the result!

For the gentleman, our black ties are at the ready and a more dapper group of men you will never find and for the ladies, their posh frocks have been chosen and their shoes and handbags co-ordinated.

With our fingers and toes crossed, we all look forward to a splendid evening and I will of course let you all know the result!

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Equality Bill 2009 & the Existence of Inequality

On 27th April this year, the current Government released the Equality Bill 2009 with the intention of simplifying and harmonizing existing legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, the Equality Act 2006 and many other anti-discrimination legislation.

With so much equality legislation in force, it is sad to see that we still have an increase in terms of actual inequality.

Ronald Dworkin, a political theorist, based his theory of equality on the principle that “every person is entitled to equal concern and respect in the design of the structure of society” and “real equality of opportunity can only be measured by its success in creating equality of outcome”.

He further argues that if everyone, regardless of physical and mental ability, are to have genuine equal opportunities, then an equal opportunity must exist for all participants to end the race at the same time whether they need more considered or continued support or not.

The Disability Discrimination Act is currently the only equality legislation that requires anyone to invest financially into real equality of opportunity but this in reality is minimal as the Act states that only “reasonable” changes can be expected at a “proportionate” cost.

For many employers and service providers accessibility is considered low down on their list of priorities and even the simplest of adaptations such as ramps, induction loops etc are rarely considered.

Only time will tell whether the new Equality Bill will make significant changes to providing genuine equality of opportunity to people with disabilities but it is my belief that until fundamental changes are made to people’s perception of disability, we will not see true equality.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Those MPs and Their Expenses Claims

Wow what a week or so it has been for our elected Members of Parliament!

As expressed by many living in the real world, the expenses situation is out of control and needs drastic action to take place immediately.

As the Director of a small business, I cannot see how the present system has been allowed to exist as there are clear and concise rules as to what can be legally claimed in expenses. The system is somewhat complex and dealing with it can take a lot of effort. Myself and all my employees know that no expenses will be paid unless receipts and a full justification is present – I have no choice but to make sure everything is in perfect order as if not, as the Company Director, I could end up in prison for tax fraud.

All our salaries are liable for income tax and the existing rules clearly define that we can only be reimbursed for genuine expenses incurred when carrying out our contracted jobs i.e. travelling expenses, hotel costs when working away from home and so on. These expenses do not have a net income and therefore they cannot be taxed. You cannot claim travel between your home and your regular place of work i.e. your commute and personal vehicle use is regulated and limited to 40 pence per mile and claiming for anything above this is illegal under the tax office rules. Any provision of goods deemed to be beyond what is reasonably needed for your actual work falls into the category of “payment in kind” and therefore becomes taxable. May I suggest that the Inland Revenue make arrangements as quickly as possible to investigate underpayment of tax from those Members of Parliament that have flouted these rules.

Whilst many of the items these MPs have claimed for are verging on the ridiculous, I suspect it is the rules that are at fault and not necessarily all of the claimants. They just took advantage of the situation and therefore their ethical and moral judgements must be questioned.

Unfortunately, it is clear that if the expenses policies had not been created by the MPs themselves, many of them would not be in the chaos that they are now.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Breakfast Speech by Dr Vincent Cable MP

What a week I have had last week! Busy to say the least.

On Monday, I had the pleasure of attending a Business Breakfast Budget Briefing hosted by our local MP, Paul Burstow. Our guest speaker on this occasion was the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor, Dr Vincent Cable MP and I really enjoyed his insight into what this quasi recession mess that we are in means, why we are in it and how we can get out of it.

It was refreshing to hear that Vince truly understands what it is like ‘on the ground‘ and he proposed changes that would make a real difference. Some harsh decisions are necessary and in particular an holistic approach to cutting public spending is required.

A Questions and Answers session took place after his talk and an enthusiastic audience of local business owners posed many fascinating questions for Dr Cable – he dealt with these very effectively and his answers were clear and concise.

Whilst it is clear that some businesses have continued to trade effectively, the vast majority face new struggles on a regular basis ranging from cash flow pressures to retaining/obtaining banking facilities. We are all having to make decisions to ensure the survival of our businesses in these difficult times and with a deluge of information being thrown at us about how long this economic climate will last and how best to survive it, we sometimes struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I cannot provide any pearls of wisdom that will prove enlightening to all, other than to hunker down and just wait out the storm. Plan now for after the upturn so that you are in the perfect position to make strategic growth decisions and re-embrace the marketplace when the “sunnier” days come back.