Paying for an audit to make your pub disability-friendly can be risky. But, as Phil Mellows reports, it need not be.
It's a not a requirement under the law, but before you start rushing into any major alterations it's a good idea to have an audit done to determine the most cost-effective way to make your pub disability-friendly.
Whether you ought to get a professional in or can get away with doing it yourself, though, is still a matter of debate.
There are plenty of firms out there providing disability access audits - but some of them are only out to get you to spend more money than you need to. And if you use an independent auditor you should try to find somebody who has experience of the hospitality industry and is aware of the commercial angle.
James Nicoll is a former pub designer who now audits pubs and restaurants for disability access for a company called Fineapply.
"We act as a filter to the legislation," he said. "We are here to keep people out of court.
"Compare the £350 you may pay for an audit to the thousands it could cost you if you get it wrong. It's worth it for the peace of mind.
"But whatever we do we can't guarantee you will be compliant," he continued. "If anyone comes to you with guarantees, my advice will be not to deal with them as they don't know what they are talking about.
"The trouble is that the law is non-prescriptive, so we can't draw up black-and-white rules. This is a very awkward thing.
"All we can do it point out the risks, then it's up to you."
One danger, James believes, is that licensees panic and get work done without getting expert advice.
"People make an attempt, they put in a ramp. But it might not be the right gradient, the right width - and some disabled people need steps to get in, so you've got to have both anyway."
There are three priorities for publicans - physical access, disabled toilets and staff training. "Then you can look at other things, induction loops, for example, seem to me to be gilding the lily, and Braille menus and lowered bar counters are a rarity. There's a lot in it, and that's why you really need an auditor," James concluded.
Liz McLaughlin, at health and safety consultant Perry Scott Nash, is sceptical, however.
"The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) is causing unnecessary confusion, frustration and expenditure," she said. "Licensees shouldn't feel they have to appoint external 'experts' to audit their pubs and advise them on the 'reasonable adjustments' to be made.
"The licensee is best positioned to audit their own pub - provided they are given the tools to do so competently and confidently."
To that end, Perry Scott Nash has produced a 50-page guide which is aimed at licensed premises and explains the DDA and how it affects pubs.
The guide, which costs £35, also gives advice on how to audit your own pub and provides a template to try to make sure nothing is missed.
There is help on how to make cost-effective improvements and staff training is covered too.
Choosing an auditor
- Don't trust anyone who says they can guarantee compliance
- Check if they insured against court action
- Find out if they have experience in the hospitality industry.
- Configure: 0870 066 1880
- Fineapply: 01869 238070
- Perry Scott Nash: 01438 745771