Local authorities have teams ready to check dealerships and other businesses warned for two years to conform to the Disability Discrimination Act, which became law on October 1.
Jean-Paul Gaudin, whose Rockingham Northampton company supplies mystery shopping surveys for clients, says: “New-build dealerships are fine, and prestige brands like BMW and Porsche have conformed because of their image and the profits they generate.
“But some dealers selling volume makes say they aren’t making enough money to pay for the changes demanded to enable customers or staff with any disability to have access. Access to some is still abysmal though showrooms usually conform as they are flat."
Gaudin, a wheelchair user since a motorcycle accident, has spent £40,000 ensuring his premises conforms, including £20,000 on a passenger lift. “Dealers will typically spend a great deal more – for some it will be mega money,” he says.
Businesses face initial fines of £2,500 to £10,000. Retailers employing fewer than 15 people are also covered for the first time under tougher laws designed to aid blind and deaf customers and staff.
Gaudin has visited dealerships where access was through workshops with oil on the floor and moving cars. Others had new ramps, but inclines were steeper than required, and he expects the law to be tested to define reasonable access. “Some dealers think the Act only applies if they sell Motability vehicles, but many of those go to people without genuine disabilities,” he says.
Nick Jones, RMI human resources director, points out the rules also apply to staff: “Employers are now expected to remove barriers, both in terms of surroundings and procedures to facilitate a better working environment for disabled staff,” he says. “Dealers may need to change their recruitment, employment and dismissal policies under the Act."