First Group Plc v Paulley was an appeal which arose from a claim by Mr Paulley, a wheelchair user, after he was unable to board a bus because the "wheelchair space" had a pushchair in it, and the traveler with the pushchair refused to move. He had to wait for the next bus, causing him to miss his connecting train to take him to meet his parents for lunch. Mr Paulley raised an action initially at the County Court claiming First Group had breached the Equality Act 2010 by failing to make reasonable adjustments.
At the time of the incident the policy of First Group was to have a dedicated space for wheelchair users, and other passengers were asked to move. The buses had notices beside the wheelchair space that said "Please give up this space for a wheel chair user". However, wheelchairs did not have priority over pushchairs and if passengers refused to move the wheelchair user had to wait for the next bus. The bus driver involved had followed policy by asking the passenger with the pushchair to move, but, when she refused to do so, Mr Paulley was told he could not get on.
The Judge in the County Court found that First Group's policy was a provision, criterion or practice which put disabled passengers at a disadvantage. That meant that the duty to make reasonable adjustments arose. The Judge found (accepting Mr Paulley's primary contention) that First Group could have made two reasonable adjustments - firstly, changing the notice so it required passengers to vacate the wheelchair space if a wheelchair user boarded the bus; and secondly, to have an enforcement policy regarding it. Mr Paulley was awarded £5,500 in compensation.
When First Group appealed the Court of Appeal overturned the decision of the County Court, finding that the adjustments set out by the Judge at first instance were not reasonable. Mr Paulley appealed.
The Supreme Court Judges disagreed with the Judge at the County Court to the extent that they did not accept that drivers should insist on the wheelchair space being given up by a non-disabled passenger, and enforced if necessary. However, they did accept that the drivers should do more than simply request that passengers free up the wheelchair space. They were of the view that the duty to make reasonable adjustments required a policy of "require and pressurise". This would mean drivers had to go as far as they felt necessary in the circumstances to insist that the space is vacated. Unfortunately for Mr Paulley, the majority of the Court felt that as they had disagreed with the County Court Judge's finding it was not appropriate to restore the award of damages.
It is worth noting that a service provider has no real means of compelling a member of the public to do any particular act - in this case vacate the wheelchair space. In an employment scenario, an employer would have the threat of disciplinary action as a possible outcome if an employee failed to follow a reasonable instruction. As such, it is likely that a Court would expect more from an employer when making reasonable adjustments than they would a public service provider.