Equality of toilet provision – The Equality Act 2010

Whilst not a legal guide, information is provided here, and in our Access guides, to help you assess if your toilet provision is meeting the required standards and your Equality Act duties. Only a court can decide if you have failed to prevent or caused disability discrimination.  Similarly, toilets which do not comply with health and safety will be subject to further actions and investigation from relevant safety bodies.

The Equality Act 2010

Two people with one hand in the air with closed fist. Behind is a sign saying rights.

In the UK, the Equality Act protects the rights of all disabled people, as individuals – which includes sanitary facilities that are provided.

Facilities being offered must provide equal access to toilets for disabled customers / visitors and employees, to the same standard as non-disabled people.  This means meeting their Equality Act 2010 obligations. Public bodies such as councils, schools and hospitals have additional duties under human rights law and the Equality Act.

The Equality Act does not recognise ‘minimum standards’. An individual disabled person or carer could argue that there has been no ‘reasonable adjustments’, as required by law, as it relates to them.  Also, what is ‘reasonable’ changes over time and adjustment is an ongoing obligation.

Approved Document M

Being Reasonable

A business should pay close attention to how ‘reasonable’ is judged in courts and described in the Equality Act.

Many businesses underestimate the extent of their duty to make adjustments and do what is reasonable in all of the circumstances.  Citing ‘too expensive’ or ‘disruptive’ without evidence of a thorough assessment and providing strong reasoning would be unwise.

Making adjustments

Businesses must take positive steps to remove barriers to disabled people and make reasonable adjustments. They must think ahead and plan to remove barriers – not wait until a person has had difficulties or feels they have been discriminated against.

Listen to the experiences of disabled people and if a problem has occurred take reasonable action to prevent discrimination from re-occurring in a timely manner – the ongoing obligations of the Act.

If someone doesn’t cooperate with their duty to make adjustments, the Equality Act says it’s unlawful discrimination.

The duty to make reasonable adjustment, imposed by the Equality Act 2010, means that provisions beyond that in Approved Document M [AD M] of the building regulations are likely to be required to anticipate the needs of a range of disabled people so they have equal toilet access.

You may have to upgrade your toilets now rather then wait for a ‘refit’ or new toilet block to be built.

Reasonable adjustments may include:

  1. Gaining a thorough understanding of the needs of a range of different people and understanding particular needs e.g. asking “what do we need to do specifically for people with profound and multiple learning difficulties” as opposed to ‘what facilities do disabled people need’ or ‘what is the minimum standard we have to meet’.
  2. Auditing toilet facilities thoroughly – not just against minimum standards.
  3. Consulting with disabled staff, customers or other organisations to ensure facilities meet a wide range of people with different hygiene needs.
  4. Making physical adjustments / building new toilets.
  5. Providing Changing Places toilets or hiring a mobile unit
  6. Publishing access statements about toilet facilities.
  7. Making people aware of the type of facilities you have (e.g. widths of doors, heights of toilets, layout of grab rails, type of lighting etc).

What do the building regulations say?

Although the guidance in this Approved Document, if followed, tends to demonstrate compliance with Part M of the Building Regulations, this does not necessarily equate to compliance with the obligations and duties set out in the EA [Equality Act].

This is because service providers and employers are required by the EA to make reasonable adjustment to any physical feature which might put a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person.

In some instances this will include designing features or making reasonable adjustments to features which are outside the scope of Approved Document M. It remains for the persons undertaking building works to consider if further provision, beyond that described in Approved Document M, is appropriate.

Approved Document M, 2013

How do I upgrade my existing toilets?

To provide good facilities the following types of venues (but not inclusively) should be looking at 1 or more Changing Place toilets alongside provision of toilets that meet the latest building regulations (October 2015) – these have diagrams of exactly how to fit out a toilet, what size it should be etc for maximum accessibility.

If toilet facilities are not meeting the needs of individual disabled people, organisations must change things to make sure there is suitable toilet provision. Not having useable toilet facilities would be a major barrier to using / visiting , or working for an organisation.

Having no usable toilet facilities is also highly likely to prevent substantial income generation from disabled people and their families because they would be unable to visit, or visit for the same length of time as non-disabled people might.

27 Comments

  1. Kerr Overton says:

    If a Pub states they have ‘disabled access’ on its website, does that mean by law it has to have a toilet fit for people with disabilities?

    1. L Watch says:

      Hello, any business can say it has ‘disabled access’ but it has no meaning or legal status. The business would be wise to provide what it can and can’t offer disabled customers. A business (if providing public toilets) only has to provide a toilet according to legislation for building regulations when it was built. There is a duty to make reasonable adjustments etc under equality law where the business must assess what they can and can’t provide. If a person then wishes to make a complaint or take legal action, the business will have to prove they did everything they could and it wasn’t reasonable to meet that individual’s needs (or that of their assistants/ carers etc). Staff who require accessible toilets are subject to additional work place laws. For more information and how to meet requirements please see our guides and booklets.

  2. Andrew says:

    How many disabled toilets should a venue have with 2000 people

    1. L Watch says:

      This depends on the type of building, how big it is, how many men and women – whether it is for public or staff. The building regulations have a specific distance eg a toilet should be no further than ‘x’ distance from a toilet or entrance etc

      https://www.conceptcubiclesystems.co.uk/resources/how-many-toilets-per-person-do-you-need.html provides a general idea and ideally you want at least the public quote or more (disabled people can be in a toilet space up to 8 x the time that other people might be I there – so arguably 8x that number would be ideal but usually not practical at all and not legally required.).

  3. Des says:

    Is it the Councils responsibility to ensure that there is a disabled toilet in a Community Centre that is used by vulnerable and elderly people, some of whom are disabled.

    1. L Watch says:

      Whichever business runs /owns the building is responsible for ensuring equal toilet access for those who use it. If it is an old building then access rules that applied at the time it was built apply- which is why some buildings don’t have accessible toilets. If this is the case an access and equality assessment should be done to meet current equality legislation and ensure disabled users don’t experience a worse service (which they would if there were no toilets!).

  4. S duffield says:

    As a disabled person I needed to use the disabled toilets at a branch of mc donald.The two able bodied restrooms were unlock yet I had to ask for a key to use the disabled wc…The manager said it was their policy… citing kids could vandalise them, to which I said kid could just as east do them same to the unlock toilet your thoughts please

    1. L Watch says:

      Because accessible toilets are often a unisex single room, they are at higher risk of vandalism, drug taking and many activities in related to using the toilet. It is legal to ask that people request a key but this should be clearly sign posted, discrete eg not at the food ordering and without asking for proof/details and without delay.

  5. Wanda Zablocki says:

    I work on a public access site that also has a cafe with public toilets. We also run school visits. These toilets are shared by the schools and the general public. Due to safeguarding concerns, we prewarn the general public when there is a school visit and let them know that the toilets will be closed for short periods when the schools need to use the facilities. We put a barrier at the opening of the toilet corridor saying that it is closed for school use now and will reopen in a few minutes. All toilets are therefore closed to the public for this period including the disabled/accessible toilet. Are we within our rights to do this? Or is there another option open to us?

    1. L Watch says:

      Hello, essentially what you do for all public toilets you can also do for accessible ones -, you could look at whether a sign on the accessible toilet would work to say that in an emergency it could be opened (people who get little warning that they need to quickly use the loo would appreciate that perhaps).

      Hope this helps.

      Louise

  6. Suzanne Benjamin says:

    The public toilets in our local park are locked for the majority of the time. This is a barrier to the enjoyment of my disabled friends, some of who have catheters that need emptying. One, in particular, needs to stay hydrated, but because there is no access to the toilet, refuses to take a drink on her daily walk with her dog. Surely radar locks should be on all toilets in parks to allow access at all times. How do I go about persuading my council this is a human rights issue that they need to address?

    1. L Watch says:

      Unfortunately their is no requirement for public toilets in parks. However, if they are provided then an accessible toilet must also be provided (and be as open as the others). Sadly more parks are closing toilets than opening them due to vandalism, cleaning costs etc. If all toilets are closed then they can close/lock accessible ones. You can contact the park managers and get clarification on toilet provision and why they are not provided or kept shut , and take it from there. Council owned property should look at access and inclusion and show how they are meeting the needs of visitors who need them to be available.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I,m a postman who frequently needs to use a toilet. Is that covered by the Equality Act 2010

    1. L Watch says:

      The Act covers people with protected characteristics but not specific jobs. If you need the toilet more than usual because you meet the Acts criteria for a disabled person then your employer would need to make adjustments- however, with mobile occupations then their are limited options. If you meet the Act’s definition (age, disability etc) and experience discrimination then your employer needs to assess if they can make adjustments or write up why they can’t. If access to the toilet is not provided by the business for any staff then it’s unlikely to fall within discrimination/equality. Sadly there is no specific right for workers to access a toilet but an employer does have to ensure health and safety at work so that might be a better approach.

  8. Molly Hanson-Steel says:

    We are trying to open a tiny tea room. It an historic building and the toilet is down a narrow corridor and sadly would be impossible to adapt for disabled access. We have a disabled public toilet and showers (male and female) at the back of the property approx 30 mtrs away. Would this suffice? We would have to close the toilet facilities and all use the public loos?

    1. L Watch says:

      Hello, thank you for getting in touch.

      This project is funded entirely by donations and membership to provide full and up to date information about providing/designing, using and finding accessible toilets in the UK.

      To keep our information services free to disabled people, businesses will need to become members to access our information and advice services.

      Members benefit from 1:1 consultancy and up to 40% of our publications.

      To join please visit:

      https://www.buymeacoffee.com/ToiletAccess

  9. Graham says:

    Is it legal to lock a disabled toilet that is for public use

    1. Yes if the toilets at the same location for none disabled people are also locked.

  10. Chris says:

    Does a school (with 1000 pupils and 120 staff@) have to have an accessible toilet for staff in a wheelchair ?

    1. Under Public Sector Duties within the Equality Act, any school (regardless of capacity) has to assess and preempt the needs of disabled staff, children, parents, volunteers etc. Any of these may require access to a toilet and this should be considered. Ie you would have to have a strong case as to why the courts would deem it reasonable not to. For staff they also have a right to an accessible toilet under the Act and also your responsibility to ensure their health needs. Their workers rights also cover equal access to advertising vacancies, interviews and all other aspects ( across all types of impairments and before the potential discrimination is experienced). Private schools are also covered in the same way as a private business under the Act.

      I hope this helps. Regards Louise

      :- Our project is only funded by donations – you can support this information service and find out about membership benefits from https://www.buymeacoffee.com/ohhowlovely

  11. Andrew Broadhurst says:

    How some pubs dont have a disability toilet and a step free doorway

  12. Peter Saunders says:

    My Private Members Club has just spent £65,000 re-furbishing the toilets but have not installed disabled facilities. Should it?

    1. Hi, private clubs have to ensure compliance with the Equality Act. They also have to comply with building regulations which have a formula for helping businesses know how to plan for access. In a nutshell, if you provide toilets for your members of staff then you have to provide toilets for disabled members (present and future as the requirement is anticipatory). If you have built new toilets then there must be a minimum of a unisex wheelchair accessible space (and ideally to meet future legislation hopefully coming in in England this year and already in Scotland) a Changing Places toilet for buildings of certain types and size). If you haven’t got these facilities then a member could approach the court with a case of discrimination. A refurbishment may not come under building regs if nothing is being ‘built’ as such but the Equality Act still applies – so since at least since 2010 they should have had an accessible toilet and to not then included one in a refurb or extension wouldn’t go down so well in favour of the business if they had to explain why not in court. Only a court can decided ultimately if the business had a good reason not to meet the Act.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Were do you buy a new lock for a disabled toilet following the guidelines

  14. Stephen Cox says:

    I have been asking for a disabled toilet for 15years, and finally I have got one

  15. Michael John Waterworth says:

    No disabled toilet facilities in most of the Job centre plus Centres especially Kings Heath Birmingham.
    I found it very surprising when this agency is dealing with large volumes of disabled people

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