The Disability Rights Commission’s plans to scrap its
casework department could make it more difficult for disabled
people to take discrimination cases to court, campaigners warned
this week, writes Amy Taylor.
The DRC is closing down the department, which provides legal
advice on discrimination, and says that it will put more resources
into local agencies to enable them to take up the work.
A DRC spokesperson said that local agencies, such as law
centres, were the first place many disabled people turned to for
legal advice, and that the move aimed to try to support this and
would enable the DRC to reach out to more people.
But John Knight, head of policy at disability charity Leonard
Cheshire, said many disabled people would not be aware of local
agencies’ existence and that the move would add another layer
of bureaucracy to the system.
“I don’t know where my local law centre is,”
he said. “If they [the DRC] are going to still pay for it
[legal advice], why not keep it in-house? This is a more
complicated and less effective way of delivering a
Simone Aspis, a development officer at umbrella organisation The
British Council of Disabled People, said the DRC had years of
experience in providing advice on discrimination and questioned how
long funding to local agencies would last.
She raised concerns over whether the reduction in DRC services
was part of a trend and was worried that the forthcoming single
equality body, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, would
take on fewer cases from disabled people.
Around 1,500 inquiries a year are passed to the casework
department by the DRC’s helpline team.
The DRC spokesperson said the commission, through its legal
department, would still take on discrimination cases that tested
the law, and that these were the only cases it currently funded in
the courts. She admitted that no disabled people were directly
consulted about the changes.