Are petrol stations failing disabled customers?
For me, filling my car up is something I actively tried to avoid, usually taking someone with me if I can. Whilst service stations owners are keen to say that they offer help disabled customers, in reality it’s a different story.
It was near the beginning of May and my car was showing 30 miles of fuel remaining. I’d been trying to find someone to come with me but to no avail. So I decided to bite the bullet and do it myself. Maybe it will be ok I thought. I was wrong.
I pulled into the Tesco Service Station and went to the furthest left pump so as not to be in the way. The filling cap is on the drivers side so I left just enough room for my wheelchair. I started to get my wheelchair out, it’s time consuming as I have to reassemble it as it’s the only way I can get it in the car.
I could see the staff staring at me but I’m used to it by now. No sooner had I gotten it assembled and was about to transfer into it, I saw a staff member emerging and come towards me.
It was then that it started. She began to question what I “thought I was doing.” She told me that I was irresponsible for trying to do it myself. Apparently I would hold up other customers because I’d take so long. I’d note there’s a double lane to enable people to drive around where I was stopped.
I was upset by this time and my anxiety had taken over so I started to get back in my car. I asked what I’m meant to do and all she said was “wait.” I didn’t care about the fuel anymore I just wanted out of there. At no time did she offer help just stood watching me. I dismantled my wheelchair dragged it into the car and got out of there as quickly as possible.
What the law says
Equality law applies to every business that provides goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public. It states that businesses must make reasonable adjustments to prevent disabled customers and/or staff from being discriminated against.
It covers them if they sell something alongside another service, for example; a garage that sells cars as well as servicing cars for customers.
It doesn’t matter whether the service is free, for example, a stall handing out free newspapers, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission even has an example for petrol station owners;
At a petrol station, the manager decides that an assistant will help disabled people use the petrol pumps on request. It places a prominent notice at the pumps advertising this and a bell to ring.
All new staff are told what they have to do if the bell rings: go out to the pump to serve the customer, and deal with payment. A further step could be to offer to fetch any other goods that the customer wants from the shop. In this situation, staff training and attitudes are just as important as providing the bell.
The reasonable adjustment will not have been properly put in place if the assistant fails to respond to the bell, delays for a long time, or is rude to the customer in carrying out the transaction because they resent the extra effort.
Help is out there but it’s patchy
Whilst all the main players such as; Shell, Esso, BP and the major supermarkets,say that assistance is always available and it’s no hassle at all, coverage and staff awareness is patchy.
For example the FuelService App used by 1000s, enables you to notify a nearby petrol station that you’re coming. I live in the Highlands and when I use the app, my nearest station that uses the service is 78 miles away.
The closest one is a Shell Garage. What’s odd is there are five Shell Stations within 15 miles of me and not one use the service.
I contacted Shell and they confirmed that these stations currently are not signed up but, they are now actively working to try and change that. They apologized for this and are making contact with the relevant stations but more importantly, they’re going to “look at their entire network to improve disability access and services.”
Tesco also made contact and are currently investigating the incident. They too said they will look at what can be done to improve disability services for their petrol station users. A system such as Asda’s call button would be the most sensible option in my opinion.
My main issue with Asda is that the button is so far away that I’d have to get out anyway. Add to that the fact it’s pay at pump only and my Visa Electron card isn’t accepted it is not an option for me currently.
BP do have an app but again not all stations are currently using it yet. If they roll-out a service and publicize it, it should at least be across their entire network.
I’ve asked an Esso employee what to do and their answer was; “flash your lights, sound your horn and wave your blue badge and we will come out.”
Many people would be wary of doing this as it’s quite embarrassing. Also they cannot accept anything other than cash, as they have no card reader that can get to the pump and can’t take your card for privacy reasons.
Having been contacted by people from across the UK it appears that staff training and awareness is patchy indeed. Some report that their local service stations are fantastic with other reporting that staff are rude and have no idea what to do.
I will continue to raise this issue and fight for improved services for disabled customers. Should I hear anymore I will keep you updated.
BP, Esso and Morrisons have not replied to my request for comment at the time of writing this article but I will update if they do.
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