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Accessibility requirements for new buildings in England are set out in the building regulations. They require by law that new buildings make ‘reasonable provisions’ to allow people access and use buildings and their facilities.

Similar requirements for the accessibility of new buildings are set out in building regulations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (PDF).

Existing buildings do not need to be upgraded to comply with current building regulations. However, the Equality Act 2010 requires shops and businesses in England, Wales and Scotland to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.

What are the requirements for new buildings?

Part M of the Building Regulations 2010 requires that new buildings in England must have ‘reasonable provisions’ for people to access and use a building and its facilities. Government guidance (PDF) states that, in practice, this means that all people, regardless of disability and age, should be able to reach a building’s main entrance and access its facilities.

The Building Regulations 2010 do not prescribe how new buildings should be built to ensure access for disabled people. The government provides guidance on how shops and businesses can achieve compliance with Part M (PDF). However, there may be other ways to achieve compliance than following the examples and solutions set out in the guidance.

Guidance on step-free access

Government guidance states that new buildings should have step-free access “as far as possible” (PDF). Where the entrance to a site is on a different level from the boundary or car park, a building should have a sloped or inclined approach or ramp that is “as shallow as possible”.

However, the guidance notes that stepped access may be acceptable in certain circumstances.

Guidance on wheelchair-accessible toilets

Government guidance advises that, “in principle”, where toilets are provided for customers and visitors, they should be accessible to everybody (PDF). This includes wheelchair users.

The guidance states that the best option for new buildings is a self-contained unisex toilet. Where there is space for only one toilet, it should be a wheelchair-accessible unisex toilet. The guidance provides further information on the size and design of wheelchair-accessible toilets.

What are the requirements for existing buildings?

Accessibility requirements set out in Part M of the Building Regulations 2010 only apply at the time when building work takes place. Existing buildings do not have to be retrofitted to comply with current building regulations.

However, if an existing building is converted to a shop, restaurant or pub, access to the building must be upgraded to comply with current building regulations.

Existing buildings in England, Wales and Scotland may need to be upgraded to comply with the Equality Act 2010, which requires shops and businesses, to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people.

This means they should anticipate the needs of disabled people and then take reasonable steps to ensure their needs are met. The goal is that they, so far as is reasonably practicable, “approximate the access enjoyed by disabled people to that enjoyed by the rest of the public” (PDF).

The Equality Act 2010 does not prescribe which specific measures shops or businesses should put in place to ensure access for disabled people (for example, whether they should have wheelchair-accessible toilets).

What reasonable adjustments should shops and businesses make?

The 2010 Act contains a duty for shops and businesses to make reasonable adjustments (that is, “take reasonable steps”) to prevent disabled people from being put at a “substantial disadvantage” compared with non-disabled people.

The three requirements of this duty relate to:

  • The way a service provider does things (referred to as a provision, criterion or practice). For example, a bank might adjust their ‘no dogs’ policy for people who use a guide dog.
  • Physical features. For example, a restaurant might provide step-free access or widen its toilet stalls for people who use a wheelchair.
  • The provision of an auxiliary aid. For example, a business might install an induction loop for people who use a hearing aid.

Who decides whether an adjustment is reasonable?

It is for the court to decide the reasonableness of a particular adjustment.

The Equality Act 2010 does not specify any particular factors that a court should take into account when considering the reasonableness of an adjustment. This will depend on the type of service being offered, the nature of the service provider (its size and resources) and the effect of the disability on the disabled person.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission sets out a non-exhaustive list of which factors a court might consider when deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable (PDF).

However, the Equality Act 2010 states that it will always be reasonable to take steps to ensure that information is provided in an accessible format.  For example, a restaurant could provide a bill in large print, or a bank could offer a contract in easy-read format.

Who should pay for reasonable adjustments?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits shops and businesses from making disabled people pay for the costs of making reasonable adjustments.

How can constituents report concerns?

About the author: Joe Tyler-Todd and Felicia Rankl are researchers in the House of Commons Library, specialising in disability discrimination and building regulations respectively.


The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.

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