Legal rights when travelling with a disability
The Equality Act 2010 replaced all previous equality legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA). It protects disabled people in all areas, including transport.
Under the Act, transport providers have the duty to provide an accessible service and make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to offer the same standard of service to disabled people as to non-disabled people.
The Equality Act 2010 regulations mean that transport providers:
- Cannot refuse someone or charge them extra because of their disability.
- Must guarantee to accommodate a disabled traveller if notice is given, and must make every effort to help if no notice is given.
- Must provide help with moving around the station or terminal, getting on and off, and loading and unloading luggage.
- Must provide information in accessible formats.
- Must train their staff in disability awareness and specifics such as handling equipment.
- Must provide adequate compensation for any lost or damaged equipment.
- Must allow registered assistance dogs to travel on buses and coaches.
- May refuse disabled people for valid safety reasons.
There are different rules depending on the type of transport provider.
Travelling by Rail
The assistance offered to people with disabilities by each operator will vary slightly but as a minimum all operators must provide:
- Passenger assistance at all stations during hours when trains are scheduled to serve the station. There is no legal obligation to book assistance in advance. However, booking in advance does enable the station to be better prepared to assist you.
- Alternative accessible transport: if a station is inaccessible, operators must provide, without extra charge, an appropriate alternative service to the next accessible station.
- Turn Up and Go (TUAG): assistance must also be provided when this has not been arranged in advance, depending on conditions at the time of travel as well as staff availability.
- Ramps: operators must provide fit-for-purpose ramps at all stations, when assistance has been booked in advance.
- Tickets and fares: if disabled passengers are unable to book a ticket in advance, they must be able to do so at the station without penalty on the train or at the station.
- Luggage: operators must ensure staff will be available to assist when this assistance has been arranged in advance.
- Scooter carriage: operators must make policy clear in their Disabled People’s Protection Policy, particularly with regard to any policy excluding carriage of scooters.
- Passenger information: operators must provide up-to-date information about accessibility of facilities and services.
- Aural and visual information: commitment to provide, wherever possible, clear and consistent aural and visual information on train departures.
- Rail complaints and enforcement process.
You cannot be asked to pay extra if you cannot buy your ticket before getting on the train due to your disability.
You have a legal right to take your wheelchair on the train. Rail companies have an obligation to ensure that you can get on to and off the train in safety and without unreasonable difficulty and that you can travel in safety and reasonable comfort in your wheelchair. The maximum size of wheelchair permitted is 1200mm long and 700mm wide or less, with a maximum combined weight of wheelchair and passenger of 300kg.
There is no legal right to take your mobility scooter on the train, so there is no guarantee that you can travel with your mobility scooter on a train. It comes down to the individual rail service provider’s discretion. Many providers will allow Class 2 scooters but your scooter generally needs to comply with certain size limits, typically 1200mm long and 700mm wide or less and have a maximum combined weight of wheelchair and passenger of 300kg.
Class 3 scooters are not permitted on any public transport.
To travel with a scooter, you might be required to have a permit supplied by the rail provider. Some may require the scooter to be folded and stored in the luggage bay.
You should check with the train company you are travelling with, regarding their rules of carriage. Note, if you have to make a change of trains during your journey, a different operator may have different regulations.
You only need to contact one train company and they will organise assistance for your whole journey. You can book assistance by phone or online with the company directly or centrally via National Rail.
Telephone: 0800 0223720
Textphone/minicom: 0845 60 50 600
If a disabled passenger is not satisfied with the service provided, they should contact the train operating company that they used. If they are not satisfied with the outcome, depending on where they live, they can contact London Travel Watch: 020 3176 2999 or Transport Focus: 0300 123 2350 for advice.
Each train company has produced a booklet called: “Making Rail Accessible: Helping older and disabled people”. These booklets are available from stations and the websites of individual train companies. They explain the assistance disabled people can expect when travelling by train. For further information, and to book assistance, contact your train operator, or visit the www.disabledpersons-railcard.co.uk.
Travelling by Bus or Coach
The assistance offered by each operator will vary slightly but as a minimum all operators must provide:
Physical accessibility: Buses designed to carry over 22 passengers on local and scheduled routes must comply with the Public Service Vehicles Accessibility Regulations (PSVAR) and coaches must have complied from 1st January 2020.
Buses covered by the law must have:
- space for a standard wheelchair
- a boarding device to enable wheelchair users to get on and off, such as a ramp
- a minimum number of priority seats for disabled passengers
- handrails to assist disabled people
- colour-contrasting handrails and steps to help partially sighted people
- easy to use bell pushes
- equipment to display the route and destination
Driver responsibilities: Under the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990, drivers of public service vehicles must provide disabled passengers with certain types of assistance. For example, they must deploy boarding ramps and lifts when required, provide wheelchair users with assistance to board or alight the vehicle etc.
Bus stations and stops: Local transport authorities (LTAs) are generally responsible for roadside infrastructure supporting bus services, including bus stations stops, and passengers should contact the relevant authority if facilities are insufficiently accessible to meet your needs. In undertaking their activities, LTAs and other public bodies are subject to the Equality Act 2010 Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Wheelchair users can expect a ramp or lift to be provided to enable them to access the vehicle, and for at least one wheelchair space to be present.
You can usually remain seated in your wheelchair for the journey. For safety reasons, most operators request that you should position your chair to face the rear of the bus.
Most bus companies use the measurements of a standard wheelchair as a benchmark for travelling. These are wheelchairs which are 1200mm long, 700mm wide and no more than 1350mm in height from floor level to the top of the head of the person sitting in the wheelchair. If your wheelchair is of non-standard dimensions, it is strongly advised that you contact the bus company to confirm that it is possible for your wheelchair to be carried.
Bus and coach drivers have a legal duty to assist wheelchair users and other disabled passengers if needed, when boarding and alighting buses and coaches, including operating the ramp or lift. If the wheelchair space is already occupied by passengers who can be accommodated elsewhere on the vehicle, drivers should help to make the space available for those who require it. The action that drivers take will depend upon the policy of the company they work for, but the law requires that they do more than just request that passengers move.
If a passenger cannot be accommodated on board because the wheelchair space is already being used by a wheelchair user or another passenger who genuinely needs it, the action the bus driver takes will depend upon the nature of the service and their company policy. If the service is frequent, they may ask the passenger to wait for the next vehicle. In other circumstances, some bus operators may arrange alternative transport to allow the passenger to complete their journey without further delay.
The law does not specifically require bus and coach operators to allow mobility scooters on board their services.
In practice, however, many companies do allow passengers travelling with certain models of Class 2 mobility scooter to use bus services if they carry a permit confirming that they can board and alight the vehicle safely. Often operators will state that a scooter should not exceed a maximum size of 1000mm length x 600mm width and have a turning circle of no more than 1200mm.
The combined weight of the scooter and the rider must not exceed the safe working load of the ramp used to board the bus, which is normally 300kg.
Class 3 scooters are not permitted on any public transport.
Scooter users should contact the bus company which operates the services on which they wish to travel to find out whether they support the CPT Scooter Code of Practice, under which permits are issued, and whether their model of scooter is likely to be accepted.
If the bus company supports the CPT Code of Practice, they will make arrangements to check the compatibility of the scooter and to train its user to board, travel on and alight from the vehicle safely, before issuing them with a permit which can be used on services operated by any company supporting the Code of Practice.
Generally, coach operators do not allow passengers to travel whilst seated in their scooter and there is often no space to store scooters in the seating area of the coach. If travelling by coach, some models of folding scooter may be carried in the luggage hold, and users should check with the coach company before booking a ticket.
Physical accessibility: Responsibility for enforcing compliance with PSVAR rests with the Driver and Vehicles Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Office of the Traffic Commissioner (OTC). Passengers who believe a bus or coach, which is subject to PSVAR, does not comply with its requirements, should report their concerns to DVSA for further investigation.
Telephone: 0300 200 1122
Driver responsibilities: When passengers feel that required assistance has not been provided by a bus or coach driver, they should in the first instance complain directly to the service operator concerned or, in the case of London, Transport for London.
If a complaint cannot be resolved by the operator, passengers may wish to contact Bus Users UK, an alternative dispute resolution body for bus and coach passengers, regarding issues occurring in Great Britain outside of London.
Contact: 0300 111 0001
London Travel Watch can help with issues occurring in London. Contact: 020 3176 2999
Bus stations and stops: Passengers who do not feel that an LTA has acted appropriately may refer a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman or seek their own legal advice.
Concessionary travel: Those who feel they have been unfairly refused a concessionary permit should complaint in the first instance to the relevant authority, escalating it to the Local Government Ombudsman if necessary. Concessionary travel is a devolved policy area and available concessions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are a matter for the respective devolved administrations.
Travelling by Taxi and Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs)
Disabled passengers travelling by taxi or PHVs have a number of rights, including:
- Section 20 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to access their services.
- Section 165 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires non-exempt drivers of taxis and PHVs designated as wheelchair accessible, to accept the carriage of wheelchair users, to provide them with appropriate assistance including loading of luggage and a wheelchair should a passenger choose not to travel seated in it, and to refrain from charging them more than other passengers would pay for the same service; and in some areas (mainly larger cities), licensed taxis must be wheelchair accessible.
In London, all black cabs are wheelchair accessible. Some of the newer black cabs are also fitted with induction loops and intercoms for hearing aid users.
All taxi and minicab drivers must make sure they do not discriminate against you and cannot treat you less favourably than other customers.
They should also make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their service, to make your journey easier.
Under the Equality Act 2010, guide dogs and other assistance dog owners are legally allowed access to businesses and premises. The special section for taxi and private hire vehicles states that a driver must not make any extra charge for an assistance dog. The only exception is that of medical exemption and this must be applied for, granted and be in place to be able to justify a refusal.
Currently any taxi driver who breaks the law will incur a £1000 fine. Anyone with a private hire vehicle who refuses a guide dog can also potentially have their licence revoked.
Taxi and PHV complaints and enforcement process
Passengers who feel that a driver has failed to comply with the Equality Act 2010 should contact the relevant Local Licensing Authority (LLA) in the first instance. LLAs are usually the relevant local authority. In London, Transport for London licenses taxis and PHVs on behalf of the Boroughs.
Travelling by Air
Your legal rights when travelling by air will vary depending on where you are flying to and from, so it is important to check before your flight what assistance will be provided at your destination country.
Your rights in the UK
If you are a passenger with a disability or reduced mobility, you are legally entitled to support, commonly known as ‘Special Assistance’, when travelling by air.
Assistance is provided by the airport, but you need to book assistance through your airline, and it is really important to identify your needs at the point of booking.
Special assistance is available to passengers who may need help to travel, including the elderly, people with a physical disability, such as wheelchair users, and those who have difficulty with social interaction and communication, such as people with autism or dementia.
Airports and airlines must provide help and assistance free of charge from the moment you arrive at the airport.
Airports must locate assistance points at various places in the airport boundary and this may include drop off points, car parks, train stations and bus terminals. If you park at a medium/long term car park, you will usually need to make your own way to the terminal using the airport’s bus service. In the UK, these vehicles are generally accessible, in terms of having a ramp, so that people in wheelchairs can board.
Your right to special assistance is stipulated in UK law and applies when:
- You fly on any airline from a UK airport
- You fly on an EU or UK registered airline to a UK airport
- You fly from outside of the UK or EU to the EU on a UK carrier
Aviation passenger rights state that assistance suitable to the passenger’s needs must be provided without any cost to the passenger at the airport as well as on board the aircraft. This includes, but is not limited to:
- assistance at check-in and with baggage
- help storing and retrieving baggage
- support throughout the emigration, customs and security procedures
- moving to the toilet facilities if required
- transport of up to 2 pieces of mobility equipment, in addition to medical equipment
- boarding the aircraft and during the flight
- disembarking the aircraft
- transferring between flights
- travelling through your destination airport
You have the right to remain in your wheelchair to the entrance of the plane and for it to be brought to the entrance when you land. You should protect the controls before the chair is taken to the hold. If your chair is lost or damaged, the airport must provide you with an immediate alternative; this is unlikely to be like for like.
Passengers who require special assistance should aim to give their airline 48 hours’ notice of the help they require, as this will enable them to be best prepared to assist you.
You MUST give advance notice you are travelling with:
- A powered wheelchair or scooter (Dangerous Goods checks)
- An assistance dog (PET passport checks)
Outside the UK
Similar passenger rights apply in other countries including the EU and the United States.
However, there are many parts of the world where similar rights are not available. Assistance may require a fee or may not be available at all.
Travelling with medical equipment
You can travel with medical equipment and supplies provided that the amounts are reasonable.
Many airlines will want to see a medical certificate if you are taking large quantities of medication.
You must have a certificate if you are taking more than 100ml of medicine in liquid or gel form through security.
Travelling with mobility equipment
You may carry up to two mobility items free of charge. This applies generally for your trip rather than just the flight, so if there is something specific that you will need at your destination, the airline should accept it as one of the two pieces of mobility equipment (provided that it is a reasonable request).
Damage to equipment
Airlines are liable for any damage to mobility equipment. However, the amount of compensation they give you may be limited so you may want to take out extra insurance.
If your equipment is damaged, the airport is responsible for providing a temporary alternative while yours is repaired or replaced, but this does not have to be on a like for like basis.
Airlines must accept all assistance dogs for air travel without charge.
You must notify your airline in advance if you are travelling with an assistance dog.
An assistance dog will need to comply with the rules of the Pet Travel Scheme, on international flights to other EU countries. For those outside the EU, you will need to check local quarantine rules. More guidance can be found on the GOV.UK website:
The airline may ask you to provide evidence that a dog has been properly trained as an assistance dog. You may also be asked for confirmation that your dog has been trained to a standard that allows it to travel safely by air.
In partnership with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for Disabled People has produced a film which gives wheelchair users, especially powered wheelchair users, information and insights about travelling by air and the support available.
You can watch the film in different ways, either from start to finish so that you can see everything involved, or in specific segments that focus just on the information you need most. The film is subtitled throughout.
Watch the film in full on this website.
Travelling by Boat
The maritime passenger rights under Regulation (EU) 1177/2010 aim to provide disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility with the same opportunities to travel by sea and inland waterway as they have in other transport sectors.
The regulation requires ferry and cruise operators to provide sufficient information for a passenger to select a sailing, make a booking for it, and then undertake the voyage successfully.
This information should be on ferry and cruise operators’ websites, in their brochures, and in any offices (including travel agents) where bookings are taken. Information may also be available from ferry and cruise call centres.
You need to consider that ships are fundamentally different from premises ashore. Different legal requirements and practical safety considerations apply afloat.
Disabled and reduced mobility passengers are entitled to:
- Acceptance for carriage unless safety reasons justify refusal
- Medical and mobility equipment to be allowed on board, where it is reasonable, for the voyage
- Free assistance in ports to embark, disembark and on-board vessels but not caring functions
- Staff who have been trained to understand disabled persons’ needs
- Assistance dogs being carried subject to national pet regulations
- Ports and vessels that are fully accessible, although there is no retro-fitting requirement so it will take time for all facilities to be compliant
Reduced mobility means anyone whose mobility is reduced when using transport as a result of any physical disability (sensory or locomotor, permanent or temporary), intellectual disability or impairment, or any other cause of disability as a result of age and whose situation needs appropriate attention and adaptation to their particular needs of the service made available to all passengers.
You can get help if you are disabled and are travelling on any of the following:
- a cruise ship which is leaving from a port within the UK
- a ferry which is leaving from or going to a port within the UK
- a local ferry service, for example, a river bus
If you need to make specific arrangements for your journey, for example, if you have certain accommodation or seating requirements, you should tell the cruise line, ferry service, travel agent or tour operator at least 48 hours before departure.
You are legally entitled to take your assistance dog when travelling on a passenger ship, such as a ferry or cruise vessel. This is subject to safety conditions and applicable UK rules on the movement of animals.
If your journey is international, your dog will be subject to animal health controls. Details are provided on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.
Briefly, you will need to ensure your dog is:
- vaccinated against rabies
- blood tested
- accompanied by a pet passport or Third Country Veterinary Certificate
- treated for tapeworm
The carrier or operator may ask you to provide evidence that a dog has been properly trained as an assistance dog.
Maritime complaints and enforcement process
The Maritime Coastguard Agency MCA is responsible for enforcing legislation. Complaints are dealt with under a 3-tier system:
- Complain to the operator to give them the opportunity to resolve the issue.
- If you remain unsatisfied, you should write to the MCA, who enforce the legislation:
Maritime and Coastguard Agency
105 Commercial Road
- If you feel that your complaint has not been handled properly, you can ask the MCA to refer the matter to an Independent Complaints Assessor appointed by the Department for Transport.