Growing numbers of shops, taxis and other premises are denying entry or challenging customers with guide dogs amid widespread confusion over the law, according to a charity for the blind.
Research by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association found that 81 per cent of guide dog owners have been illegally refused entry to businesses or services because they were with their dog. That is a 5 percentage point increase on 2019, when the survey was last conducted.
Seventy-three per cent of the blind people surveyed said they had been refused access or entry at least once in the past 12 months.
Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for a person with a disability to be treated unfavourably because of a factor connected with their disability, such as a guide dog, and this treatment is unjustified.
The charity said that such refusals are not isolated to one particular industry, with guide dog owners reporting problems at food and drink premises, in taxis and private hire vehicles and shops.
It added that refusals have a negative impact beyond the moment they occur, with 49 per cent of guide dog owners saying they change their plans or restrict visits to certain places because they are worried about it happening again.
Brian Lawson, a guide dog owner, said: “Like many guide dog owners, I have experienced access refusals. It is upsetting and makes me feel rejected and worried about making future plans. One of the worst occasions for me was being refused by a taxi after visiting my dying relative, despite having pre-booked and confirming I am a guide dog user.”
Blanche Shackleton, a spokeswoman for the charity, said: “Guide dog owners deserve to be able to live their lives the way they want and feel confident, independent and supported in the world. The law is clear, and yet guide dog owners continue to experience access refusals, which are almost always illegal. Businesses and services need to do more to ensure they have open doors to guide dog owners.”
The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association believes that the problem is growing because retail and hospitality staff are unaware of the law and or they often confuse guide dogs for normal pets.
It pointed to separate research it has conducted that found nearly 47 per cent of shop workers and 19 per cent of restaurant or pub staff are unaware that refusing a guide dog is illegal. Fifty-one per cent of these workers also admit to struggling to identify a guide dog from a pet.
Sometimes, venues also refuse to allow guide dogs in because they wrongly believe the dogs may be a danger to others or themselves.
In 2016, for example, David Smith, 49, of Northampton, was refused entry to a racetrack with his guide dog Darcy after organisers said they were concerned about the safety of the animal. The charity says this was a clear breach of the law. It is now starting an awareness campaign to try to address the problem.
“We have listened to the concerns of guide dog owners and in response, we have launched the Open Doors campaign,” Shackleton said. “The first element of this is the launch of our game-changing new app that makes it quick and easy for guide dog owners to report access refusals to us, get support, or educate businesses on access rights.”
Next month, the charity will also launch its High Street Heroes campaign where volunteers will visit their local high street to engage with shops and businesses, encouraging them to display a window sticker declaring “assistance dogs welcome”.