Reasonable adjustment: Making it easier for you to access our Services

16 Jan 2019
One size does not fit all

If you want to know what reasonable adjustment means and how the Office of the Service Complaints Ombudsman can change the way we do things to help you, then read on…

You might have seen this question on our application forms:

Are there restrictions on when/how we can contact you?

It is a question that at first glance doesn’t seem like much. In fact, some people may even choose to skip it altogether. But, it is one of the most important questions we ask on our forms.

Why? Because it is important that our service can be accessed by everyone who needs it. That includes people who might have additional needs due to a disability or long-term health condition. If those disabilities or conditions make it more difficult for them to engage in our processes, then there will be times we need to change how we do things. This is what is known as reasonable adjustment.

We do this not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the law. The Equality Act 2010 requires that employers, educational institutions and public services, like our office, make these reasonable adjustments.

Some people might think that this seems unfair. That it is giving preferential treatment to certain groups of people rather than treating everyone the same. However, there are times when treating everyone the same is what is unfair.

You may have seen this meme before, it has been circulating for some years now and has been redrawn in a number of different ways. But it is a good illustration of this broad issue.

equality vs equity
© Craig Frohele

On the left is an image of everyone being treated in exactly the same way, but one is still at a disadvantage. On the right, it is the individual need that is being addressed. Making these reasonable adjustments results in everyone getting the same outcome – in this case being able to see over the fence.

In our office, we do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for people to access our services. But it is important that people tell us if they need us to do more to address their individual needs.

Some examples of the types of reasonable adjustment we might make include:

  • Changing the appearance of letters and reports. This could be due to dyslexia or other processing or visual impairments. What changes we make would be specific to the needs of the individual. But it could include increasing the font size, printing information on yellow paper or providing documents in accessible formats so that reading software can be used.
  • Producing easy read documents and correspondence. We try and ensure we use plain language as much as possible, but that doesn’t always meet everyone’s needs. We can adjust the way we provide information and also prepare easy read documents and correspondence if required.
  • Contacting at specific times. For Service personnel, this could be a necessity due to deployment or their current posting. However, it might also be required if someone has difficulty concentrating or is fatigued at certain times of the day due to a disability or health condition. While our office isn’t open 24hours a day, 7 days a week, there may be scope to move contact outside of Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.
  • Contacting by specific methods of communication. Perhaps you find it difficult to talk on the phone so prefer to communicate only by written correspondence wherever possible. Or perhaps you have difficulty writing and need more time than a standard phone call will allow. In these situations, we would explore other options that might meet your needs e.g a face to face meeting.
  • Giving you additional time to respond. If someone has difficulty with processing information and concentrating for long periods of time, is actively unwell or is seeking treatment, then additional time to respond to correspondence may be required. This would generally need to be agreed upfront and may not apply to all aspects of the process.
  • Helping you to complete your application form. If someone is having difficulty completing an application form due to a disability or health condition, then we might be able to help. In the past, we have done this by partially completing application forms based on what a complainant has told us over the phone. The form is then sent to the individual to review, change as needed, sign and return. In this role, we can only ever put down word for word what we have been told and we can’t tell you what to write.

There will be times when we are asked to make adjustments that we can’t – either because it isn’t reasonable, either due to costs or the strain it would have on our resources, or because treating people differently would make the whole process unfair. But we will consider all requests and try to find solutions that work.

When people come to an Ombudsman, whether it is our office or another, it is usually their last resort. That makes it even more important that the process is as easy as possible and that no one is knowingly put at an unfair disadvantage because their additional needs aren’t being addressed. So, if you are making an application to our office, or already have an open case with us, and need some reasonable adjustments made – just let us know. And don’t worry, we will keep this information confidential.