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What is an assistance dog & what is the law?

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Just like a wheelchair, walking stick, hearing aid or a pair of glasses, assistance dogs are important and necessary auxiliary aids. Fully trained assistance dogs have full rights of access to public places, spaces and services and these rights are protected in law. A service provider would never ask an individual to remove their glasses or hearing aid before entering their premises, and it should be the same for an assistance dog. Assistance dogs have been highly trained to perform a variety of tasks that directly mitigate their owners disability.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that Assistance Dogs:

  • are highly trained

  • will not wander freely around the premises

  • will sit or lie quietly on the floor next to its owner and are trained to go to the toilet on command and so are unlikely to foul in a public place

  • Most are instantly recognisable by the harness or identifying dog jacket they wear they wear (although this isn’t a legal requirement)

The Equality Act lays out that in relation to protecting the rights of a disabled people when accessing private hire transport, an Assistance dog means

(a) a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person; (b) a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person; (c) a dog which has been trained by a prescribed charity to assist a disabled person who has a disability that consists of epilepsy or otherwise affects the person’s mobility, manual dexterity, physical coordination or ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects; (d) a dog of a prescribed category which has been trained to assist a disabled person who has a disability (other than one falling within paragraph (c)) of a prescribed kind.

Identifying an assistance dog & handler

By Law, there is no requirement for the handler to disclose their disability when asked by service providers. It is also not a legal requirement for assistance dogs to wear a harness, jacket or lead slip.

It is not a legal requirement for Assistance Dog users to provide ID.

Assistance dogs in training and the law

An assistance dog in training (ADIT) has NO legal rights of access. Although, most service providers will allow an ADIT to accompany their handler where appropriate. However, there are certain places who might refuse an ADIT and this is perfectly acceptable within the law.

By law, the term Assistance Dog in Training does not exist. Either your dog is an assistance dog or it is not. Once your dog can mitigate your disability and has a good level of training in place to support you, they are classed an as assistance dog and have public access rights.

Here at Adolescent Dogs, our teams work through 6 levels of training: Puppy, Bronze, Mitigating Tasks, Silver, Gold & Access Test level.

  • Puppy to Bronze: This represents a basic level of training. Members who have achieved this level are encouraged to practise their training in pet friendly shops

  • Mitigating Tasks: This represents a level of training whereby the dog has learnt at least 3 tasks to mitigate their handlers disability.

  • Silver: This represents an intermediate level of training that meets the basic standards required for public access training. The dog can already mitigate their handlers disability. Members who have achieved this level can go into non pet friendly places without permission. However, if their assistance dog is not performing to an appropriate level that day, the person must leave willingly.

  • Gold & Access Test: This represents the same high standards mirrored by assistance dogs around the world. Members who have achieved this level can enter non pet friendly places without permission. The member must be respectful of those around them

Owner-Trained Assistance Dogs

Owner-Trained Assistance Dogs (OTAD) carry all the same legal rights as an assistance dog trained by an ADUK Charity or any other training provider. At the present time, there is no national assistance dog register and an assistance dog by law is not required to wear any identifying equipment or ID tag.

Adolescent Dogs would always recommend that any assistance dog is clearly identified as such in order to help service providers differentiate them from pet dogs. Training your own assistance dog requires a couple of years of very hard work but many people have the capacity to do so if they wish.

Here at Adolescent Dogs, we can help owner-trainers who would like guidance in achieving the accepted standards.

Service providers legal obligations

Assistance dog owners have important rights under the 2010 equality act (EA) and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (NI) . This law allows people with disabilities to have the same rights as everyone else to use the services supplied by shops, banks, hotels, libraries, pubs, taxis and restaurants and that reasonable adjustments must be made in order to avoid discriminating against disabled people (These reasonable adjustments will range from creating an access route for a person with a wheelchair to modifying a “no dog’s policy” in order that a disabled person may be accompanied by their assistance dog.)

Fully trained Assistance dogs perform practical assistive tasks for their disabled partners or alert to life-threatening medical conditions to enable their owners to be independent.

For this reason, it is reasonable to allow assistance dogs to accompany their owners into most situations where pet dogs would not be permitted, or for service providers to make reasonable adjustments in providing safe and secure accommodation for a dog and support for its handler in the dog’s absence, in, for example, an infection control clinical setting.

A disabled person should not be put at a disadvantage due to their assistance dog.

For example, a disabled person should not be asked to sit in a specific area to keep the dog out of the way or asked to pay an additional fee for cleaning.

In 2004 the law was extended to state that service providers must consider making changes to ‘physical features’ which make it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use their services. It is against the law for service providers to treat people less favourably because of their disability, or because they have an assistance dog with them.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have produced a guide that informs businesses of their legal obligation to allow access to assistance dogs. Download and read Assistance Dogs, A guide for Business.

Assistance dogs in the workplace

More and more employers are considering making their place of work dog friendly. Alongside this, it is important to distinguish between allowing employees to bring their pet dogs to work, and the legal obligations that employers have regarding disabled employees who rely on an assistance dog.

If an employer is considering becoming more pet friendly, they might want to consider how having multiple dogs in the workplace will impact on an assistance dog and their handler.

This guide aims to introduce employers to the topic of welcoming assistance dogs to the workplace.

It is important to remember that not every person with an assistance dog has a visible disability.

Unless the information is needed in order to make reasonable adjustments, it is not appropriate to question an employee about the nature of their disability.

An employer is required to make reasonable adjustments to enable an disabled employee with an assistance dog to attend their workplace and carry out their job. This could include:

  • Making space for the dog and its bed, potentially moving a workstation to a quieter part of the office/space.

  • Providing or allocating an outside space or ‘spending area’ where the dog can relieve itself (if outside space is available).

  • Making changes to working hours to accommodate short breaks to allow the dog to have a comfort break.

It is good practice to speak with employees about the introduction of an assistance dog and how to appropriately interact with a dog.

Allergy to dogs is sometimes given as a reason to not admit assistance dogs. While the prevalence of allergies generally is increasing worldwide, the incidence of allergies to dogs may be less than perhaps commonly thought.

In the UK it is estimated that only 8% of adults are sensitive to dog allergens.

Where a clear allergy risk to a specific individual is identified by an employer, steps should be taken to reduce this risk, but a refusal of access for assistance dogs based on the possibility that other people ‘may’ be allergic is unlikely to be classed as a reasonable response.

Refusing access to an assistance dog user in the workplace due to fear of dogs amongst other employees is also unlikely to be considered a reasonable response.

Assistance dogs in rented accommodation

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law for service providers, including landlords, rental agencies and housing associations to treat disabled people less favourably because of their disability, or because they rely on an assistance dog or guide dog.

Landlords, rental agencies and other housing providers must make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who use assistance dogs.

A landlord may be required to make changes to any policies or practices they have which may disadvantage a tenant because of their disability. This includes making changes to a tenancy agreement.

For example, saying pets are not allowed in the property should be changed to allow a disabled person to have their assistance dog.

A landlord cannot increase rent or charge additional cleaning fees to assistance dog or guide dog owners, even if a contract states they charge extra for pet fees. An assistance dog should not be treated as a pet in this context. Charges for actual damage caused by the dog can be made.

Assistance dogs around food

Assistance dogs are highly trained, have regular veterinary treatments and are tested on a regular basis to make sure they don’t present a health risk. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has determined that they are unlikely to present a risk to hygiene and should be allowed access to restaurants, cafes, hotels, food shops and other food premises. There is no conflict with food hygiene laws in allowing access for assistance dogs.

Assistance dogs and allergies to dogs

Refusing to allow access to people with assistance dogs because other people ‘might’ be allergic to dogs is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination. This is because the Equality Act 2010 states that service providers must make reasonable adjustments to policies for disabled people. This includes amending ‘no dogs’ and ‘no pets’ policies to allow access for assistance dogs.

If there is an identifiable person with an allergy to dogs then employers and service providers should take reasonable steps to ensure that person has minimal or no contact with dogs; reasonable steps are unlikely to include banning all assistance dogs.

For more information about training your own assistance dog, find our programme here

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