§ Alun Michael
I have not been asked for such discussions. I am sure that individual rural community councils and their Association, with which 1 have regular contact, are well aware of the legislation which was put in place some seven years ago. The direct responsibility will be with the owners of specific facilities which will include independent village hall committees or, in some cases, parish or town councils or local authorities.
§ Alun Michael
The relevant legislation is not new and it is some seven years since the passage of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Time was allowed for organisations to meet the requirements of the Act.
Since December 1996 it has been unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably for a reason related to their disability. And from 1 October 1999 service providers have been required to make reasonable adjustments to account for disabled people's needs such as providing extra help or changing the way they provide their services.
From 2004 organisations such as village halls will have to make "reasonable adjustments" to ensure access for disabled people. In any proceedings under the Act, the costs and practicability of any adjustments would be considered in relation to a service provider's ability to pay. The extent to which the adjustment actually improves access to the service and the importance of the service to disabled people would also be taken into account.
A large number of village halls in England already have access and facilities for disabled people although there are older halls that fall short of the requirements of the Act.
There are a number of funds which can assist where appropriate, in addition to the community's own resources, fund raising and any assistance from the parish or town council. Local authorities that can help will include district, county and unitary authorities, depending on the arrangements in a particular locality. The Countryside Agency's Village Hall Loan Fund, administered by Action with Communities in Rural England can provide loans towards improvements for village halls. Loans are available over a period of up to five or eight years but may be longer in special cases where the need for an extended period is substantiated.
The Countryside Agency also can offer assistance to village halls through the community service grants scheme delivered through the Vital Villages programme. 377W It can help fund an alteration/extension of a village hall or other community building where this provides a new or extended service to the community.
Other sources of public funding include regional development agencies, the Community Fund and the Sports Council. Many organisations achieve the necessary improvements through a mixture of funds including fund raising, commercial or personal sponsorship, parish council and local authority funding and contributions from other public funds as a result of expanding the activities available if improvements expand the suitability and use of the facilities, for instance for sport, or education or training for young people.