It has come to light that the U.K. Department for Transport removed Article 16 from UK1107/2006, the law defending the rights of passengers with disabilities traveling by air. This removal has stripped the law of any significant enforcement tool. This is a serious concern for passengers with disabilities, as it means they will have no legal recourse if they experience discrimination while traveling by air.
The Aviation Directorate of the Department for Transport (DfT) has explained why the article was removed. In a letter dated September 23, 2022, the Directorate stated that the article is no longer required as the information it contains is now outdated.
"When this Regulation was retained in UK domestic law at the end of the Transition Period following the UK’s exit from the EU, Article 16 was revoked by the Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Regulations 2019 (S.I. 2019/278). This is simply because Article 16 was a provision addressed by the EU to the Member States, which is no longer required or appropriate now that the UK has left the EU. It required Member States to lay down rules on penalties for breach of the Regulation, which the UK had already done."
The Aviation Directorate explained that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has the authority under the 2002 Enterprise Act to enforce aviation consumer laws when violations are detrimental to the collective interest of consumers. The CAA is responsible for ensuring a level playing field for all industry participants and works to protect the interests of consumers when airlines or airports violate aviation consumer protection laws.
Under this legislation, the CAA uses a variety of enforcement actions to ensure businesses are compliant. This includes consultation with businesses, securing formal undertakings, issuing warning letters, and applying to the court for enforcement orders.
The DfT provides reassurances that stand in stark contrast to a comment made by Dame Deirdre Hutton, who served as chair of the Civil Aviation Authority between 2009 and 2020.
"We do have enforcement powers, but these are limited to the ability to take a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action."
The Enterprise Act 2002 does not give the regulator the power to enforce individual infractions, as CAA management has acknowledged. The enforcement of UK1107/2006 may only be taken "where infringements harm the collective interest of consumers." From this perspective, it is simple to understand why the CAA has not yet taken legal action to enforce UK1107/2006.
Since the UK government removed Article 16 from the UK1107/2006 law, there has been a legal gap that unscrupulous operators have taken advantage of. They know that there are no significant consequences for breaking the law, so they continue to do so.
The disabled community has been increasingly vocal in recent years about the lack of dignified, accessible services when traveling by air. This has led to a series of headline-grabbing incidents where disabled passengers have been stranded or treated poorly by airports and airlines.
Those responsible for the recent spate of incidents in the aviation sector remain unpunished due to a legal vacuum created by the Department for Transport. The government must take action to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.
There are a number of regulatory agencies in different countries that can take action against individual violations of the law. This puts the United Kingdom in a unique position, as there is no meaningful way to enforce the rights of disabled passengers. This is an important issue for many disabled people, as they are often left feeling isolated and helpless when they encounter problems with air transport.
Reduced Mobility Rights urges the government to take immediate action to give the UK Civil Aviation Authority the power to levy fines for individual violations of Regulation UK1107/2006. Every day that indecision and delay continue, unscrupulous operators will remain unpunished at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society.
Reduced Mobility Rights will be reaching out to members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords when parliament raises from recess in order to advance this crossbench issue. This is an important issue for those with reduced mobility and other disabilities, and we hope that by raising awareness and engaging with parliamentarians, we can make progress on this issue.
“The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.” The Air Passenger Rights and Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2019/278/regulation/9
“Enterprise Act 2002.” Enterprise Act 2002, www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/40/contents