Disability and substantial impact

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Elliott v Dorset County Council

The Equality Act 2010 provides that a person shall be regarded as having a disability if their impairment has a “substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities". The reference to substantial has been interpreted as meaning more than “minor or trivial”. In the case of Elliott v Dorset County Council it was highlighted that this statutory definition should take precedence over any additional gloss that guidance might give.

Mr Elliot had been accused of falsely recording his working time

He had explained that his previous manager had authorised the way he completed his time sheets but accepted that he had not spoken to his new manager due to anxiety issues which were later diagnosed as down to Autism. The disciplinary proceedings did not conclude as he was made redundant. He submitted claims of disability discrimination but in a preliminary hearing it was found he was not disabled. Mr Elliot appealed.


It was held that the Tribunal had failed to give the statutory definition of "substantial" the precedence required. If the adverse effect has a more than minor or trivial effect on the ability of a person to carry out day to day activities, the definition was met. The Guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining questions relating to the definition of disability and the EHRC Employment Statutory Code of Practice only need be taken into account if the statutory definition fails to provide a conclusive answer.

Key points

It was considered important that the statutory definition in its whole form should be the primary concern and that consideration should be given as to what the allegedly disabled person cannot do, rather than what they can. The fact that normal day to day activities can be carried out does not mean that there has not been a substantial effect caused by the impairment. It also hinted at the fact that the issue of whether someone is disabled is not necessarily best considered as a preliminary point. 

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