Election 2015

Council sued over polling station access

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Media captionAdam Lotun tells disability news correspondent Nikki Fox how he felt that his voice "did not count" when he was unable to vote

A London council is being sued for failing to ensure a polling station was accessible to people with disabilities.

In the first case of its kind in the UK, Adam Lotun, a wheelchair user, is claiming his human rights were breached because he could not vote last year.

Mr Lotun said he could get no further than the front door because of a ramp and a drop to the floor inside.

Kingston Council says work is under way to ensure its polling station is fully accessible on 7 May.

Mr Lotun had been attempting to vote at last year's European and local elections when he discovered he could not get into the polling station at the Sunray Community Centre in Tolworth, south-west London, despite signs stating it had disabled access.


He claims he asked staff to bring the ballot box to a private place outside, but they refused and he ended up not voting.

"It made me feel worthless as an individual, excluded as a member of society," he told the BBC. "I was just a second class citizen - my voice did not count at all."

Angry at what he feels is a breach of his human rights, Mr Lotun is now suing the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames.

His solicitor Chris Fry said: "The duty on every local authority is to ensure that the buildings themselves are fully accessible so that every qualified voter can cast that vote.

"For there still to be issues arising like Adam's, you wonder how many disabled voters are going to be left out in the cold come the general election day this year."

Analysis: BBC disability news correspondent Nikki Fox

Of course postal voting is an option for anyone who can't get to their local polling station on election day and many disabled people find it particularly handy.

I asked Adam Lotun why he chose not to use his postal vote. He explained that as someone who has only been using a wheelchair for a relatively short amount of time - a transition he found difficult - he prefers to join his wife and be part of his local community.

For some disabled people, postal voting isn't always the answer as it doesn't cater for all impairments. For people with learning disabilities for example, the paperwork can be quite overwhelming.

I met Jackie Venus who was part of 'Operation Disabled Vote', a battle bus that's touring London encouraging disabled people to vote. Ms Venus is visually impaired and for her, postal voting works up until the point she has to sign off her vote by putting her signature in a box.

She says she then has to ask for another person to sign her name, meaning her vote isn't private.

Choosing a postal vote can be a hassle-free option, but many disabled people like Adam feel it shouldn't be the only choice.


A survey carried out by disability charity Scope after the 2010 general election suggested that 67% of all polling stations were not fully accessible.

Overall voter turnout was 65%, but figures suggest that among disabled people it was 33%.

Currently, the Electoral Commission issues guidance to councils and returning officers on what should be in place come polling day.

Andrew Scallan, the commission's director of electoral administration, admitted that it can get frustrating when he hears stories about people not being able to vote.

"Local authority returning officers work day in and day out with their people - they know their area and they want to deliver a good service," he said.

"But on 7 May this year, there will be 47,000 polling stations, well over 100,000 staff involved, so there is bound to be human error in all of that."

Kingston Council said its polling stations will be fully accessible on polling day.

A spokeswoman said: "Work is taking place to rip out the existing ramp, install a new ramp and sort out the entrance way. This should ensure the place is fully accessible to anyone else with mobility problems."

She added: "When we book polling stations we ask the caretaker/key holder to confirm that they have full wheelchair access, whether we need to provide a ramp to make the venue fully accessible and to inform us ASAP after completing the booking form if there are changes to the building that could affect the use of the building."

But Mr Lotun, who lives 300 yards from the polling station in Kingston, is continuing with his case in the hope that one day all local authorities will have a legal duty to make sure everyone can vote no matter what their disability.

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