As a private member’s club you would still have certain duties and liabilities under the Equality Act, including the duty not to treat disabled members less favourably and also the duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled members.
The duty to make reasonable adjustments aims to make sure that a disabled person can use a service as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard usually offered to non-disabled people. The key question is whether through the current set up, rules or provisions disabled members are placed at a substantial disadvantage when compared to non-disabled members.
Some useful advice on the subject is provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission:
“You only have to do what is reasonable. When deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable you can consider:
- how effective the change will be in assisting disabled people in general or a particular customer, client, service user or member
- whether it can actually be done
- the cost, and
- your organisation’s resources and size.
Your overall aim should be, as far as possible, to remove any disadvantage faced by disabled people. You can consider whether an adjustment is practicable. The easier an adjustment is, the more likely it is to be reasonable. However, just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t also be reasonable. You need to balance this against other factors.
If an adjustment costs little or nothing and is not disruptive, it would be reasonable unless some other factor (such as impracticality or lack of effectiveness) made it unreasonable.
Your size and resources are another factor. If an adjustment costs a significant amount, it is more likely to be reasonable for you to make it if you have substantial financial resources. Your organisation’s resources must be looked at across your whole organisation, not just for the branch or section that provides the particular service.
This is an issue which you have to balance against the other factors. In changing policies, criteria or practices, you do not have to change the basic nature of the service you offer.”
So to a degree you will have to accommodate the disabled members but if doing so means that you are no longer able to provide the services you offer and it will affect the actual way they are undertaken and there is no way around it then you could argue the adjustments are unreasonable. So a direct refusal to accommodate disabled members in this way is unlikely to be reasonable but if you limit the number of people you can offer this to in order to ensure that the service is not affected for everyone, then you may do so.
As to the selection for competitions, you can do this as long as it is not linked to a protected characteristic, such as disability, race, gender, religion, etc. So you cannot just exclude someone because they are disabled and tell them they cannot join the competition for that reason. But if this is just down to skills and the skills are not linked to a disability, then you can be selective.