Children’s parties can be daunting events for parents of food allergic children. You might get lucky and have a trustworthy, clued up host, who happily agrees to make sure everything is safe for your child. Or you might have to prepare a replica party tea, minus allergens, for your child to take along. And if the worst comes to the worst, you can give the food part a miss altogether. But surely, when it’s YOUR child’s party, you can feel more relaxed, safe in the knowledge that you are in control of the food? Well, maybe not, if you are hiring a venue…
I read a blog post by a fellow allergy mum recently, which left me feeling terribly vexed. In short, she was investigating party venues for her son’s 3rd birthday. She asked a local museum, who offered children’s party packages, whether she could hire the space but provide her own party food. The museum’s response was that she would need “£2 million public liability insurance as well as references for 2 previous grade 1 listed venues that [she had] provided catering for”. Given this was clearly impossible, she provided the venue with some suggestions for safe foods for her child, and was met with the response that the museum could not provide catering on this occasion. (For the full story, see the post No dairy – no party? part 1 on the AllergyBabe blog.)
As well as feeling indignant at the injustice of a food allergic 3-year-old being denied a birthday party, I also wonder whether such policies could be discriminatory and open to legal challenge?
I’ve blogged in the past about whether it is possible to claim disability discrimination for a nut allergy. In short, the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010) protects people from discrimination on the basis of certain “characteristics”, one of which is “disability”. In Wheeldon v Marstons, an employment tribunal, at a preliminary hearing, held that a chef’s severe allergy to nuts was a “disability” under the EA 2010. If this becomes settled law, businesses (as goods, facilities and service providers) could then also have a responsibility not to discriminate against someone with a severe nut allergy. In my view, this could force restaurants to “reasonably accommodate” nut allergy sufferers by providing at least one safe menu option and also, for example, make nightclubs reconsider their “no EpiPens” policies.
If a children’s party venue refuses to cater for a food allergic child, isn’t that also an example of disability discrimination? If you are “open for business”, don’t you have to be open for business to ALL? Take the example of the Christian B&B owners who turned a gay couple away from their guesthouse: if you are running a business you can’t apply discriminatory policies to pick and choose who you serve. In my view:
- IF severe allergy is a legal “disability” under the EA 2010, then
- A party venue that refuses to cater for a child on account of their allergies (or imposes impossible to meet criteria, having the same effect) amounts to disability discrimination.
Hopefully at some point someone will bring a test case against a restaurant/nightclub/party venue/similar and this point will be clarified for the food allergic community, so people will know the level of service they are legally entitled to expect.
I’m about to start researching venues for the Manchester Allergy Support Group children’s social event (more details to follow in the New Year). I will certainly report back as to any obstacles I come up against. However, if anyone else has encountered similar issues when trying to book a children’s party, do post a comment below – I would love to hear from you!