Ferry service provider, Caledonian MacBrayne appears to be falling short of meeting the requirements of European Union disability regulations, it is claimed.

Under regulations set out by the EU in 2012, if a passenger requires assistance with personal care then an individual accompanying them should receive travel free of charge.

Peter White, a pensioner from Sunderland, is a companion in travel for his friend and has been a regular visitor to the Western Isles for the last 30 years.

Having done his own research, he found he was entitled to free travel under this regulation, but this was not offered.

The regulation in question was set out with the aim of ensuring that disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility are provided with the same opportunities to travel by sea as they are in other transport sectors.

In response to an enquiry a CalMac spokesperson said, “CalMac has an assistance team in place to ensure disabled travellers have a trouble free journey with us. This particular guidance applies to disabled people travelling on their own, for whom, in the company's opinion, we would be unable to provide the level of care that they need while on board.”

“In this instance, we would advise that a carer could accompany them free of charge.”

“This decision would be made on a case-by-case basis determined on whether or not we would be able to accommodate a solo disabled traveller safely. This decision would be made when the individual contacted the assistance team to make their travel arrangements.”

Contacting CalMac’s assistance team, would-be travellers have found that even when they presented all the conditions required for the provision of free travel under EU regulations, it was not offered. There was no mention from CalMac of the need for an accompanying traveller or any discount other than the 25% off the cost of the vehicle, provided a blue badge was present.

When travellers suggested that someone would travel with them to provide the support required during the crossing, there was again no suggestion that their travel would be provided free of charge. This left the final quoted price 20% higher than it should have been. No further questions were asked by CalMac to establish the nature of disabilities or the extent to which care would be required.

CalMac’s representative stated that they were updating their customer information and that reference would be made to European Union regulation 1177/2010, which was published in 2012.  'We are currently finalising a new Assisted Travel Guide and reference to this regulation will be made within it,'

The passenger rights section of CalMac’s website already includes a 1000-word summary of regulation 1170/2010. This summary makes reference to CalMac’s obligation to provide free snacks in the event of disruption to service it but fails to make any reference to the section concerning those offering care to disabled passengers.

Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK said, “For many people having someone that travels with them is not a choice but a requirement. CalMac appear to be making an assumption that personal assistant givers with passengers are always family members. This is false as individuals who require support often already have paid-for personal assistants who will assist them when travelling as well as at home.”

“It is estimated that it costs an extra £500 per month for a disabled person related to their impairment. Regulations such as this one have been put in place by the European Union to help disabled people overcome barriers to travel”

The section of EU regulation 1177/2010 in question is quoted in full below as well as the UK government’s interpretation of this section.

"Where strictly necessary and under the same conditions set out in paragraph 1, carriers, travel agents and tour operators may require that a disabled person or person with reduced mobility be accompanied by another person who is capable of providing the assistance required by the disabled person or person with reduced mobility. As regards passenger services, such an accompanying person shall be carried free of charge."

"If a passenger requires assistance with personal care, however, (such as feeding, breathing, using medication or using the toilet) the passenger may wish to travel with a companion who can assist. In certain circumstances and where strictly necessary, carriers, travel agents and tour operators may require that a disabled person or person with reduced mobility be accompanied by another person who is capable of providing the assistance required. Any such person is to be carried free of charge on a ferry, and the ferry operator will provide information about obtaining a free ticket accordingly. Under the EU Regulation these is no such entitlement in relation to cruises, so if a passenger is booking a cruise and requires a companion, that passenger will need to pay for the companion to travel."

Viewing the websites and passenger information of other Scottish ferry providers, it was found that many fell short of offering what’s required under EU regulations.

(This report has been updated to correct details in paragraph 3 since first being published)