Less than one in six building sites inspected by the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability in 2021 were found to be compliant with minimum accessibility standards. The rate is of deep concern as it marks a significant deterioration on the previous year when the respective figure stood at 43%.

Details on the inspections carried out by the CRPD were divulged in the 2021 annual report. It transpires that last year officers from the enforcement unit carried out 188 site inspections prior to recommending the issuance of a compliance certificate. Failure to obtain this certification makes the property ineligible to be supplied with water and electricity. The enforcement unit reported that out of 188 inspections on 28 or 15% were found to be compliant. This means that a staggering 85% of the sites (160) fell short of the expected standards and were deemed as not compliant.

In 2020 the CRPD carried out 307 building site inspections, of which only 133 satisfied the criteria for the issuance of a compliance certificate. The remaining 174 cases, which accounted to 57% of the total inspections made, were deemed as not compliant.

A spokeswoman for the CRPD told Voice of the Workers Weekly that the decrease in the number of inspections in 2021 was due to COVID-19. Delays in importation of products such as lifts, meant that buildings were not being finished on time, resulting in a delay in the submission of applications for compliance certificates, the spokeswoman said.

A further analysis of the data shows that in 2021 the enforcement unit received 6,096 development applications from the Planning Authority for vetting. However, 3,602 did not fall within the CRPD’s remit while a further 639 were excluded as they fell under a special category regulated by what is known as Circular 2/14 of the Planning Authority. Hence, from the remaining 1,855 applications, CRPD approved 1,069 and objected to 786. In the latter cases the applicant may be required to revise plans more than once until they are deemed to be satisfactory.

However, there are cases in which the applicant might have grounds to seek an exemption to adhere to certain standards for technical reason or in view of the financial outlay involved.  In that case, there is a proviso under the Equal Opportunities for All (Persons with Disability) Act, in which the applicant may file a case before the Test of Reasonableness Board (ToRB). Should the Board uphold the request, it may grant an exemption. 

In 2021, this board heard 87 cases for exemption of which only 26 were upheld. However, there were two cases in which partial exemption was granted, while a further 18 requests were upheld against certain conditions. The number of requests which were rejected hands down totalled 28, while the remaining 13 cases involved requests which were either withdrawn, the drawings amended or could not be considered as the applicant failed to submit all the requested information.