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Jackson v Homestart Finance [2013] SAEOT 13

In a decision of the SA Equal Opportunity Tribunal, it was held that a young man and his mother were discriminated against by Homestart Finance on the grounds of the son’s intellectual disability.

The complaint was made by Mrs Jackson and her 31 year old son, Dean (who has a mild intellectual disability), following Homestart’s decision to decline their joint home loan application. Mrs Jackson had attended a meeting with a Homestart consultant, together with her son, to discuss a possible home loan. Mrs Jackson did most of the talking at the appointment, as Dean is a shy and reserved person by nature.

Following that meeting, the Homestart consultant had concerns about Dean’s ability to understand the subject of the home loan. Shortly after, the Jacksons were advised that their loan application had been declined on the grounds of “unsuitability”. The Jacksons lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission which did not resolve, and so the case was referred to the Equal Opportunity Tribunal.

The Tribunal held that Homestart had discriminated against both Mrs Jackson and Dean on the basis that the consultant and his manager formed an incorrect assumption, with very little ‘hard’ supporting information, that Dean’s loss of mental function prevented him from being able to understand the nature and impact of the loan.

Further, the Tribunal considered that it was unreasonable of Homestart to decline the loan on account of Dean’s disability without undertaking further investigations as to his capacity. Dean was awarded $2,500 in damages and Mrs Jackson $500.

The decision is a reminder of the risk that service providers may take in making assumptions about a person based on a disability, without seeking the necessary further information.

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