Britain’s equality watchdog has launched an investigation into Pontins over concerns that it has failed to eradicate discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers.
Pontins’ owner, Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited, entered a 12-month agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last year after a whistleblower revealed that the holiday parks company had drawn up a list of surnames apparently designed to keep Irish Travellers out.
It was alleged to have refused or cancelled bookings by people suspected of being Gypsies or Travellers based on their name or Irish accent, and to have used its commercial vehicles policy to exclude them from its venues.
The EHRC said on Thursday it had ended the agreement with Pontins’ owner on 18 February because it was not satisfied that the company was taking the required steps to prevent unlawful race discrimination or meet its commitments under the deal.
The commission’s chief executive, Marcial Boo, said: “We are concerned that Pontins may have illegally denied Gypsy and Traveller families the simple pleasure of a holiday. Any business that refuses to provide services to guests due to their race or ethnic group is likely to be breaking equality law.
“We signed a legally binding agreement with Pontins last year. We expected that to address our concerns about discriminatory behaviour. The company’s failure to comply has left us with no choice but to use stronger enforcement powers to investigate further.
“The EHRC will continue to use all legal powers at its disposal to ensure that no one experiences racism, whether at a holiday park or elsewhere, simply because of their name, ethnicity or the community they belong to.”
Declining to provide services to guests because they are of a certain race or ethnic group is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, which recognises Gypsies and Travellers as a distinct racial group. When details of the Pontins blacklist was first reported by the i, the EHRC compared it with “signs displayed in hotel windows 50 years ago explicitly barring Irish people and Black people”.
The inquiry, which is expected to take months, will examine whether Pontins has committed race discrimination against Gypsy and Traveller guests or prospective guests in the past. It will also examine whether its booking policies and intelligence, information and record-keeping systems directly or indirectly discriminate on the basis of race.
One of the things the EHRC will look at in terms of booking policies is the requirement for guests or prospective guests to be on the electoral register.
The chief executive of the Traveller Movement, Yvonne MacNamara, welcomed the formal investigation and said Pontins had been set “an extremely low bar” inits agreement with the EHRC.
“All they had to do was not commit unlawful acts of discrimination when providing services, and to take concrete steps to ensure that discrimination did not happen in the future,” she said.
“That the human rights regulator is not satisfied that these very simple requirements have been adhered to is a damning indictment of the corporate culture and senior management at Pontins, which has failed not just GRT communities, but also rank and file employees.
“Romany Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people are entitled to access the same services as everybody else, and we hope this investigation serves as a timely reminder to other businesses that discrimination will not go unnoticed.”
THE campaigns officer at Friends, Families and Travellers, Chris McDonagh, said: “The EHRC is doing the right thing and we hope it sends a strong message.”
The Guardian has approached Pontins for comment.