The equalities watchdog has launched a formal investigation into holiday park firm Pontins over “continued concerns” it is discriminating against Gypsy and Traveller guests.
In March last year, the owner of Pontins, Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited, entered into a 12-month legal agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to prevent racial discrimination.
It came after a whistleblower revealed it was using an “undesirable guests” list to exclude Gypsies and Travellers and was operating a discriminatory bookings policy.
At the time, the EHRC verified the claims and said practices included a list of Irish surnames published on its intranet page, with staff required to block potential customers with those names from booking.
It said staff monitored calls and refused or cancelled bookings made by people with an Irish accent or surname, while Pontins’ commercial vehicle policy excluded Gypsies and Travellers from its holiday parks.
By declining to provide its services to guests of a certain race or ethnic group, Pontins was “directly discriminating on the basis of race” and breached the 2010 Equality Act, the EHRC said.
On Thursday, the watchdog said it ended the agreement in February after alerting Pontins to potential breaches of the agreement.
It said it has opened a formal investigation, as it was “not satisfied that Pontins was taking the required steps to prevent unlawful discrimination from occurring”.
It is “still concerned” about how the “undesirable guests” list is used and the way services are provided to the Gypsy and Traveller community, the watchdog said.
Investigators will look to make a formal finding on whether Pontins has committed unlawful acts under the Equality Act by discriminating against Gypsy and Traveller guests through its booking policies and record-keeping.
This includes looking at whether a booking policy requirement that prospective guests are on the electoral register directly or indirectly discriminates on the basis of race.
EHRC chief executive Marcial Boo said: “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, which we expected 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.”
The investigation is expected to take months.
Britannia Jinky Jersey Limited has been approached for comment.