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The truth about being a disabled busker in London, advice & the law

My story is common amongst disabled musicians and buskers in London.

Most if not all of the busking licensing schemes and busking restrictions in London are actually illegal for disabled buskers. This is due to the fact that not a single Council had a full and proper impact assessment made that included how their particular scheme would effect disabled people prior to implementation and what the council would do about it.

Unfortunately it would probably take a judicial review in order for these schemes to be undone, BUT, that doesn't stop London councils trying their luck in the courts to see if a court would grant them a prison sentence to a disabled busker for earning a living.

One reason that busking is so important to disabled musicians is it offers a way of working that is completely unique, no other form of employment offers the flexibility busking does and so should be protected for disabled musicians. For example: If my condition is particularly bad today I can just not work, stay at home and get the rest I need. If tomorrow I am better I can work for perhaps just a couple of hours. The next day maybe more, In other words disabled people can work on their own terms without the risk of being fired or put under pressure that may make their condition worst. This is particularly true for people with a learning disability. I know this is the gig economy, and for some disabled people that may not work, but for others it does.


No other form of employment offers this advantage and I would like to see this tested in court so a precedent can be set giving disabled people security and strengthening these rights.

One way or another a test case needs to be made to add protection for this unique form of employment unavailable to disabled people other than through busking. 

I have a condition called spinal stenosis that has variably put me in a wheelchair for10 years, sometimes on crutches or a walking stick but always with mobility issues. I have Epilepsy amongst other disorders but have still kept working as a Saxophonist because I was able to keep busking. Its so important for the dignity and well being for disabled musicians to work and in my case busk. I spent most of 2023 walking near normally, then suddenly without warning I was back in my wheelchair, now on crutches awaiting further neurosurgery. As is often the case with conditions like mine, there are fluctuations and it is this that makes busking as employment irreplaceable.

I can only speak for disabled people in this case but busking in the UK is not illegal and cannot be banned. You can cause a nuisance through busking, but it is the nuisance that would have to be proven, not the busking. You can busk silently, it's still busking but would cause no noise nuisance. If Manchester City Council attempted to arrest me or prevent me from busking quietly, even with an amplifier or a Saxophone, then the question is - what is quietly? That's why disabled buskers need clear db limits. This is not a dictatorship, Russia or Communist

China. Just because somebody says something to you, even if they are a Policeman, council employee security guard or person in the street, doesn't make it right lawful or legal.

Guy Stewart in a wheelchair

Guy Stewart busking in his wheelchair in 2016 Brighton. This image was uploaded to an image distribution site without my permission.

The Government recently introduced new legislation that requires more disabled people to work so making the opportunities offered via busking something the Government should indeed approve of and support, so I hope more disabled people take this opportunity. If as is the case disabled people are being forced to work for disability benefits, then the Government and the courts must protect the rights of disabled people to legally do the work that their disability allows them to do. Busking is not illegal and for disabled people at least, cannot be banned or restricted without reasonable adjustments offered, that's the disability discrimination law ignored by every UK council that ever sort to restrict a disabled persons right to busk without causing an enforceable quantifiable recorded knowable nuisance on public land. Not just someone saying something about me playing, we have proved that's not enough for the courts. 

I'm not a lawyer and have limited legal knowledge although I have taken advice so please check everything with a lawyer prior to taking any action. Don't consider the above to be a definitive explanation of the law. The only thing in English law that always stands is the test of ''reasonableness''.

If busking is legal, and it is, then is it reasonable to ask a busker to perform below the background noise level in the street?

Of course not, otherwise the busker could not be heard. So how much above the background noise level should the busker be without causing a nuisance?

There is in fact an answer to that question and a court will ask a council what that answer is. The answer is 10 db above background level above 24db. This is adjustable depending on circumstance but generally that's it. This is measured at the place of complaint. This means if there is a complaint about a disabled busker from a person living in an apartment, the db level should be measured from the inside of the apartment with the window open and closed.

I think it is reasonable for a disabled busker to play at that level to exorcise their right to busk. But that is just my opinion and contrary to what City councils may say, nothing is legal or illegal until tested in court.

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