Areas Of Responsibility

New law in force

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. Some of the information on this page may be out of date.

Overview

If an organisation provides a service to consumers, it also needs to avoid discrimination in how it provides that service. This includes discrimination on the grounds of:

  • disability
  • gender
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation

This applies to all organisations that provide goods, facilities or services to the public, whether paid for or free, and no matter how large or small they are.

For example, a nightclub runs ladies’ nights where women receive free drinks, two-for-one offers or free admission. This is sex discrimination.

However, there are some exceptions to this – for more information see When discrimination is lawful.

Consumers’ rights and you

The Equality and Human Rights Commission deals with discrimination in the provision of services to consumers, as well as in employment and education.

But the law also gives consumers many other rights, for example in credit agreements, contracts and regarding faulty goods. Read a full overview of consumers’ rights at the Government’s Consumer Direct website.

The Code of Practice on access to goods and services helps disabled people and service providers understand how to make reasonable adjustments. It is a legal document and can be taken into account by the courts.
Read the Code of Practice on access to goods and services.(Pdf)

Find out more about the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual consumers from Stonewall’s guide to the Sexual Orientation Regulations and rights to goods and services.

Making reasonable adjustments

Service providers in Britain have a legal duty to make 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that people are not prevented from using their services because they have a disability.

When deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable, service providers can consider issues such as the cost of the adjustment, the practicality of making it, health and safety factors, the size of the organisation, and whether it will achieve the desired effect.

Adjustments can be in the form of physical changes to a building, providing extra services, or changing a policy or procedure.

Example

The landlord of a private block of flats makes the following changes to help disabled tenants:

  • replacing taps and door handles with models that are easier to use

  • adding a wheelchair ramp at the main entrance.

These are likely to be reasonable adjustments.

A hotel makes the following changes to help visually impaired guests:

  • using large print for registration and guest information

  • ensuring that at least one copy of the fixed menu is in Braille

  • providing phones with large buttons.

These are likely to be reasonable adjustments.

(These examples are taken from Direct Gov.)

Example

A DVD rental shop requires a driving licence as identification for new members. This excludes people with disabilities that make them unable to drive. If the shop does not change its policy to accept other forms of identification, it could be guilty of failing to make reasonable adjustments.

In considering what is reasonable, you may consider factors such as your organisation’s financial resources: generally, more is expected of larger organisations.

See also the publication 'A practical guide for small businesses and other small service providers'.

Housing providers

Most organisations involved in housing are service providers, including private landlords, estate agents, housing associations, local authorities, property developers and property management companies.

The Race Relations (Amendment) Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origins when selling, letting or managing property (including business premises).

There are very limited exceptions where it may be legal to discriminate on the grounds of colour or nationality:

  • owneroccupiers selling or letting their property without advertising or using an estate agent

  • letting accommodation in small premises, where the landlord or landlady, the owner or a member of their family also live, and where they would have to share facilities with people who are not members of the household.

In these situations discrimination may be legal on grounds of colour or nationality, but not if the grounds of discrimination are those of race, ethnic or national origin.

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people on grounds of disability when you let, sell or manage property. Housing providers are also bound by the requirement to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

Read more about the rights of people buying or renting housing in ‘Rights in different settings: Housing and property.

Read a guide to the Disability Equality Duty for housing providers (Pdf)

Read the Code of Practice for Racial Equality in Housing (England - Pdf),  or Code of Practice for Racial Equality in Housing (Scotland - Pdf), or Code of Practice for Racial Equality in Housing (Wales - Pdf)

Transport

Access to transport is fundamental in allowing everyone to participate fully and independently in society. Yet disabled people travel on average one-third less than non-disabled people, because of the many difficulties they face in using public transport.

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for organisations that provide services to the public to discriminate against disabled people in the way they provide or do not provide those services. All transport providers have duties in relation to timetables, websites, and railway and bus stations, as well as the provision and use of the vehicles they provide.

Generally, transport providers do not need to alter their vehicles in order to comply with the law. However, operators are obliged to make reasonable adjustments in the way they deliver their services to remove any barriers for disabled passengers, depending on the type of vehicles and the services they offer to the public.

For more information on what transport providers can do to avoid discrimination, read How to tackle discrimination.

See 'Making reasonable adjustments' for more information on what is 'reasonable'.

Find out more about individuals’ rights when using transport. Rights in different settings: Transport.

There are certain limited exceptions to these obligations. Find out more about when discrimination may be lawful.

Accessibility

Your business needs to be accessible to all members of the public. Under the Disability Discrimination Act, service providers must make reasonable adjustments so that disabled people aren’t unfairly disadvantaged when trying to use their services.

This might involve making changes to physical features of your building, changing the way you communicate with customers, or adding extra help for disabled service users.

Read guidance on making access to goods and services easier for disabled customers.

See Making reasonable adjustments (above) for more information on what is 'reasonable'.

Accessibility is not just about the physical environment, it covers other aspects of service delivery too. For example, making information available in different formats can help make your service more accessible.

The RNIB produce guidance on how to produce printed information  that is accessible to people with visual impairments.

Producing information in Easy Read is another way to make it available to more people. The DRC produced a guide on this: How to Use Easy Words and Pictures (Pdf)

Websites

The term ‘service provider’ includes people who provide websites for customers to use. You must therefore make sure that your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities. If it is not, you could be breaking the law.

Good accessibility practice is to comply with the minimum accessibility level defined by the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C.

The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative, or WAI, includes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) The WCAG provides three ‘conformance levels’. These are known as Levels A, AA and AAA. Each level has a series of checkpoints for accessibility, known as Priority 1, 2 and 3 checkpoints.

According to the W3C, if a website fails to satisfy the Priority 1 (Level A) requirements, some users will find it impossible to access the site. To make sure that disabled users can access your site, it should at the very least satisfy Priority 1 (or Level A), although Level AA would be a better minimum target.

Website accessibility is about more than simply providing disabled access via a PC. It includes providing unhindered access to a website from a range of devices, including web-enabled televisions, mobile phones and PDAs. It also means making your web content accessible to users with different screen sizes, browser types and settings, or those who do not have plug-ins such as Flash.

In November 2010 BSI published the first British Standard to address the growing challenge of digital inclusion. BS 8878 on Web accessibility is a Code of Practice.  It has been designed to introduce non-technical professionals to improved accessibility, usability and user experience for disabled and older people. It will be especially beneficial to anyone new to this subject as it gives guidance on process, rather than on technical and design issues. BS 8878 is consistent with the Equality Act 2010 and is referenced in the UK government’s e-Accessibility Action Plan.

It includes recommendations for:

  • Involving disabled people in the development process and using automated tools to assist with accessibility testing
  • the management of the guidance and process for upholding existing accessibility guidelines and specifications.

Find out about BS 8878:2010 Web accessibility Code of practice

If your website is not fully accessible to all, you have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 (and previously the Disability Discrimination Act 2005) to make reasonable adjustments to make it so. Find out more about the legal definition and examples of reasonable adjustments (above).

Example

A visually impaired person using the internet uses a screen reader to read a web page through a speech synthesiser or Braille display. This person will struggle to understand the content if images are displayed on the page without a text alternative. It is good practice to provide alternative text for images that are necessary for a full understanding of the site, so that people using screen readers can use it successfully.

The RNIB also has useful guidance on designing accessible websites – see ‘Good Design’ on the RNIB website. 

Advertising

With a few limited exceptions, it is unlawful to publish an advertisement for goods or services that discriminates on grounds of race, sex, disability, religion or belief or sexual orientation, or that advertises discriminatory services.

Publishers share with advertisers and their agents the responsibility for ensuring that advertisements do not indicate any intention to discriminate unlawfully. See Liability and legal responsibility.

Example

A nightclub advertises free admission to women, while men have to pay. This would be unlawful because it is advertising a discriminatory service.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) sets standards for all forms of advertising, in broadcast, print and online. These are set down in the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (also known as the CAP Code).

Complaints about breaches of the CAP Code are heard by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Find out more about how you can comply with the code at the CAP’s website.

It is particularly important to avoid discrimination in recruitment advertising. Find out more about this in Employers: Job advertisements and recruitment.

Differences for religious organisations and associations

It may be lawful for religious organisations to only allow one sex to use their services, for instance if those services are offered in a place which is used by the religious organisation, and if restricting the services is in line with the doctrines of that religion.

Insurance and guarantees

Providing insurance is a service. However, discrimination in insurance provision can often be justified because it is considered reasonable for insurance providers to rely on relevant information to provide insurance.

Example

A provider of personal accident insurance may be able to justify refusing insurance or increasing the insurance premiums for a deaf person if they have reliable figures to show that deaf people are more at risk, and if the deaf person could not produce evidence to prove that they were not more at risk.

Providing insurance is also exempt from the equal treatment requirements of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

Example

A car insurance company charges lower premiums to women than to men. This is likely to be lawful discrimination if the insurer can show that it has used relevant statistical information to make the decision – for example, historical data showing that women are less likely than men to have accidents.

The Disability Discrimination Act 2005 also makes special provisions for guarantees and deposits. If your company gives a guarantee that an item will be refunded or replaced if it is damaged, then it is not unlawful for you to refuse to honour the guarantee if the damage was caused by your customer’s disability.

Public bodies

Many public authorities are also service providers. These public authorities have an additional duty to actively promote equality (rather than simply avoid discrimination). Read more about the duties of public authorities.

Employees’ rights

Service providers have the same obligations as other employers towards the people they employ. Your staff are protected against discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief. For more information see the section on Employers.

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