Creating a fairer Britain
Equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public.
This includes sport and leisure related services, such as:
It doesn’t matter whether the service is free, for example, free swimming sessions in a swimming pool run on behalf of a local authority, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.
Even though you may describe yourself as a ‘club’ (and many clubs are, in equality law, associations), you are really a service provider if you are offering a service to any member of the public, for example, by:
even if the charge is described as a membership fee or if the service is free. If, for example, you allow a person to have a free trial session, you are still providing them with a service.
If you are not sure whether you are a service provider or an association, then ask yourself:
If the answer to this is ‘yes’, then you should read the guide on associations instead.
It is possible to be both an association and a service provider.
A private golf club with rules regulating membership will be an association when it is dealing with its members and their guests, but a service provider if it opens its golf course, café and shop to members of the public on certain days of the week or when spectators attend to watch club competitions. If someone does not have to be a club member to take part in a competition, then the golf club is also providing competitors with a service.
If you are both an association and a service provider, the question you need to think about is whether your services are provided to the public or to your members, associate members and their guests or people who want to become members or guests.
If it is the public, then this is the right guide for you to read.
If it is your members or their guests or people who want to become members or guests, you should read the guide on associations instead.
First, use the list on page What equality law means for your business when you’re providing goods, facilities or services to the public to make sure you know what equality law says you must do as a business providing goods, facilities or services to the public.
Particular issues for you to think about are:
If you want to provide separate services for men and women or a single-sex service for men or women only, then you need to be able to objectively justify providing your service in this way. You must meet other conditions as well, such as showing that a joint service would be less effective, or that men’s needs and women’s needs are different. Read more about exceptions.
A gym restricts access to its small sauna to men at some times and women at other times. Each sex has access to a mixture of daytime and evening use. At the times when the opposite sex is excluded, the gym is providing a single-sex service for the sex which is allowed to use the sauna. The gym believes the restriction is objectively justified and can also show that the sauna may be used by more than one person and a woman might object to the presence of a man (or vice versa). It is likely that the provision of the service in this way will come within the exception.
You can read more about this in the Core guidance section.
You may need to make reasonable adjustments to make sure that disabled people are able to change in the same privacy and comfort as non-disabled people.
The changing facilities in a women-only gym are located in a room that is only accessible by stairs. The gym owner suggests to disabled users of the gym with mobility impairments that they can change in a corner of the gym itself. This is unlikely to be a reasonable alternative method of making the service available, since it may significantly infringe upon people’s dignity.
However, providing an alternative private room to change in may be a reasonable adjustment.
You must also avoid discriminating against transsexual people. Treat a transsexual person as belonging to the sex in which the transsexual person presents (as opposed to the physical sex they were born with) unless you can objectively justify treating them differently.
A clothes shop has separate changing areas for men and for women with individual cubicles. The shop concludes it would not be appropriate or necessary to exclude a transsexual woman from the female changing room as the privacy and decency of all users can be assured by the provision of the separate cubicles.
Where a transsexual person is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from someone of their preferred gender, they should normally be treated according to their acquired gender unless there are strong reasons not to do so.
Where someone has a gender recognition certificate they should be treated in their acquired gender for all purposes.
Obviously, sometimes you will require specialist or safety clothing or equipment to be worn by participants in your activities. If you make this a condition of participating in your activities, and a person says that they cannot comply with the condition because of a protected characteristic, and can show that the condition has a disproportionate impact on people who share that characteristic, you will need to objectively justify the condition you have put in place.
A riding stables says that all riders must wear a riding hat or helmet which meets a particular safety standard. This is because the approved helmet protects riders from serious head injury in the event of a fall. The riding stable refuses to exempt someone who usually keeps their head covered with a particular type of head covering for religious reasons. Provided the stables can objectively justify the refusal, this will not be unlawful indirect discrimination because of religion or belief, even though the requirement has a worse impact on the individual and others who share their protected characteristic.
If it is necessary to change what a disabled person wears to take part in your activities, you need to consider whether making this change amounts to a reasonable adjustment. You can read more about reasonable adjustments.
Separate competition for girls and boys may or may not be allowed, depending on the age and stage of development of the children who will be competing. At some ages and in some sports, it is not possible to say that boys and girls have significant differences of physical strength or stamina or that one sex is at a disadvantage in comparison with the other. Only if it is possible to say this will separate competitions be allowed.
Sports teams can continue to select on the basis of nationality, place of birth or residence if the competitor or team is representing a country, place, area or related association or because of the rules of the competition.