Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.
Equality law applies to any business that provides goods, facilities or services to members of the public.
This includes a wide range of different businesses and services. These include:
It doesn't matter whether the service is free, for example, a takeaway food delivery service provided at no charge, or whether it must be paid for - it will still be covered by equality law.
First, you should read our core guidance to make sure you know what equality law says businesses providing goods, facilities or services to the public must do.
Also look at:
Even though they may describe themselves as a club (and many clubs are, in equality law, what are called associations which means slightly different rules apply to them), a business is really a service provider if they 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, they allow a person to enter a nightclub for free, they are still providing them with a service.
If you are not sure whether an organisation is a service provider or an association, then ask yourself:
If the answer to that is yes, then you should read the guide for members, associate members and guests of associations instead.
It is possible to be both an association and a service provider.
A private members 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 restaurant and function rooms to members of the public on certain days of the week.
If an organisation is both an association and a service provider, the question you need to think about is whether the services you are concerned with are being provided to you as a member of the public or with the special status of being a member, associate member or guest of the association.
If you are using the services as a member of the public, then this is the right guide for you to read.
If you have the special status of being a member, associate member or guest (or someone who wants to become a member or guest), you should read the guide on associations instead.
If a business decides who to serve and who not to serve based on a protected characteristic, they risk discriminating against their customers.
A disabled person has epilepsy. The owner of a bar knows this and refuses to serve them because, he says, he is worried about other customers being disturbed if they have a seizure. This is likely to be direct disability discrimination and/or (less likely) discrimination arising from disability.
A disabled person with a learning disability wishes to book a hotel room. The hotel receptionist pretends that all rooms are taken in order to refuse their booking because of their impairment. This is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination.
Waiting staff in a restaurant place a person with a severe facial disfigurement at a table out of sight of other customers, despite other tables being free, because they think other customers will find it embarrassing to look at the person. This is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination.
A hospitality business can still tell customers what standards of behaviour they want from them.
However, sometimes how someone behaves may be linked to a protected characteristic.
If a business sets standards of behaviour for their customers or clients which have a worse impact on people who share a particular protected characteristic than on people who do share that characteristic, they need to make sure that they can objectively justify what they have done. Otherwise, it will be indirect discrimination.
If they do set standards of behaviour, they must make reasonable adjustments to the standards for disabled people and avoid discrimination arising from disability. You can read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.
Hospitality businesses need to make sure their premises are accessible to disabled people by making reasonable adjustments. They cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use the services, but must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need, such as people who have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, a mobility impairment or a learning disability.
Reasonable adjustments are not just about physical accessibility, although this is important for some disabled people, but can be about the way in which services are offered.
A hotels reservations system allocates rooms on a first-come, first-served basis as guests arrive and register. The effect is that on some occasions the specially refurbished rooms that it has for disabled customers are allocated to non-disabled guests, and late-arriving disabled guests cannot be accommodated in those rooms. The hotel decides to change its reservation policy so that the accessible rooms are either reserved for disabled guests in advance or are allocated last of all.
This is likely to be a reasonable adjustment for the hotel to have to make.
Adjustments only have to be made if they are reasonable, taking a range of factors into account, including the nature of the business.