Theatres and other entertainment venues

New guidance

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. Within this it would include lots of different entertainment venues both large and small, such as:

  • theatres
  • cinemas
  • music venues – everything from a large opera house through to a local jazz café
  • comedy clubs, an
  • arts festivals, including music and children’s festivals.

This also applies to places that are not usually used for entertainment but have occasions when members of the public do use them for that purpose. For example, a church which holds lunchtime music recitals or an empty shop which is opened up for an arts festival.

It doesn’t matter whether the service is free, for example, a free concert, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.

Possible issues

First, you can use the list in the Glossary to make sure you know what equality law says businesses providing goods, facilities or services to the public must do.

Also look at: Delivering services: staff, places, advertisements and marketing, written materials, websites, telephone services and call centres.

You may need to work out if an organisation is an association or a service provider.

Because the business’ activities take place at a particular place, they need to make sure a venue is accessible to disabled people by making reasonable adjustments. They cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use their 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.


Is the organisation an association or a service provider?

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:

  • charging an entry fee to watch an activity, or
  • allowing anyone to join a jazz club provided they pay for the service

even if the charge is described as a membership fee, or if the service is free. If, for example, they allow a person to watch a concert 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:

  • Are there 25 or more members and is membership regulated by rules – for example, do all the members have to decide who becomes a new member?

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.

For example: 

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 allows members of the public to attend stand up comedy events held in its function rooms.

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. 

Reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people

Reasonable adjustments are not just about changes to physical features or the addition of auxiliary aids such as a hearing loop, although these can be important to some disabled people. Entertainment businesses should consider providing information (such as programmes and publicity material) in alternative formats and offering an additional ticket for free to a disabled person who needs to bring an assistant. 

If a venue is of a type that means that they need to restrict services based on health and safety considerations, they should make sure that any action taken in relation to health or safety is proportionate to the risk.

Disabled people are entitled to make the same choices and to take the same risks within the same limits as other people. Health and safety law does not require service providers to remove all conceivable risk, but to ensure that risk is properly appreciated, understood and managed. Businesses should not make assumptions; instead, they should assess the person’s situation, and consider reasonable adjustments to reduce any risks, their duty not to discriminate and, where appropriate, the disabled person’s own views. There must be a balance between protecting against the risk and restricting disabled people from access to services.

For example: 

A cinema manager turns away a wheelchair user because they assume, without checking, that the disabled person could be in danger in the event of a fire. Although the manager genuinely believes that refusing admission to wheelchair users is necessary in order not to endanger the health or safety of either the disabled person or other cinemagoers, they have not made enquiries as to whether there are adequate means of escape (which there are). The belief is therefore unlikely to be reasonably held. In these circumstances, the refusal of admission is unlikely to be justified. The right sort of approach is for the manager to check the facts and to make a decision based upon them.

More information

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