Websites and internet services

New guidance

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.

If someone provides services through a website – such as online shopping, direct marketing or advertising – they are known as an Information Society Service Provider (ISSP).

This applies if they have a one-page website which they maintain themselves. It also applies if they have a very sophisticated website maintained by a professional web design company. And it applies to anything in between. 

If you believe that you have been unlawfully discriminated against by an ISSP, and the ISSP is established in the UK, you can bring a claim in the UK courts against the UK-based ISSP. You do not have to be in the UK, so long as you are in a European Economic Area (EEA) member state.

An ISSP must make sure:

  • That it does not allow discriminatory advertisements and information to appear on its website (whatever the advertisement is for).

For example:

A local newspaper accepts an advertisement which says that jobs at a particular company are only open to people of a particular ethnic or national origin. The newspaper puts it on its website. The advertisement directly discriminates because of race, and the newspaper as well as the advertiser may be liable for discrimination: the advertiser as an employer and the newspaper as an ISSP.

  • That it does not accept requests for the placing of information that unlawfully discriminates against people because of a protected characteristic in using a service.

For example: 

An online holiday company established in the UK refuses to take bookings for shared accommodation from same-sex couples. A lesbian or gay couple could bring a claim for direct discrimination because of sexual orientation in the British courts regardless of whether the couple were in the UK or another EEA member state.

  • That it makes reasonable adjustments to make sure that its website is accessible to disabled people.

Reasonable adjustments

Where this is a reasonable adjustment (and, as with other written information, it is likely to be), a website must be accessible to all users – this will include,

For example:

people with visual impairments, who use text-to-speech software

people with manual dexterity impairments, who cannot use a mouse

people with dyslexia and learning difficulties.

In making reasonable adjustments, a service provider is not allowed to wait until a disabled person wants to use their services. They must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need. If they have not done this and a disabled person wants to use a service, then the service provider must make the reasonable adjustments as quickly as possible.

f you want to know more about how service providers can make their websites accessible for disabled people with a range of impairments, the Royal National Institute of Blind People provides information at: http://www.rnib.org.uk

Read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.

Equality good practice: what to look for

Even if, in an organisation’s particular circumstances, it is not a reasonable adjustment for it to make its website fully accessible to as many people as possible, an organisation can choose to do this.

Exceptions

Where a service provider only has a limited role, it is excused the responsibilities of an ISSP. An example of this is if it is only temporarily storing information, and does not start sending it, decide who to send it to or change the information it is sending. This covers, for example, websites that temporarily transmit or store messages between users.

If an ISSP is not based in the UK, then the laws of the country where it is based will apply to it, rather than UK equality law.

For example:

An online retailer, which provides tickets to major sporting events, offers discounts to large groups of men but not women when booking hospitality packages for a football tournament. The online retailer is established in Germany so in this instance a case of direct discrimination because of sex would have to be brought in the German courts regardless of whether the person complaining was in the UK or another EEA member state.

 

More information

back to top