Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.
Read this list to tell you how you can expect an association to treat you.
Make sure you know what is meant by:
Then you will know how you fit into each of these protected characteristics.
Unlawful discrimination can take a number of different forms. If you are a member, associate member or guest (including a prospective member or guest):
An association must not treat you worse than someone else because of a protected characteristic (this is called direct discrimination).
An association must not treat you worse than someone else because you are associated with a person who has a protected characteristic.
A member of a private members’ club brings a gay friend as a guest to a social event and is refused service at the bar because of his friend’s sexual orientation. This is discrimination on the basis of the member’s association with his gay friend (who could also make a claim for direct discrimination because of sexual orientation).
An association must not treat you badly because you have complained about discrimination or helped someone else complain or done anything to uphold your own or someone else’s equality law rights. This is referred to as victimisation.
A member of a sports club supports another in their claim for discrimination. When the time comes for them to renew their annual membership, they are told their membership will not be renewed.
An association must not harass you.
A member of an association’s management committee is verbally abusive to a disabled guest. The abuse is related to the guest’s disability.
Note: Even where the behaviour does not come within the equality law definition of harassment (for example, because it is related to religion or belief or sexual orientation), it is still likely to be unlawful direct discrimination because the association is giving the service to you on worse terms than it would give someone who did not have the same protected characteristic.
In addition, if you are a disabled person and are a member, associate member or guest (or a prospective member or guest), the association must make reasonable adjustments in its selection processes and in how you access its services.
The aim of reasonable adjustments is to make sure that disabled people are able to join an association or use its services as far as is reasonably possible to the same standard usually offered to non-disabled people.
An association does not just have to think about reasonable adjustments for disabled people who are already members, associate members or guests, but also to disabled people who are:
This means they must think in advance about what disabled 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.
If it is the physical features of a building the association occupies or is using that put disabled people at a substantial disadvantage, the association must either:
Sometimes a reasonable adjustment may involve providing disabled people with an alternative way of using the service, which involves some level of inconvenience or segregation. However, the best kind of reasonable adjustment is one which enables disabled people to access the service in much the same way as non-disabled people. Indeed, if there is an adjustment which can reasonably be made which avoids segregation or inconvenience then an adjustment which entails segregation or inconvenience may not be considered a reasonable adjustment at all.
Where meetings take place in a member’s or associate member’s home, then reasonable adjustments do not have to be made to physical features to make it accessible for a member who is a disabled person and for whom the physical features of the meeting place present a barrier to their attending the meeting.
But it may be required as a reasonable adjustment to hold the meeting at an accessible venue.
A wine-tasting club would not have to include fruit juice tastings in its activities because someone wants to join who has hepatitis B and cannot tolerate alcohol.
You can read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people. This includes advice on how an organisation can decide if an adjustment is a reasonable adjustment.
An association can still tell its members, associate members and guests what standards of behaviour it wants from them. For example, behaving with respect towards staff and to other members, associate members and guests.
Sometimes, how someone behaves may be linked to a protected characteristic.
If an association sets standards of behaviour for their members, associates and guests which have a worse impact on people with a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have 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.
One young person who is a member of a club for teenagers has autistic spectrum disorder and sometimes misunderstands instructions which are not given in very direct language. This means they sometimes need to be told what to do a second time and in a different way. Club staff accept that the young person is not being uncooperative when they do not always do what they are asked to do the first time. In behaving like this, the club has made a reasonable adjustment to the standards of behaviour it applies. (Incidentally, the club could also think about whether it is a reasonable adjustment for staff to learn how to give more direct instructions.)
If the club did decide that the young person’s behaviour was causing more significant difficulties for other young people or for staff and that they have made all the adjustments it is reasonable for them to make, they would have to objectively justify stopping the young person attending (in other words, withdraw the service from the young person). Otherwise, this is likely to be discrimination arising from disability and/or indirect discrimination because of the young person’s disability.