What does this guidance cover?

Part 7 of the Equality Act 2010 states that an association is any group that has at least 25 members and regulates admission using rules and a selection process.

The rules do not have to be written down and it does not matter if the association is run for profit, or if it is legally incorporated or not.

1. Know the law

It is unlawful for an association to discriminate against or victimise its members, associates and guests, also its prospective members, associates and guests, because of the following protected characteristics:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Part 7 of the Equality Act 2010 doesn’t apply to the protected characteristic marriage and civil partnership. The harassment provisions only apply to the characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, race and sex.

As an association, you will be responsible for the actions of your employees and your agents.

An employee means a person who carries out work for the association under a contract.

An agent is someone who has authorised functions or duties for an association, and has some authority to represent the association. Their functions or duties may be given to them explicitly or they may be implied. A person will not be acting as an agent where they act outside the scope of their authority.

2. Understand what is meant by discrimination, victimisation and harassment

Direct discrimination is when you treat someone worse than another person because they either have a protected characteristic, you think they have that protected characteristic, or they are connected to someone with that protected characteristic.

Indirect discrimination happens when there is a policy or practice that applies in the same way for everyone but disadvantages a group of people who share a protected characteristic. If this happens, you must show that there is a good reason for the policy.

Victimisation is treating someone badly because they have done a ‘protected act’ or you believe they have done a ‘protected act’. A protected act means:

  • making a claim of discrimination
  • providing evidence or information to someone else to make a claim
  • making an allegation that you or someone else has breached the Equality Act
  • doing anything else for the purpose of or in connection with the Equality Act

Harassment occurs when you engage in unwanted (meaning unwelcome or uninvited) behaviour which is related to a protected characteristic, and which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment.

3. Leadership

Strong leadership is key to ensuring organisations operate without discrimination.

The culture of an organisation can often stem from the top. Make sure your leaders, including board members and managers, are abiding by your standards of behaviour, leading by example and accountable for both the culture and practice at the organisation. 

Make certain that they create a culture where discrimination of any form isn’t tolerated, and where people feel that they can challenge it.

4. Set standards of behaviour and create an inclusive culture

How you behave towards members, associates and guests in relation to their protected characteristics will be at the heart of whether your association operates without unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation.

Make sure you set, publish and communicate standards of behaviour so everyone involved in your association knows what values you hold and how they are expected to behave. Use these standards of behaviour to create a culture where communication between people, whether informal or formal, verbal or written, is respectful. Make certain that your values and standards are modelled at meetings. 

5. Have a clear, published complaints policy

Make sure you have clear, published rules and guidance about how discrimination complaints are handled and how decisions are made. Make sure the rules and guidance are well publicised and accessible to all.

Also ensure your complaints handling team are properly resourced so that complaints can be dealt with effectively and without delay.

6. Provide training

Make sure that everyone who handles complaints has had appropriate training and are aware of which characteristics are protected under the Equality Act. Ensure that they would be able to identify incidents of unlawful discrimination, victimisation and harassment.

If you are developing a training programme, make sure you involve relevant, affected groups in the process.

7. Make reasonable adjustments

Associations also have an anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. ‘Anticipatory’ means you must think in advance about what disabled people with a range of impairments might need. This includes people with both physical and mental health conditions.

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.

8. Have a clear, published social media policy

Social media activity can be a common area for complaints of discrimination. Make sure you have a social media policy in place which adequately guards against unlawful discrimination.

Make it clear that members and associates may be investigated and subject to disciplinary action if they like or share content which could be seen to be discriminatory or would harass or victimise others.

Last updated: 27 Apr 2022

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


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