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:
- bed and breakfast establishments
- guest houses
- self-catering holidays
- bars and nightclubs
- public houses
- takeaway food establishments.
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, use the list on page What equality law means for your business when you’re providing goods, facilities or services to the public to make sure you know what equality law says you must do as a business providing goods, facilities or services to the public.
- You may need to work out if you are an association (which is what equality law calls some organisations that describe themselves as clubs) or a service provider.
- You need to avoid unlawful discrimination if you set conditions on who you serve and the terms and conditions on which you serve them.
- Because your service is likely to be provided at a particular place, you need to consider reasonable adjustments to your premises or to the way you deliver your services.
Even though you may describe yourself as a ‘club’ (and many clubs are what equality law calls associations), you are really a service provider if you are offering a service to any member of the public,
For example, by:
charging them an entry fee to watch an event
allowing anyone to join your dining club provided they pay for the service
even if the charge is described as a membership fee or if the service is free.
If you are not sure whether you are a service provider or an association, then ask yourself:
- do you have 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 on 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 you are both an association and a service provider, the question you need to think about is whether your services are provided to the public or to your members or associate members and their guests or people who want to become members or guests.
If it is the public, then this is the right guide for you to read.
If it is your members, associate members or their guests or people who want to become members or guests, you should read the guide on associations instead.
If you decide who to serve and who not to serve based on a protected characteristic, you risk discriminating against your customers.
- A café owner must not ask a woman to leave their cafe because she is breastfeeding her baby.
- ‘Ladies’ nights’ where only women receive free drinks, ‘two-for-one’ offers or free admission are almost certainly direct sex discrimination against men. The same would be true of any other offer which was restricted to people with a particular protected characteristic, except for disability. Services should not be offered on this basis.
- A hotel or bed and breakfast cannot refuse to give a shared bedroom to a gay or lesbian couple if they give a shared bedroom to opposite sex partners. Nor could they insist on them having a twin room if they would offer a double room to opposite sex partners, and there are double rooms available.
- A pub cannot refuse to serve a customer because they are a transsexual person or with a transsexual person. Nor should the transsexual person be given a worse standard of service, for example, by allowing other customers to make hostile remarks or refusing them access to the toilets appropriate to the sex in which they present.
- 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.
You can still tell customers what standards of behaviour you want from them.
However, sometimes how someone behaves may be linked to a protected characteristic.
If you set standards of behaviour for your customers or clients which have a worse impact on people with a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have that characteristic, you need to make sure that you can objectively justify what you have done. Otherwise, it will be indirect discrimination.
If you do set standards of behaviour, you must make reasonable adjustments to them for disabled people and avoid discrimination arising from disability.
If you run a hospitality business, you will need to make sure your premises are accessible to disabled people by making reasonable adjustments. You cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use your 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 hotel’s 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.
A nightclub with low-level lighting is very unlikely to have to adjust the lighting to accommodate customers who are partially sighted if this would fundamentally change the atmosphere or ambience of the club. This is unlikely to be a reasonable adjustment.
Last updated: 15 Jul 2019