Services for particular groups

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Any organisation providing a service

Which countries is it relevant to?

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There are limited and specific situations in which you can provide (or refuse to provide) all or some of your services to people based on a protected characteristic. These exceptions apply to any organisation which meets the strict tests. There are some further exceptions which apply just to charities, which you can read about  in Exceptions: charities and religion or belief organisations, or just to religion or belief organisations

If you normally supply services only for people with a particular protected characteristic (such as those of a particular ethnic background or gay men or lesbians), you can carry on providing the service the same way.

For example:

A voluntary sector organisation holds reduced rate lunches for older people of Chinese ethnic background. It provides Chinese food cooked in a traditional way.  If someone who was not from Chinese ethnic background wanted to attend, then the organisation could not refuse them, but it need not provide a different style of food..

You can refuse to provide the service to someone who does not have that characteristic if you reasonably think it is impracticable for you to provide them with the service.

You can also target your advertising or marketing at a group with particular protected characteristics, as long as you do not suggest you will not serve people with a particular characteristic (unless one of the exceptions applies). You can read more about advertising and marketing.

Please refer to our most recent guidance on the provision of separate and single-sex services here.

You can refuse to provide a service to a pregnant woman, or set conditions on the service, because you reasonably believe that providing the service in the usual way would create a risk to the woman’s health or safety, and you would do the same thing in relation to a person whose health and safety might be at risk because of a different physical condition.

For example:

A voluntary organisation holds aerobic classes at a local sports hall. They run separate classes for pregnant women and for people with back injuries. When they refuse to allow a pregnant woman to go to the regular class, this decision is likely to be allowed because of this exception.

As well as these exceptions, it may be possible for your organisation to target people with a particular protected characteristic through positive action. You must be able to show that you have reason to think that the protected characteristic these people share means they have a different need or experience disadvantage or have low participation in the sort of activities you run. If you are thinking about taking positive action, you need to go through a number of steps to decide whether it is needed and what sort of action to take.

As well as these exceptions, equality law allows you to treat disabled people more favourably than non-disabled people. The aim of the law in allowing this is to remove barriers that disabled people would otherwise face to accessing services. 

For example:

A voluntary organisation provides free travel to disabled people who want to attend its events, but not to non-disabled people.  This would be lawful.

Last updated: 23 Feb 2023

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.


Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.