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.
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.
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.
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.
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