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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.

Exceptions for service providers

What you need to know


Are there exceptions for service providers?

The law allows that people can be treated differently in certain circumstances and there are exceptions to the general principle of non-discrimination set out in the various pieces of legislation. Below is a sample of exceptions to the law - it is not an exhaustive list. Some exceptions apply to only one equality ground; others apply to more than one. Service providers should always seek advice before relying on an exception.

  • facilities or services where embarrassment is likely to be caused at the presence of a woman or a man (eg. changing rooms at a swimming pool)
  • facilities or services where physical contact between the user and any other person is likely, and that other person might reasonably object if the user was a person of the opposite sex
  • in relation to communal residential accommodation (such as dormitories or other shared residential accommodation). However, when restricting communal accommodation on the ground of gender reassignment, the degree to which such discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is taken into account
  • where the essential nature of the goods, facilities or services require them to be provided only to persons holding or not holding a particular religious belief
  • where the essential nature of the goods, facilities or services require them to be provided only to persons holding or not holding a particular political opinion as in the case of a political party (must be a registered political party)
  • an association where the main object is to enable the benefits of membership to be enjoyed by persons of a particular racial group defined otherwise than by reference to colour
  • benefits conferred by charities on members of a specific group
  • small private clubs with fewer than 25 members unless they provide services to the public (only applies to some grounds)
  • persons who make arrangements to take into their home (for reward or not) persons who they treat as members of their family, such as children, elderly persons, or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention
  • a hospital or other establishment for persons requiring special supervision, attention or care
  • organised religion where the facilities or services are restricted to men only or women only so as to comply with the doctrines of that religion or avoid offending the religious susceptibilities of a significant number of followers
  • religious organisations whose main purpose is to practice, advance or teach a religion or belief or to enable people of a religion or belief to receive a benefit or to engage in an activity, within the framework of that religion or belief (exception only applies to sexual orientation)
  • acts relating to participation as a competitor in certain sporting events which are confined to competitors of one sex (exception applies to sex and gender reassignment only)
  • acts which relate to the provision or disposal of accommodation or premises of small dwellings (exception does not apply to gender reassignment and sexual orientation)
  • acts done to protect women in compliance with the requirement of an existing statutory provision (eg. in relation to pregnancy or maternity)
  • acts done to safeguard national security, or to protect public safety or public order
  • acts done under statutory authority.

For further information or guidance contact us

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