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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.


Providers of goods and services

What you need to know

How we can help



What does the law say?

The law says it is unlawful for a service provider to refuse to provide a service, or provide a service of a lower or worse standard to individuals on the grounds of their colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origin.

What are my responsibilities as a provider of goods and services?

All organisations which provide services to the public, whether large or small, are subject to race relations law and should not discriminate or harass on the grounds of colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins (including Irish Traveller).

As a provider of goods, facilities and services you have a responsibility to ensure that your employees do not discriminate against individuals. An employee who discriminates on racial grounds will usually be regarded as acting in the course of their employment, even if you have issued express instructions not to discriminate. This is called “vicarious liability”.


However, in legal proceedings against a service provider based on the actions of an employee, it is a defence that the service provider took, ‘such steps as were reasonably practicable’ to prevent such actions. Reasonable steps would include having an equality policy, communicating it to staff and implementing it effectively. It is not a defence for the service provider simply to show that the action took place without its prior knowledge or approval.


What other areas are covered?

It is unlawful for anyone selling or managing property or premises to discriminate on racial grounds. For example, it would be unlawful for a landlord to refuse to rent or to evict someone on the basis of their race or colour or national origin.

For example:


  • A landlord agrees to rent a house to Joanne and her family.  He changes his mind when he realises Joanne’s partner is not of European origin.  The Landlord’s treatment of his family is likely to amount to direct racial discrimination.

It is also unlawful to apply discriminatory practices, publish discriminatory advertisements, instruct or put pressure on a person to do anything contrary to the law by discriminating in employment or other fields, or to knowingly aid another person to carry out such acts.

Examples of race discrimination

  • A Day Care Centre requires parents to confirm residency in the area by way of a utilities bill.  Although this criterion is applied equally to everyone, it may disadvantage Irish Travellers who may not be able to comply with this request,
  • A shop assistant is rude to a Romanian customer refusing to pack his shopping and telling him to “go home to his own country”.  This behaviour is hostile and intimidating and is likely to amount to direct racial discrimination.
  • An Indian woman, who had previously complained about discrimination by a doctor’s receptionist, was given an inferior and unhelpful service when she needed an urgent appointment.  This is less favourable treatment than others because she has complained about racial discrimination.

What services are covered by the law?

  • Access to and use of any place which members of the public are permitted to enter
  • Accommodation in a hotel, boarding house or other similar establishment
  • Facilities by way of banking, insurance, finance etc
  • Facilities for education
  • Facilities for entertainment, recreation or refreshment
  • Facilities for transport or travel
  • The services of any profession or trade, or any local or other public authority

It is also unlawful, on the grounds of race or ethnic or national origin, for a service provider to harass a person to whom it provides goods, facilities or services or to harass someone who seeks to obtain any of these goods or services.


Are there any exceptions?

There are some exceptions to the general principles of discrimination on the grounds of race:


  • access to facilities or services which meet the special needs of racial groups with regard to their education, training or welfare
  • discrimination, on the grounds of colour and nationality only, in relation to the provision of education or training for persons not ordinarily resident in Northern Ireland
  • discrimination on the grounds of nationality, place of birth or length of time resident when selecting someone to represent a country, place or area in any sport or game or in relation to rules on eligibility to compete in any sport or game
  • acts done to safeguard national security, or to protect public safety or public order
  • acts done under statutory authority where the discrimination is on the grounds of colour or nationality
  • certain restrictions based on nationality or residence or length of residence in the UK with regard to employment by the Crown
  • discriminatory acts on the grounds of colour and nationality only in relation to the provision of accommodation, the disposal of premises or the granting of licence/consent in relation to small dwellings
  • acts done by a person as a participant in arrangements under which s/he takes into her/his home, and treats as if they were members of her/his family, children, elderly persons or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention
  • certain acts done by charities on grounds of colour or nationality
  • employment where being part of a particular race or ethnic or national origin is a genuine and determining requirment for the employment in question
  • certain acts in relation to the pay of seamen recruited abroad
  • small private clubs with less than 25 members
  • certain judicial and legislative acts
  • certain acts in immigration cases
  • certain decisions not to prosecute in criminal cases.

< Service providers

How we can help

We believe that helping you promote and encourage good equal opportunities practice is as important as enforcing the equality law. Every year, the Commission helps hundreds of businesses and organisations comply with equality laws.

We recognise that employers' needs differ across sectors and businesses – so we tailor our services to meet employers’ varying needs.


We provide high quality training seminars and information sessions to employers on a wide range of equality issues.

These events provide advice and guidance on employers’ duties under current equality laws and on introducing best practice. We recommend that employers carefully consider their needs and choose the seminars and sessions which are of most benefit to them.

Employer Training Programme

Training sessions include:

   •  Introduction to understanding equality
   •  Equality training for line managers
   •  Recruiting fairly
   •  Bullying and harassment at work
   •  Pregnancy, maternity and flexible working
   •  Promoting disability in the workplace 
   •  Reasonable steps defence
   •  How to complete an Article 55 Review
   •  Monitoring form workshops

We are flexible in terms of themes covered and can tailor courses to suit employers’ business needs. Further details are available on our employer training page or contact us Tel: 028 90 500 600, email



In-house training

On occasion, the Commission can provide in-house training for organisations.  Where we agree to such a request, we will normally deliver one session to key staff within the organisation and assist them to disseminate the training internally. For in-house training requests, contact Frances Nugent, email  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Speakers for your event

If you are organising an equality related event, our staff can share their expertise to highlight relevant issues in equality law that relate to your business priorities. For further information, contact Paul Oakes  Tel: 028 90 500600.

Employer news ezine

To receive updates on our training seminars, events and employer equality networks sign up to receive our Employer & Service Providers' Newsletter using the subscribe button at the bottom of the page.


This is a selection of race-related publications that are relevant to providers of goods, facilities and services.
Additional publications

Further publications are available in our publications database

For further guidance please contact our Advice and Compliance team - 028 90 500 600.

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