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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.
Employers & service providers

Service Providers

In Northern Ireland it is unlawful to
discriminate in the provision of goods, facilities and
services and the sale, letting or management of
premises, including land.

Service Providers
UNDER REVIEW: This section of the website is currently under review following the Supreme Court’s judgement on Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd. If you have a query about equality legislation in relation to service provision please contact us by email or telephone 028 90500600

What does the law say?

It is unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds below:


  • refusing or deliberately omitting to provide any service which you offer to or provide to members of the public, or a section of the public
  • providing service of a lower (inferior) standard or quality
  • providing service in a worse manner
  • providing service on less favourable terms

Discrimination can take a number of forms such as indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation.


What services are covered?

Service providers are covered regardless of size, and whether they are in the public, private or voluntary sector.


Discrimination is unlawful whether or not the service is paid-for or provided free of charge.


Examples of services and facilities covered by the law include:

  • hotels, boarding houses or similar establishments
  • access and use of public places (eg. parks)
  • financial services, banking, insurance, grants, loans, credit
  • facilities for education (eg. schools, colleges and universities)
  • facilities for entertainment, recreation, or refreshment (eg. pubs, restaurants, sports facilities, libraries, theatres and cinemas)
  • facilities for transport/travel (eg. railway/bus stations, airports)
  • services of a profession or trade (eg. shops, law firms, health services, public utilities, employment agencies, housing associations, churches and advice agencies)
  • local councils, government departments and agencies

All employees involved in providing services have responsibilities under the law. This includes senior management and front line staff whether full time or part time, permanent or temporary, self employed, an employee, contractor or agent.

What is discrimination?

This involves less favourable treatment of a service user or prospective service user because of their sex, including gender reassignment, pregnancy/maternity, disability, race, religious belief or political opinion, or sexual orientation.



Are there exceptions?

Yes, there are exceptions to the general principle of non-discrimination where people can be treated differently in certain circumstances. These are set out in legislation. However, service providers should always seek advice before making exceptions.



Selling, letting & managing premises

It is unlawful to discriminate against individuals on disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, political opinion and religious belief in the disposal or management of premises in circumstances where services are being provided to the public.



Transport service providers

Disabled people have legal protection against discrimination when using trains, taxis, buses and coaches, vehicle rental and vehicle breakdown services.


Transport service providers must not refuse a service or provide service of a lower standard or on worse terms to a disabled person because of their disability. They are also under a legal duty to make alterations to their existing practices to ensure that their services are accessible to disabled people.



Education providers

Schools, colleges and universities are covered by laws protecting pupils and students (or prospective pupils/students) against discrimination on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, disability or race. Colleges and universities are also covered by religious belief, political opinion and age discrimination laws.

Pupils and students are protected against harassment in schools on the above grounds and also on religious belief/political opinion and age in further and higher education establishments.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO) provides particular duties and responsibilities for education service providers.


Where can I learn more?

Organisations should ensure they include equality considerations in the provision of their services. For practical advice download our guidelines for service providers (pdf) and see our revised equality policy for service providers (Word doc)

The Equality Commission runs training seminars and information sessions for service providers. For further details or guidance contact us

Service providers have a legal duty not to discriminate on grounds of:


Advice for service provider on the wearing of face masks

Covid-19/coronavirus information

Equality Policy for Service Providers - Download our revised policy guidance for service providers (Word doc - 18kb)

Short Guide to the Law
Download our short guide to discrimination law - goods, facilities, services and premises (PDF - 296kb)
ECC Logo Promoting Accessible Services
We have developed the 'Every Customer Counts' initiative to support traders seeking to promote accessible services. Our goal is to encourage businesses and public authorities to consider how open their services currently are to disabled people.

Transport Regulations


Code of Practice
It is unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than someone without a disability.

We have produced guidance on the provision and use of transport vehicles for service providers, advisors and disabled people