Provision of services: scope of Equality Act
The Equality Act covers provision of services and facilities by businesses, authorities and other organisations. It also includes public functions, such as the police or tax authorities.
- Provision of services can be covered whether they are free or paid.
- Public functions such as arrest or enforcement are also covered.
- Employment services are covered by separate rules, with disputes going to an Employment Tribunal rather than the County Court.
Services to the public
As a general rule, Part 3 of the Equality Act covers anyone concerned with providing goods, services or facilities to the public, or a section of the public.
This covers most services. To give just a few examples, it includes -
- central and local government, so far as they provide services to the public such as libraries and rubbish collection,
- medical services,
- advisers, such as lawyers, accountants, debt counselling etc.
There are some specific exceptions from the Equality Act. An important one is a limited exemption for some transport providers, especially ships and aircraft: Transport (link to stammeringlaw.org.uk).
There are rules in s.29 EqA on how the discrimination must relate to the service, but these rules are very wide. For example, s.29 (with s.31(7)) includes not providing the person with the service, providing service of a different quality, in a different manner or on different terms, or subjecting the person to any other detriment.
Universities, further education colleges, and some other education providers are covered by separate rules in Part 6 of the Equality Act. Part 6 relates specifically to education. Part 6 can also include non-educational services which the college provides to students, such as outings and leisure facilities. See Education.
However, many private education providers - such as a privately run 'business college' offering computer courses to the public - will come within the general 'provision of services' rules in Part 3. In practice it will very often make no difference which Part of the Equality Act applies.
Public authority functions
Some activities of public authorities are not 'services to the public', but still fall within Part 3 Equality Act as 'public functions'. Examples include:
- a police officer performing an arrest, or interrogating someone,
- tax assessment and investigation.
Discrimination here is covered by particular provisions in s.29 EqA, dealing with the exercise of a public function so far as it does not involve providing goods, facilities or services to the public. Very often it will not matter whether something is covered as a 'service' or as a 'public function'.
'Employment services' are covered by separate rules within the employment section of the Equality Act (s.55-56 EqA). Broadly, 'employment services' can include (amongst other things) -
- services of finding employment;
- supplying employers with people to do work;
- vocational guidance - see short video example on careers advice;
- vocational training services, including work experience.
However, training or guidance may fall within the 'Education' (or possibly other) provisions of the Equality Act, rather than 'employment services', if provided by or accessed through a school, university or FE College, for example.
Where something is an 'employment service', what is particularly important is that discrimination claims are made to the Employment Tribunal. Most other claims on this page go to the County Court, or Sheriff Court in Scotland. Employment Tribunals are generally seen as easier to use than the County Court.
Like employment, for some 'employment services' the reasonable adjustment duty may not be anticipatory.
Trade/professional associations and bodies
Clubs which restrict membership
Special rules for these clubs are not dealt with on this website. Because the rules on 'services to the public' only apply where the services or facilities are being provided to the public (or to a section of the public), they do not apply where admission to membership is regulated by the association's rules and involves a selection process. However, private clubs of this sort are subject to disability discrimination legislation if they have 25 or more members. The Equality Act calls them 'associations'. They are covered by Part 7 Equality Act (see Chapter 12 of the Services Code of Practice).
There are rules in Part 4 Equality Act relating to those selling, letting or managing property. We do not deal with them on this website.