Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.
This guide is for you if you are a service user or client of a voluntary or community sector organisation, including a charity or religion or belief organisation, which is providing goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public.
Organisations like this are sometimes called ‘third sector organisations’.
These are organisations that are not businesses operating for profit in the private sector.
They are not public bodies like local councils or government departments operating in the public sector, although they may receive money from public bodies and may help deliver public services.
Pages in this section include:
This guide tells you about how you can expect a voluntary or community sector organisation or charity or religion or belief organisation to behave towards you to avoid unlawful discrimination.
Equality law is slightly different for:
These organisations may be able to limit the services they provide to you depending on particular protected characteristics.
If you are a volunteer, equality law has an impact on how the organisation you are volunteering for treats you, and we explain this too.
This guide also contains the following sections, which are similar in each guide in the series, and contain information you are likely to need to understand what we tell you about using the services of a voluntary or community sector organisation, charity or religion or belief organisation:
In this guide, a charity means an organisation which has been set up for charitable purposes only - they take a distinctive legal form and have a special tax status. Charities must do good to the public, not to a specific individual. Their aims, purposes or objectives have to be only those which the law recognises as charitable. Registered charities have to obey a number of rules and regulations set out in charity law.
In this guide, a religion or belief organisation means one which exists to:
When this guide uses the phrase ‘voluntary or community sector organisation’, this includes charities and religion or belief organisations. We make it clear when a part of equality law only applies to charities or religion or belief organisations or when it does not apply to a particular sort of organisation.
If a voluntary or community sector organisation or charity or religion or belief organisation provides any goods, facilities or services to members of the public, it must make sure it does what equality law says it must do.
It doesn’t matter whether the service the organisation provides is free (as many charitable services are) or if people have to pay towards it. The size of the organisation does not matter either.
Equality law affects everyone responsible for running an organisation or who might do something on its behalf, including staff or volunteers if the organisation has them.
One thing that might make a difference to exactly how equality law applies is if an organisation is what equality law calls an ‘association’.
If you are not sure whether an organisation is providing services or is an association, then ask yourself:
If the answer to both these questions is ‘yes’, then you should read the Equality and Human Rights Commission guide Your Rights to Equality as a member, associate members or guest of an association, club or society.
It is possible to be both an association and an organisation providing services.
A residents’ association for an area has 40 members. New members have to be approved by the committee. In dealing with its members and anyone they invite to events (who would be guests) the residents’ association is an association in equality law.
Twice a year, the residents’ association holds a public event. In relation to anyone who attends, or might attend, the public event, the residents’ association is providing a service to the public.
If an organisation is both an association and providing services, the question you need to think about is whether the services are being provided to you as a member of the public or with the special status of being a member, associate member or guest of the association.
If you are using the services as a member of the public, then this is the right guide for you to read.
If you have the special status of being a member, associate member or guest (or someone who wants to become a member, associate member or guest), you should read the guide on associations instead.