Businesses selling goods

New guidance

The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.

Equality law applies to every business that provides goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public.

This includes any business, large or small, that is selling goods. This could be anything from somebody who sells cosmetics door-to-door through to a large supermarket or electrical retailer.

It also includes a business that sells something alongside another service, for example, a garage that sells cars as well as servicing cars for customers.

It doesn’t matter whether a service is free, for example, a stall handing out free newspapers, or whether it must be paid for – it will still be covered by equality law.

Possible issues

First, you can use the information earlier in this guide to make sure you know what equality law says businesses providing goods, facilities or services to the public must do.

Also look at: Delivering services: staff, places, advertisements and marketing, written materials, websites, telephone services and call centres. 

Reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people

For many shops, especially small shops, the biggest question will be what reasonable adjustments they need to make to make sure that disabled people who want to buy from them can do this.

What is reasonable will depend, among other considerations, on the size and nature of the particular business. The business must think about what it is reasonable for them to change so that disabled people with a range of different impairments can buy their goods.

This might include changes to the physical features of their premises for people who have a mobility impairment or a visual impairment, and thinking about how they (and their staff, if they have any) communicate with people. 

Because the adjustments and what is reasonable for a business to do depend on the circumstances, the following are examples, not an exhaustive list.

Even if a business can’t afford things like a permanent ramp and automatic doors, or is refused planning permission (and considerations like these may be factors in deciding if an adjustment is reasonable for them to make), it could,

For example:

Keep a temporary ramp just inside the door; install a simple doorbell next to the door and put a typed notice in the shop window next to the bell saying ‘if you require assistance, please ring this bell’ and put other notices up on the front of the counter offering assistance.

Explain to all staff the duty to make reasonable adjustments (a note about what this means could be kept behind the till). For example, greeting customers if staff notice they have a visual impairment and offering assistance, and being ready to open the door/set up the ramp for anyone who rings the bell.

Spend a small amount of money on a portable induction loop (which is usually contained in a small box) to make it easier for customers who use hearing aids to hear what is said to them, and make sure staff keep the loop switched on and on the counter but know they can pick it up if they need to go with a customer to the shelves. Putting a notice about the loop on the door could mean winning extra customers.

Make its entrance a different colour from the surrounding shop front.

Designate any parking spaces close to the shop entrance as for disabled customers and make sure that non-disabled customers are challenged if they park in them.

Move display units at the entrance of a small shop which otherwise stop wheelchair users entering, provided the units could go somewhere else without any significant loss of selling space.

Take special orders for items for disabled customers if the business would take them for non-disabled customers. 

For example:

A disabled customer who has a visual impairment wishes to buy a large-print edition of a book from a bookshop. The bookshop does not stock large-print books (nor does equality law say it has to). However, the disabled customer asks the bookshop to order a large-print copy of the book. If the bookshop would usually take special orders from non-disabled customers, a refusal to accept the disabled customer’s order is likely to be unlawful.

These are all examples of the right sort of approach to take.

Even if a shop is small, it is unlikely to be alright to refuse to serve you if you are a disabled person, for example, by saying that a nearby larger shop can offer you a better service. However, depending on the nature and size of the business and the type of goods they sell, it may be possible for a reasonable adjustment to be made to change how they interact with you.

For example:

If a shop cannot provide a fitting room suitable for a wheelchair user, it could ask a customer to buy the clothes and try them on at home, making it clear that it will refund their money without question if they decide to return the clothes within a certain period, whereas usually only faulty goods could be returned.

In some circumstances, it may be acceptable for a shop to take goods out to a customer in the street, but this will very much depend on the nature of the business and if there are any alternative ways round the shop’s lack of accessibility, such as taking goods to a customer’s home for them to look at and make a choice. It would not be acceptable to discuss the sale in the street, where a customer was expected to provide any personal information which other people could overhear, if this is not something a non-disabled customer has to put up with, or if doing this involved any loss of dignity, for example, expecting someone to make a choice of underwear in the street. Shops should not assume that this is a possible reasonable adjustment for them to make.

Petrol stations must make reasonable adjustments too.

For example:

At a petrol station, the manager decides that an assistant will help disabled people use the petrol pumps on request. It places a prominent notice at the pumps advertising this and a bell to ring. All new staff are told what they have to do if the bell rings: go out to the pump to serve the customer, and deal with payment. A further step could be to offer to fetch any other goods that the customer wants from the shop. In this situation, staff training and attitudes are just as important as providing the bell. The reasonable adjustment will not have been properly put in place if the assistant fails to respond to the bell, delays for a long time, or is rude to the customer in carrying out the transaction because they resent the extra effort.

You can read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people at page Core guidance: Using businesses that offer goods, facilities and services to the public

More information

back to top