Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 2010. The information on this page reflects changes to the law.
Use this list to tell you how you can in general expect a voluntary or community sector organisation to treat you.
Make sure you know what is meant by:
Then you will know how you fit into each of these protected characteristics.
Be aware that sometimes, charities and religion or belief organisations can decide whether to provide services to you on the basis of particular protected characteristics. You can read more about this later on in this guide.
But the following list will help you to know how a voluntary or community sector organisation must and must not treat you in most situations.
Unlawful discrimination can take a number of different forms:
Not accepting someone as a service user because of their ethnic origin.
A charity which runs a drop-in centre decides to apply a ‘no hats or other headgear’ rule to users. If this rule is applied in exactly the same way to every user, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Rastafarians who may cover their heads as part of their religion will not be allowed to use the drop-in centre. Unless the charity can objectively justify using the rule, this is likely to be indirect discrimination.
A community organisation runs a lunch club and has a ‘no dogs’ rule. If the organisation bars a disabled person who uses an assistance dog, not because of their disability but because they have a dog with them, this would be discrimination arising from disability unless the organisation can objectively justify what it has done.
The committee running a voluntary sector organisation refuses to allow a child to take part in their play activities because the child’s parents are a gay couple. It is likely the child has been unlawfully discriminated against because of their association with their parents’ sexual orientation.
A member of staff mistakenly thinks a woman is a transsexual person. Because of this they tell her their voluntary organisation’s activities are not open to her. It is likely the woman has been unlawfully discriminated against because of gender reassignment, even though she is not a transsexual person.
A service user supports another person’s complaint that a charity has unlawfully discriminated against them. The service user is later told that they cannot apply for any more help from the charity. If this is because of their part in supporting the complaint, this is likely to be victimisation.
A member of staff is verbally abusive to a service user in relation to a protected characteristic.
Note: Even where the behaviour does not come within the equality law definition of harassment (for example, because it is related to religion or belief or sexual orientation), it is likely still to be unlawful direct discrimination because the organisation is giving the service to you on worse terms than it would give someone who did not have the same protected characteristic.
The voluntary or community sector organisation is not allowed to wait until a disabled person wants to use its services, but must think in advance about what people with a range of impairments might reasonably need, such as people who have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, a mobility impairment, or a learning disability.
A charity provides a telephone helpline service to its clients. It installs a textphone so that people with hearing impairments can communicate with it and receive advice. It also offers the alternative of instant messaging via the internet which also removes barriers to accessing the service for people who cannot, for a variety of reasons such as visual impairment or dyslexia, make notes during a phone call.
A voluntary sector organisation provides services to support parents, including advice leaflets. It makes sure its leaflets are simply written, with pictures to illustrate what the leaflets say. This is likely to make them more accessible to people with a learning disability.
A community association holds a public meeting to discuss what additional leisure facilities are needed for the public in the local community. It ensures that the meeting is held in a venue that is accessible to people with mobility impairments and it arranges for there to be a palantypist at the meeting to transcribe what is said onto a computer. The organisation has thought about who might use its services by attending the meeting and has made a range of adjustments which it has decided are reasonable for it to make.
Read more about reasonable adjustments to remove barriers for disabled people.
Because of a protected characteristic, a voluntary or community sector organisation:
An organisation must not refuse to serve a woman who is breastfeeding a baby.
An organisation must not say it will not take people with a particular religion or belief as a client (unless it comes within a charity or religion or belief exception which allows this).
An organisation must not stop offering home visits to disabled people who they find out have a mental health condition if they go on offering home visits to other clients. That is likely to be unlawful disability discrimination.
An organisation must not take twice as long to make a decision about whether to help someone if this delay is because of a protected characteristic.
An organisation must not make it harder for you to access their services.
An organisation can still tell you what standards of behaviour they want from you as a service user or client - for example, behaving with respect towards their staff and to other service users or clients.
Sometimes, how someone behaves may be linked to a protected characteristic.
If an organisation sets standards of behaviour for their service users or clients which have a worse impact on people who share a particular protected characteristic than on people who do not have that characteristic, they need to make sure that they can objectively justify what they have done. Otherwise, it will be indirect discrimination.
If they do set standards of behaviour, they must make reasonable adjustments to the standards for disabled people and avoid discrimination arising from disability. You can read more about reasonable adjustments at pages [n to n].
A voluntary organisation runs a play group for young children. One child who attends has a learning disability and sometimes shouts loudly, even during rest times when children have been asked to be quiet. The play group accepts that the child does not always understand when it is appropriate to be loud or quiet. They do not treat the child as if they are being naughty. In behaving like this, the play group has made a reasonable adjustment to the standards of behaviour it applies.
If the play group did decide that the child’s behaviour was causing more significant difficulties for other children or for staff and that they have made all the adjustments it is reasonable for them to make, they would have to objectively justify stopping the child attending (in other words, withdrawing the service from the child). Otherwise, this is likely to be discrimination arising from disability and/or indirect discrimination because of the child’s disability.
Check out: What does equality law mean for an organisation when they’re providing services to the public: staff, places, written information, websites, telephone access? where you can read more about:
Check out: When an organisation is responsible for what other people do where you can read more about when an organisation is responsible for what other people, such as staff working for you
Equality good practice: what to look for if an organisation is doing more than equality law says they must do
This guide tells you what equality law says an organisation must and must not do to avoid unlawful discrimination.
If you want to be sure an organisation takes equality seriously, find out if it: