How does the Equality Act 2010 affect businesses who sell goods and supply services?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits businesses who provide services to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) from discriminating against, harassing and victimising certain classes of persons. The Act also places an obligation on such businesses (referred to as “service providers”) to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

Who is protected by the Act?

People who access goods, facilities and services possessing the following “protected characteristics” are protected by the Act:

  • Age – persons under the age of 18 are not protected by the provisions relating to service providers and the provisions of the Act relating to those over the age of 18 have yet to come into force;

  • disability;

  • gender reassignment;

  • pregnancy and maternity;

  • race ;

  • religion or belief;

  • sex;

  • sexual orientation.

In addition, except in the case of pregnancy and maternity, the Act also protects

People who are unfairly treated because they are wrongly perceived to have a particular characteristic (or are treated as though they had it) or because they associate with someone who has one of the above characteristics.

What does the Act prohibit?


The Act prohibits service providers from discriminating against a person requiring a service by not providing the person with the service. Where a service is provided the Act prohibits discrimination by service provider during the course of the provision of the service. This includes discrimination as to the terms on which the service is provided, termination of the service and the subjection of a person to any other detriment.

Both direct and indirect discrimination is prohibited by the Act.

Direct discrimination takes place where a person treats another person who has a protected characteristic less favourably than he or she treats or would treat others not possessing the protected characteristic.

Under the Act it is unlawful for a service provider to discriminate against a woman because she is breastfeeding.

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For more information on:

  • Harassment
  • Victimisation
  • What obligations does the Act place on service providers?
  • How is the Act enforced?