How does the Equality Act 2010 affect private clubs and associations?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits certain private clubs and associations from discriminating against, harassing and victimising certain classes of persons. The Act also places an obligation on such private clubs and associations to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

What sort of private clubs and associations are covered by the Act?

The Act applies to private clubs and associations who have 25 or more members and whose membership is controlled by rules involving a selection process.

A club that is open to all members of the public will be treated under the Act as a “service provider” and will be subject to separate but similar prohibitions and obligations.

Who is protected by the Act?

Members, potential members, guests and potential guests of private clubs and associations possessing the following “protected characteristics” are protected by the Act:

  • Age (the provisions of the Act relating to age have, however, 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?

Discrimination

The Act prohibits private clubs and associations from discriminating against members, potential members, guests and potential guests of the club or association.

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.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice is applied which is discriminatory in relation to protected characteristic. This includes conduct which is applied or would apply to persons who do not share the characteristic in question and conduct which puts or would put a person possessing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.

Conduct which can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is, however, permitted. For example, single sex clubs and associations and clubs and associations solely for people with other protected characteristics (other than clubs and associations who restrict membership based on colour) are permitted. However, clubs and associations which have mixed membership are required to treat all members, potential members, guests and potential guests fairly.

Harassment

The Act prohibits private clubs and associations from harassing members, potential members, guests and potential guests.

Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating his dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him. This can include unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.

Victimisation

The Act prohibits private clubs and associations from victimising members, potential members, guests and potential guests.

Victimisation occurs where a person is subjected to a detriment by reason of the fact that he has (or it is believed that he has or may) carried out one of the following acts:

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the Act;

  • the doing of something for the purposes of or in connection with the Act.

  • made an allegation that a person has contravened the Act.

However, the giving of false evidence or information, or the making of a false allegation is not protected by the Act if it is given or made in bad faith.

What obligations does the Act place on private clubs and association?

The Act also places an obligation on private clubs and associations to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people.

How is the Act enforced?

Where a provision of the Act is contravened proceedings can be brought through the Civil Courts. A wide range of remedies are available to the Civil Courts including the power to award compensation for injured feelings.

Normally claims brought in the Civil Courts will have to be brought within 6 years of the date of the act to which the claim relates.