Private Clubs and Associations and the Equality Act 2010

Discrimination against certain classes of people using private members clubs and associations is prohibited. The Equality Act 2010 is a major piece of legislation which prohibits them from discriminating against, harassing and victimising certain classes of persons.

Under the Act, private clubs and associations are also required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people.

What clubs does the Act apply to?

The Act applies to private clubs and associations with 25 or more members, and whose membership is controlled by rules involving a selection process. A club which is open to all members of the public is treated by the Act as a service provider, and is therefore 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 who have at least one of the following ‘protected characteristics’ are protected from discrimination by the Act:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

The Act also protects individuals 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 a protected characteristic (except for pregnancy and maternity).

What does the Act prohibit?

Discrimination

Private clubs and associations must not discriminate either directly or indirectly against their members and guests (or potential members and guests).

Direct discrimination takes place where a person treats another person with a protected characteristic less favourably than others who do not possess that 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 people who don’t share the characteristic in question, and conduct putting a person possessing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage.

Is discrimination ever allowed under the Act?

Sometimes, discrimination is permitted in circumstances where the discriminatory conduct can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, single sex clubs and associations, and clubs and associations aimed at solely at people with other protected characteristics (other than clubs and associations who restrict membership based on colour) are permitted. However, clubs and associations with mixed membership must treat all members and guests (and potential ones) fairly.

Harassment and victimisation

Harassment against guests and members, and potential members and guests; as well as victimisation is also prohibited under the Act. Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct relating to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating their dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the individual. This includes unwanted conduct of a sexual nature.

Victimisation occurs where someone is subjected to a detriment because they have (or it is believed they have or may):

  • brought or given evidence or information in proceedings brought under the Act
  • done something for the purposes of or in connection with the Act, or
  • made an allegation that a person has breached the Act

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

What obligations do private clubs and associations have under the Act?

Private clubs and associations must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled people. The obvious ones are providing access into the club for wheelchairs, and a lift if toilets are located upstairs. A further example is relaxing rules against allowing dogs in the case of assistant dogs.

How is the Act enforced?

A private members club or association which breaches the Act can face civil proceedings. An aggrieved member or guest (or someone who wanted to join or visit but was deterred) must bring proceedings within 6 years of the date of the alleged breach.

In a successful claim, the court can award compensation for injured feelings, make an injunction and/or a formal declaration that someone has been discriminated against.