If you are a business that provides services, goods or facilities to members of the public, even for free, you will probably be a “service provider” under the Equality Act 2010. Service providers are prohibited from discriminating against their customers and are responsible for the acts of their employees and agents. Typical examples of services, goods and facilities are:
- accommodation in a hotel or bed and breakfast;
- accountancy and legal services;
- entertainment, recreation or refreshment facilities such as cinemas or theatres;
- financial services.
- pubs or restaurants providing food and drink;
- Transport: trains, buses and taxis.
What sort of discrimination are Service Providers prohibited from doing?
- Age discrimination
- Disability discrimination
- Gender reassignment discrimination.
- Pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
- Race discrimination;
- Religion or belief discrimination;
- Sexual orientation discrimination.
What is prohibited?
A service provider must not treat a person less favourably than another because of a protected characteristic. For instance, if you charge younger people more or less than older people, or if you charge men more than women (or vice versa). This may well constitute direct discrimination.
Indirect discrimination occurs where a business applies a policy, criteria or practice to everyone but that practice disadvantages a particular group of people. For example, a restaurant that prohibits dogs, applies its rule in exactly the same way to every customer irrespective of whether that person has a disability. This rule put a visually impaired person who uses a guide dog at a particular disadvantage. The restaurant is likely to have to show that this rule was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Service providers are prohibited from harassing their customers. Harassment is any unwanted conduct, relating to a protected characteristic, that has the purpose or effect of violating a member of the public’s dignity or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.
A service provider must not treat a customer unfavourably because they have:
- complained about discrimination;
- helped someone else complain;
- done anything to uphold their own or someone else’s rights under the Equality Act 2010.
Discrimination arising from disability
A service provider must not treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something arising from or in consequence of their disability, where the business cannot show that what it was doing is objectively justified.
Failure to make reasonable adjustments
Service providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled persons. A reasonable adjustment is required where a provision, criterion or practice places a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled persons. This is similar to the duty to make adjustments for employees.
Damages for breaching discrimination law
Most claims of discrimination in respect of goods and services are limited to claims for injury to feelings as no other financial losses have been caused by the discriminatory acts complained of. Awards for injury to feelings are normally split into three brackets which can be put roughly as follows”
- Lowest bracket: £700 to £7,000
- Mid-bracket: £7,000 to £21,000
- Highest bracket: £21,000 to £35,000