Discrimination in goods and services
If you are treated unfairly by someone providing goods and services like a shop, bank, energy provider or local authority and it’s because of who you are, it may be unlawful discrimination. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.
The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful. This means you can take action in the civil courts. If you want to take action about discrimination you need to be reasonably sure unlawful discrimination has taken place according to the Act.
You can follow these steps to check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place:
- who’s treating you unfairly – unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it’s carried out by certain people
- why you’re being treated unfairly – unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it’s for certain reasons
- what’s the unfair treatment – only certain types of behaviour count as unlawful discrimination
- how is the treatment unfair – there are different types of unlawful discrimination.
Who’s treating you unfairly?
The Equality Act protects you against discrimination which is carried out by all kinds of traders and service providers including:
- banks and shops
- utility companies like phone, water and energy providers
- call centres
- transport services
- hotels, restaurants and B&Bs.
Public sector organisations or public authorities also must not discriminate against you when they provide services. For example, a local authority mustn’t discriminate against you when you want to use council run libraries, nurseries or leisure services.
Why are you being treated unfairly?
It’s only unlawful discrimination if a trader or service provider treats you unfairly because of:
- age – but only if you’re 18 or over
- gender reassignment
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.
What’s the unfair treatment?
The Equality Act says someone providing goods and services must not discriminate against you by:
- refusing to provide you with goods or services, or stop providing you with goods and services
- providing you with goods or giving you a service on worse terms or of worse quality – for example, charging you more or making you wait longer
- causing you any other harm or disadvantage when providing you with goods or services.
How is the treatment unfair?
There are different types of unlawful discrimination. You may be experiencing unlawful discrimination if a trader or service provider:
- treats you differently and worse than others because of who you are, because of who they think you are or because of someone you’re connected to – this is called direct discrimination
- applies a policy, rule or way of doing things that puts you and other people like you at a disadvantage compared with others – this is called indirect discrimination
- treats you badly because of something connected to your disability – this is called discrimination arising from a disability
- fails to make a reasonable adjustment if you’re disabled – this is called the duty to make reasonable adjustments
- treats you in a way that is offensive, frightening, degrading, humiliating or distressing – this is called harassment
- treats you badly because you complained about discrimination or because they think you complained about discrimination – this is called victimisation.
Check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place
If you want to take action about discrimination, you need to be reasonably sure that unlawful discrimination has taken place according to the Equality Act.
Remember that in some cases, you can do something about discrimination even if it didn’t happen directly to you. In some situations, you’ll need to explore the problem further before you can be reasonably sure that discrimination has happened.
Make sure you have checked whether:
- you are someone who mustn’t be discriminated against
- the trader or service provider has a duty not to discriminate against you
- their behaviour counts as discrimination.
If the treatment does not count as discrimination under the law, you may still have been treated badly or unfairly and you may be able to do something about that. For example, you can still make a complaint about your treatment.
Work out what outcome you want
When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you will need to think about what you are trying to achieve. You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.
You may want:
- the discrimination against you to stop – for example, you want to be charged the same for a service as someone else, not more
- an apology
- the trader or service provider to look again at a decision they’ve already taken
- a change in the trader’s or service provider’s policies
- staff training in discrimination issues
- money for financial losses or compensation – for example, for stress or injury to feelings.
It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. You should, however, be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.
What can you do to sort out a problem?
Make a complaint
You can try talking to the the trader or service provider about your problem first. If the problem is not resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint. Ask the trader or service provider for a copy of their complaints policy. You should write to the advertiser directly if your complaint is about the way certain goods or services are advertised.
Taking your complaint further
After this you can take your complaint to other organisations, like an ombudsman or trade association. You may also be able to report the trader to Trading Standards or the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) includes things like mediation, conciliation or arbitration. This is where people on different sides of a dispute use an independent professional, called a mediator, conciliator or arbitrator, to help them find a solution to a problem. If you want to take legal action, the courts now generally expect you to have considered the use of ADR, before you start court action.
You can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) helpline for help with finding a mediator or conciliator.
Take legal action
You may be able to take legal action against the trader or service provider. If you want to make a discrimination claim you need to apply to the court within 6 months of the discrimination you’re complaining about.