Discrimination in the provision of goods and services - who's treating you unfairly?
If you’ve been treated unfairly by a trader or service provider, like a shop, bank, restaurant, bus company or an energy provider and it’s because of who you are, you may have been discriminated against.
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. If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.
Read this page to find out more about who mustn’t discriminate against you, when you buy or receive goods and services.
If you want to know if unlawful discrimination has taken place you need to check:
- why you're being treated unfairly
- who's treating you unfairly
- what's the unfair treatment
- how is the treatment unfair, or what type of discrimination it is.
What’s meant by goods and services?
The Equality Act 2010 protects you against discrimination by businesses and other organisations, when they provide you with goods or services.
It doesn't matter whether you pay for the goods or services, or if they're free - the trader or service provider still mustn't discriminate against you.
The law also covers advertising. A trader or service provider can’t advertise that they only serve customers of a certain gender or sexual orientation. A business can advertise that they are ‘gay friendly’, for example, but can’t exclude heterosexual people.
What’s meant by goods?
Goods cover all kinds of things like cars, clothes, electrical items, groceries, beauty products and furniture.
The Equality Act says you mustn’t be discriminated against when you buy or receive goods, in many different places including:
- shops, supermarkets, market stalls or charity shops
- at an auction
- by telephone or online
- by catalogue or through doorstep sales.
What’s meant by services?
Services are provided by lots of different businesses and organisations including:
- banks and insurance companies
- builders, decorators and painters
- hairdressing and beauty salons
- libraries, children’s centres and nurseries
- gyms and leisure centres
- hotels, B&Bs and holiday lettings
- restaurants, cafes and pubs
- cinemas, concerts and theatres
- solicitors and accountants
- transport services like buses, trains and taxis
- phone companies and public utilities like gas, water and electricity.
Who’s providing the goods or services?
Under the Equality Act anyone who provides goods or services to the public has a duty not to discriminate against you. It doesn’t matter if the services are provided by a private or public organisation.
Organisations covered by the Act include:
- businesses like commercial firms and sole traders
- voluntary organisations and charities
- public authorities like local authorities and government departments.
Your child goes to a council run nursery. The provision of nursery education is a service under the Equality Act, so the council would have a duty not to discriminate against you under the Act.
What if there are several service providers?
Sometimes it can be difficult to know who’s providing the service you’re complaining about. In some situations, there may be more than one service provider who's responsible under the Act.
Your local supermarket has a cash machine on its premises. You find it difficult to use the cash machine as you’re in a wheelchair and it’s located too high for you to see the screen properly. This could be disability discrimination.
The cash machine is a service provided by the bank but as it's located within the supermarket, they're also likely to be responsible here. You could complain to the supermarket and the bank about disability discrimination.
Services provided by a public authority
When a public sector organisation or public authority, like the police or a local authority, provides services to the public they’re covered by the Equality Act. For example, a local authority mustn’t discriminate against you when they provide you with social care services.
But some of the things public authorities do are called public functions rather than services by the Equality Act - for example, when a police officer carries out a search or decisions about your entitlement to benefits.
Does it matter whether something is a service or public function?
It doesn’t generally matter whether something is a service or a public function, as the Equality Act applies to both. A public authority mustn’t discriminate against you when they provide you with services as well as when they carry out public functions.
- Why are you treated unfairly?
- What's the unfair treatment?
- What are the different types of discrimination?
- Taking action about discrimination in goods and services
Other useful information
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at
For more information about discrimination by service providers and traders, see the EHRC Service users' guidance at