Discrimination in everyday life

Explains the law that protects you from discrimination by organisations or people that provide goods, facilities or services. Explains what you can do if you have been discriminated against and where you can get support and advice. Applies to England and Wales.

What do 'services' and 'public functions' mean?

What counts as 'services'?

This includes services provided by:

  • private companies and people, such as hotels, restaurants, solicitors, accountants, telesales businesses, leisure centres, sports facilities, gas and electric companies, buses, trains, theatres, cinemas
  • local councils, such as advice services or social work services and park and leisure services
  • government departments, such as prison education, job centres and court services
  • charities, such as information and advice services
  • places of worship
  • GPs, hospitals and clinics

Services can:

  • be provided to the public, or a section of the public
  • be free, or you can pay for them
  • provide goods and facilities, or information through a website
  • follow special rules. For example, there are special rules for insurance services (see our information on insurance cover and mental health).

A service provider must not discriminate against people with disabilities:

  • in the terms of the service it offers – like charging more or making it subject to conditions
  • by taking away or refusing a service
  • by treating them worse or putting them at a disadvantage.

The service provider can held responsible for the actions of their staff or agents, for example a waiter in a restaurant or receptionist at the local authority. They may be protected if:

  • they took all reasonable steps to avoid the discriminatory act, or
  • the employee or agent was acting outside the scope of what they were told to do.

What counts as 'public functions'?

A public function is an act or activity taken by a public authority (including the police, NHS hospitals, and government departments), which is not a service.

A public authority carries out a public function when it performs its particular legal duties and powers, for example licensing, planning or enforcement of parking.

Can private companies or voluntary organisations do public functions?

Public authorities can get private companies or voluntary organisations to carry out their public functions. For example:

  • planning application procedures
  • tax collection
  • enforcement of the law by the police
  • assessment and delivery of welfare benefits.

What functions are not covered by the Equality Act?

Some public functions are not covered by the Equality Act at all, including:

  • procedure in parliament
  • conduct of a judge (or someone acting on behalf of a judge) when they are carrying out work relating to judgments in a court of law
  • anything done to ensure that the armed forces are combat effective
  • functions of the Security Services and GCHQ.


This information was published in February 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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