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Services to the public: the rules

Disclaimer – please read
This page does not apply outside Great Britain.
Last updated 20th February 2011 (part update 16th August 2014).

This page looks in more detail at the Equality Act 2010 duties of those providing services to the public. Less technical pages on these duties are the Services FAQ and introductory outline. There is a separate page on Reasonable adjustments.

Who is covered

Anyone concerned with the provision in the UK of goods, services or facilities to the public, or to a section of the public, is covered (EqA s.29(1) and s.31(2)).

It includes paid-for services, but also free services such as a free helpline, and public sector services such as dealing with your GP or the local council. It includes, for example, shops, market stalls, local authorities, government departments, public utilities, banks, solicitors, advice agencies, telesales businesses, charities, places of worship, courts.

On this website I use ‘services’ as a shorthand for ‘goods, services or facilities’.

Different rules may apply as regards:

  • education and related services,
  • public authority functions not involving services to the public,
  • private members’ clubs, and
  • employment services

…see Which rules apply?

Limited exemptions: transport and broadcasting

Air and water transport

Air and water transport (and a few other minor forms or transport) are partially exempt from the rules on services to the public. However, airlines and ferry companies still have duties in respect of matters like timetables, booking facilities, waiting rooms etc. at airports and ferry terminals.

Most land-based transport was brought within the legislation with effect from 4th December 2006.

More on transport services…

Broadcast content

There is an exception which is intended to safeguard editorial independence of broadcasters. The exception applies to ‘the provision of a content service’ (EqA Sch 3 para 31). ‘Content service’ is defined in s.32(7) Communications Act 2003 ). The exception does not apply to the sending of the signal, just the content aspects.

A radio station refuses to have a someone who stammers on a phone-in programme, because they feel listeners would not want to listen to stammering. This may be within the exception, so that Equality Act rules on provision of services do not apply. (Of course there may well be other ways to complain.)

There are examples of the exception at para 13.105 Services Code, and para 748 of Explanatory notes (pdf, link to legislation.gov.uk)).

The exception does not apply to the employment provisions of the Equality Act, and these may sometimes apply. For example, a programme – such as The Apprentice when the winner was given a job – might be arrangements for deciding to whom to offer employment within s.39(1) EqA.

Czikai v Freemantle Media (link to bailii.org), EAT, October 2011
A contestant on Britain’s Got Talent failed in an argument that she was applying for employment, or that employment services were being provided. She was claiming breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments, and disability-related harassment.


Types of claim

The normal types of discrimination claim, harassment and victimisation are covered, eg direct discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, and the duty to make reasonable adjustments: see my Discrimination page. As set out there, for some but not all types of discrimination the service provider has a defence if it shows its action was objectively justified.

An important aspect of discrimination is the duty for service providers to make reasonable adjustments. See below Duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Examples on stammering

Possible examples of discrimination include:

See further Services: Examples on stammering.

Scope of s.29 EqA

For direct discrimination, discrimination arising from disability, or indirect discrimination by a service provider to be unlawful, it must fall within one of various categories in s.29 EqA. These are very wide, especially the ‘any other detriment’ head. The discrimination must be:

  • by not providing the person with the service (s.29(1) EqA)
  • by not providing the person with a service of the quality that the provider usually provides to the public (or the section of it which includes the person) (EqA s.31(7)(a)) with s.29(1));
  • by not providing the person with a service in the manner in which, or on the terms on which, the provider usually provides the service to the public (or the section of it which includes the person) (EqA s.31(7)(b)) with s.29(1));
  • in providing the service, discrimination (s.29(2) EqA)
    • as to the terms on which it is provided;
    • by terminating the provision of the service to the person; or
    • by subjecting the person to any other detriment.

These categoies also apply to victimisation (s.29(4)(5)). However there are separate provisions in s.29 covering reasonable adjustments (s.29(7)) and harassment (s.29(3)).

Duty to make reasonable adjustments

The duty to make reasonable adjustments is important, and is a bit different from that applying to employment since it looks at group disadvantage, and is anticipatory. See Reasonable adjustments adjustments by service providers.


See Complaints and going to court: Services.

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