Skip to content Skip to footer

Discrimination in goods and services - overview

This advice applies to England

If you’re 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.

Read this page to find out more about how to decide if something is unlawful discrimination.

Identifying discrimination

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 mustn't 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
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

What’s the unfair treatment?

The Equality Act says someone providing goods and services mustn't 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.

Next steps

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

Did this advice help?