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Direct discrimination in the provision of goods and services

This advice applies to England

If you’ve been treated differently and worse by a trader or service provider like a bank, energy provider or a local authority and it’s because of who you are, it could be direct discrimination.

If you’ve been discriminated against, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about direct discrimination when you buy or receive goods and services.

Top tips

As well as being protected against discrimination, you have other rights under consumer law. If you’ve been treated unfairly but it doesn’t count as discrimination, there may be other ways of sorting out the problem.

See our consumer pages for more information.

When is it direct 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.

Direct discrimination is when a trader or service provider treats you differently and worse than someone else because of who you are.

You can challenge direct discrimination if it's because of your:

  • 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.

Example

You were born outside the UK but you’ve lived in the UK for a long time and have a UK driving licence. An insurance company asks you for additional proof of identity when you make a claim on your car insurance. Customers born in the UK are only asked for their driving licence. This is direct race discrimination, as you’re being treated differently and worse than someone who was born in the UK.

Example

You recently booked a double bedroom in a small B&B for you and your same-sex partner. When you arrive at the B&B the owner refuses to give you a double bedroom as she says she doesn’t think two women should share a bed. She offers you two single rooms instead which you refuse. This is direct discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Direct discrimination can also happen because of who someone thinks you are, or because of the protected characteristic of someone you’re with or know - for example, your partner or your child.

Who have you been treated differently and worse than?

To show direct discrimination, you need to show that you've been treated less well than someone else who's in a similar situation to you but who doesn't share your protected characteristic. The Equality Act calls this person a comparator.

When might it not be direct discrimination?

There are some situations where it’s not unlawful for a trader or service provider to discriminate against you.

Treating someone more favourably

It’s not unlawful disability discrimination to treat a disabled person more favourably than someone who’s not disabled. It’s also not unlawful discrimination against a man to offer a women special treatment if she’s pregnant or has recently had a baby.

Age discrimination

Sometimes, although you're treated unfairly because of your age , it's not direct age discrimination.

Next steps

You can find more information about your consumer rights in the consumer section:

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

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