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Indirect discrimination in the provision of goods and services

This advice applies to England

Indirect discrimination can be more difficult to spot than direct discrimination. It’s when you’re treated in the same way as everyone else, but it has a worse effect on you because of who you are - for example, because you’re gay or disabled.

Indirect discrimination is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010. If you've experienced unlawful discrimination by a trader or service provider, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about indirect 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 indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination is when a trader or service provider has a practice, policy or rule which applies to all its customers, but it has a worse effect on some people than others because of who they are.

You can challenge indirect discrimination by a trader or service provider, if it has a worse effect on you because of your:

  • age - but only if you’re 18 or over
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

Example

A shop only allows customers who work to pay by instalments. You’re a pensioner and therefore you can’t benefit from the instalment payment plan. The policy applies to all the shop's customers alike but it has a worse effect on you because you’re a pensioner. This could be indirect age discrimination.

Example

You’ve not been able to open a bank account because the bank requires all applicants to provide proof of permanent residence. You don’t have this because you’re a migrant worker. The rule applies to all the customers who want to open an account with the bank but it has a worse effect on you because of your race, which is a protected characteristic. This could be indirect race discrimination.

When might it not be indirect discrimination?

The Equality Act says it’s not indirect discrimination if the trader or service provider can show they have a good enough reason for discriminating against you. They would need to be able to prove this in court, if necessary. This is known in legal terms as objective justification.

Examples of reasons that businesses often use are:

  • ensuring the health and safety of customers or other people
  • preventing fraud or other forms of abuse
  • ensuring the wellbeing or dignity of those using the service.

But something may not be a good enough reason if the trader or service provider could have done things in a less discriminatory way. This will require the trader or service provider to show they considered the potentially discriminatory effects of the decision or action they took and that it was necessary to act in that way. The Equality Act says they must show the action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

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Example

An outdoor activity centre requires all participants to provide a medical certificate to show they’re in good health before taking part in any of the activities on offer. This is for health and safety reasons as many of the activities require a certain degree of physical fitness.

The requirement applies to all customers alike but it’s likely to have a worse effect on some disabled people as they may not be able to provide such a certificate. It could therefore be indirect disability discrimination.

Ensuring health and safety is a good enough reason, but because it applies to all the centre’s activities, the discrimination is unlikely to be justified. The centre could allow customers to take part in some of the more accessible activities without having to provide a certificate.

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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