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Single-sex and separate services for men and women - when discrimination is allowed

Generally speaking, a trader or service provider isn’t allowed to discriminate against you because you’re a woman or a man. However, there are some exceptions under the Equality Act 2010.

Read this page to find out more about what doesn't count as sex discrimination when you buy goods and services.

When is it lawful to provide separate services for men and women?

The Equality Act says it’s lawful to provide separate services for men and women if this is a better or more effective way of providing the service.

But the service provider would have to show they have a good enough reason for treating you differently because of your sex.

Example

An organisation sets up separate refuges for men and women experiencing domestic violence because it’s a more effective way of providing the service. The need to protect the welfare of victims of domestic violence is a good enough reason for having separate services. You couldn’t complain about unlawful sex discrimination if you were turned away from the women’s refuge because you’re a man.

When is it lawful to provide single-sex services?

A service provider can provide single-sex services in the following situations:

  • only one sex needs the service - for example, post-natal classes for women
  • it’s a more effective way to provide the service - for example, a father’s support group where men don’t attend the parents’ support group
  • the services are of a type that you would object to someone of the opposite sex being there -  for example, separate changing rooms or a service involving personal hygiene
  • communal accommodation - for example, women only dormitories in a hostel
  • the service involves a high degree of physical contact - for example, self-defence or judo classes.

In all cases, the service provider must be able to show they have a good enough reason for treating you differently because of your sex.

Exclusion of transsexual people from separate or single sex services

If you’re a transsexual person, you mustn’t be excluded from separate or single sex services provided to people of your chosen gender, unless there’s a good enough reason for excluding you. For example, a shop with single sex changing rooms should allow a transsexual woman to change in the women's changing area.

Services should be provided to you according to the sex in which you present. In particular, if you have a gender recognition certificate you mustn’t be excluded from single sex services. A gender recognition certificate is a document which allows you to be legally recognised in your acquired gender.

  • More about gender recognition certificates

What’s a good enough reason?

If a service provider wants to restrict their services to one sex only or provide separate services for men and women they need to show they have a good enough reason for doing this. This means they should only restrict services if this is absoutely necessary.

Here are examples of reasons traders or service providers often use:

  • health and safety
  • the welfare of individuals
  • running an efficient service.

But something may not be a good enough reason if there are less discriminatory or better ways of doing the same thing. The trader or service provider would need to show that the reason for discriminating against you is fairly balanced against the disadvantage you've suffered because of the 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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