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Provision of goods and services - pregnancy and maternity discrimination

If a trader or service provider, like a bank, energy provider or local authority, treats you unfairly because you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or because you’ve recently had a baby, you may have been unlawfully discriminated against. The Equality Act 2010 calls this pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you may be able to do something about it.

Read this page to find out more about pregnancy and maternity 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 pregnancy and maternity 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.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is when you’re treated unfairly because:

  • you’re pregnant, or
  • you’ve had a baby within the last 26 weeks, or
  • you’re breastfeeding and you had the baby within the last 26 weeks.

You don’t have to show you’ve been treated differently than someone else. All you need to show is that you’ve been treated unfavourably, or suffered a disadvantage because you’re pregnant or recently had a baby.

Example

A building society turns down your mortgage application when you mention that you’re pregnant. When you ask why, they tell you they think you may not be able to keep up your repayments because you’re pregnant. This is unlawful pregnancy discrimination.

What if the baby was stillborn?

It’s unlawful to discriminate against you even if your baby was stillborn. You must have been pregnant for at least 24 weeks before you gave birth.

What if you had your baby more than 26 weeks ago?

If you had your baby more than 26 weeks ago and you’re discriminated against for having a baby, this doesn’t count as discrimination because of pregnancy or childbirth. However, it could count as direct sex discrimination.

Protection if you’re breastfeeding

It’s unlawful for a trader or service provider to treat you unfairly because you’re breastfeeding. If you had your baby within the last 26 weeks it’s pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

But even if your baby is more than 26 weeks old it’s still unlawful to discriminate against you because you're breastfeeding. In this case it counts as direct sex discrimination. But unlike other sex discrimination claims you don't need to compare your treatment with that of a man. All you would need to show is that you wouldn't have been treated unfairly if you hadn't been breastfeeding.

Example

You’re breastfeeding your 8 months old baby on the train. The train conductor asks you to go into the toilets to feed your baby. The conductor wouldn't have asked you to do this if you hadn't been breastfeeding. This is unlawful discrimination and you can complain to the train company about it.

Example

You’re having a meal out with your family in a restaurant. You ask the waiter for a quiet table so you can breastfeed your 10 months old baby. He says you can’t breastfeed in the restaurant and refuses to give you a table. This is unlawful discrimination.

When can a trader or service provider discriminate against you if you're pregnant?

It’s lawful for a trader or service provider to refuse to provide you with a service or treat you differently because you’re pregnant if there are health and safety reasons for doing this.

The service provider must reasonably believe there’s a risk to your health and safety if the service was provided to you. And it’s only lawful if the service provider would also treat someone with other physical conditions, like a back or heart condition, differently for health and safety reasons.

Example

The owner of a fair ground bumper-car ride refuses to allow you to go on the ride because you’re pregnant. They have a notice stating that the ride is also unsuitable for people with certain health conditions, such as heart problems. This would probably not count as pregnancy 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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