Skip to content Skip to footer

This advice applies to Scotland. Change country

Discrimination in the provision of goods and services - what's the unfair treatment?

If you’ve been treated unfairly by a trader or a service provider, like a shop, bank or energy provider, and it’s because of who you are, you may have been discriminated against.

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

Read this page to find out more about what unfair treatment by a trader or service provider counts as unlawful discrimination.

What kind of behaviour can be unlawful discrimination?

Only certain types of behaviour by a trader or service provider can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act if it's because of who you are.

These are:

  • 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 - the Equality Act calls this a detriment.

Other types of disadvantage

If someone behaves in a way which causes you distress, or offends or intimidates you, this could also be unlawful behaviour under the Equality Act. This is called harassment.

If you’re punished, or treated badly because you complain about discrimination, this is called victimisation. Victimisation is also unlawful under the Equality Act.

Why are you 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
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

The Equality Act calls these things protected characteristics.

Examples of unlawful discrimination

Here are examples of when a trader or service provider mustn’t discriminate against you.

Refusing to provide you with goods or services

A trader or service provider mustn’t refuse to provide you with goods or services or stop providing you with goods or services because of your, or someone else’s, protected characteristic.

Example

A shop assistant refuses to serve you because your partner is transsexual. This is unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment.

Example

Your gym membership has been terminated by your gym because someone has told the manager you’re a Traveller. This is unlawful race discrimination.

Giving you a service of worse quality or on worse terms

A trader or service provider mustn’t provide you with a worse service than they would normally offer other people because of your, or someone else’s, protected characteristic.

Example

You’re breastfeeding your three month old baby in a café. The owner asks you to breastfeed your baby in the toilets, as one of the customers has complained about it. This is unlawful pregnancy and maternity discrimination.

Example

You’ve been charged more by a car hire firm because you’re a Muslim. This is unlawful discrimination because of your religion.

Harassing you

A trader or service provider mustn't behave in a threatening way or use abusive language which offends you or makes you feel intimidated. If it's related to a protected characteristic it's unlawful discrimination.

Example

You’re in a pub watching a football match. During the match the bartender and a number of customers make racist remarks about some of the footballers on the pitch. When you ask the bartender to stop you’re called a number of derogatory names. You feel offended and intimidated by their behaviour. This could be harassment related to race.

Punishing you because you complain about discrimination

A trader or service provider mustn't punish you if you complain about unlawful discrimination, or because you help someone who has been discriminated against.

Example

A waiter in a restaurant tells you to stop holding hands with your same-sex partner. You complain to the manager and are told to leave the restaurant altogether. This is victimisation. You've been treated badly because you complained about unlawful sexual orientation discrimination.

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?