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Discrimination in the provision of goods and services - why are you treated unfairly?

If you’ve been treated unfairly by a trader or 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 if you're being discriminated against because you have a characteristic which is protected under the Equality Act.

Top tips

If you want to know if unlawful discrimination has taken place you need to check:

  • why you're being treated unfairly
  • who's treating you unfairly
  • what's the unfair treatment
  • how is the treatment unfair, or what type of discrimination it is.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

If you’re treated unfairly, it’s only unlawful discrimination if you’re treated unfairly because of certain reasons. These reasons are called protected characteristics.

The characteristics that are protected by the Equality Act in relation to goods and services are:

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

If you think you’ve been discriminated against you need to check that the unfair treatment is because of one of these reasons.

Example

You and your same-sex partner are asked to leave the bus. But the reason is because you don’t have enough money to pay the fare and not because you're gay. The bus driver would have asked anyone in this situation to leave the bus. You couldn’t complain about unlawful discrimination in this case.

Unfair treatment because of who someone thinks you are

It’s also unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because they think you have a protected characteristic, even if you don’t.

This is called discrimination by perception.

Example

A massage therapist at a spa refuses to give you a massage because he thinks you’re transsexual. This is unlawful discrimination because of gender reassignment.

Unfair treatment because of someone you’re with or someone you know

It’s also unlawful discrimination if someone treats you unfairly because of someone you’re with, or someone you know. This could be a parent, child, partner or friend.

This is called discrimination by association.

Example

You’re out with a group of friends, some of whom are Polish. When you try to enter a local nightclub you’re told it’s full and that you can’t enter. But a moment later another group of men who appear to be English are let in. If you and your friends weren’t let in because some of you are Polish, it could be unlawful race discrimination. You could all complain of unlawful discrimination even if some of you aren’t Polish.

If you’re under 18

Age is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, but you can only complain about age discrimination if you’re 18 or over. Children and young people under 18 are not protected against discrimination because of age. But if you're under 18, you could still complain about discrimination because of one of the other characteristics - for example, disability or race.

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

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