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Goods, facilities, 
services and premises
a short guide to discrimination law

About this guide
This short guide provides some information about discrimination law that applies 
to the provision of goods, facilities or services and the disposal and management 
of premises in Northern Ireland.  It does not attempt to describe every detail, and 
should not be taken as an authoritative statement of the law.  Discrimination law 
is complex and is subject to regular change.  Individuals and service providers 
should therefore seek detailed advice about particular circumstances rather than 
rely on the content of this brief guide.  Further information is available in more 
detailed publications, on our website or via our Enquiry line.  Details of some 
relevant publications and how to contact us are given at the back of this booklet.
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland is an independent public body 
established under the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  The Commission is responsible 
for promoting awareness of and enforcing anti-discrimination law on the following 
grounds:  sex1, sexual orientation, religious belief and political opinion, race, 
disability and age2.  The Commission’s general duties under anti-discrimination 
law include:
•  working towards the elimination of discrimination;
•  promoting equality of opportunity and encouraging good practice;
•  promoting affi rmative/positive action;
•  promoting good relations between people of different racial groups; and
•  keeping the relevant legislation under review.
The Commission is also responsible for overseeing the statutory duties on 
public authorities to promote equality of opportunity and good relations under 
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and the disability duties under the DDA.  It 
also monitors, jointly with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the 
implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
1Sex discrimination law includes gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, and marital status or civil partner status (in relation to 
employment and training).
2Please note, however, that age discrimination law in N Ireland does not cover the provision of goods, facilities and services.
2

Contents
About 
the 
Equality 
Commission 
      2 
  
 
The law – discrimination in the provision of goods, 

 
 
4
facilities and services  
 
 
 
 
 
 
What 
is 
discrimination? 
       5 

direct 
discrimination 
        5

indirect 
discrimination        5

disability-related 
discrimination 
      7

harassment 
         8

victimisation 
         8
What 
is 
less 
favourable 
treatment? 
     9 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Where and to whom does the law apply? 
 
 
 
 
12 
 

goods, 
facilities 
and 
services 
      12
- disposal or management of premises   
 
 
 
 
16
Exceptions          20 
  
 
 
Other 
relevant 
legislation 
       22 
  
 
 
Making 

complaint 
        24 
  
 
 
 
Advice 
and 
assistance        25 
 

help 
for 
individuals 
        25

help 
for 
service 
providers 
       25
Useful 
publications 
        25
3

The law - discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities 
and services
In Northern Ireland, protection from discrimination in accessing goods, facilities, 
services and in the disposal and management of premises is provided in the 
following legislation3:
•  Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976 (as amended) - SDO
•  Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as amended) - DDA
•  Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005 (as amended) - 
SENDO
•  Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 (as amended) - RRO.  Irish Travellers are 
explicitly covered in the Order which recognises them as a specifi c racial 
group.
•  Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998 (as amended) - FETO
•  Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 (as amended) - Sexual 
Orientation Regulations.
It is therefore generally unlawful for service providers to discriminate on fi ve 
key grounds – sex (including gender reassignment and pregnancy/maternity), 
disability, race, religious belief or political opinion, and sexual orientation4.  
However, there are anomalies in the legislation and some exceptions apply 
across the various statutes.
3At the time of publication, discrimination on grounds of age in the provision of goods, facilities and services is not unlawful. Age 
discrimination law covers employment and vocational training only.  However the Equality Commission recommends that it is good practice 
not to discriminate on grounds of age.  
4The 2006 Sexual Orientation Regulations allow civil partners to bring a claim against providers of goods, facilities and services if 
discrimination is on grounds of sexual orientation.
4

What is discrimination?
In general, discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services involves 
less favourable treatment of a service user or prospective service user because 
of their sex (including gender reassignment and pregnancy/maternity), disability, 
race, religious belief or political opinion, or sexual orientation.  Discrimination can 
take various forms.
Direct discrimination 
This arises where a person (or an organisation) treats or would treat someone 
less favourably than others on one of the fi ve grounds in the same or similar 
circumstances.  Direct discrimination is unlawful whether it is intentional or not.
Example
A black man from Nigeria responds to an advertisement for a fl at to let but is 
turned down as soon as he arrives at the door.  The next applicant, a white 
man, is accepted.  This is likely to be direct discrimination on grounds of 
colour/national origin.
Indirect discrimination5 
There are currently three defi nitions of indirect discrimination.  For more 
information on these defi nitions, contact the Equality Commission’s Enquiry line 
on 028 90 890 890.
The fi rst defi nition of indirect discrimination occurs where:
A provision, criterion or practice is applied or would apply equally in a situation 
which puts certain people at a disadvantage and which cannot be shown to be a 
proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim;
5There is no concept of indirect discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act.  For further information contact the Equality Commission 
on 028 90 890 890 or visit our website on www.equalityni.org
5

The second defi nition occurs where: 
A requirement or condition is applied or would apply equally in a situation:
•  where a considerably smaller proportion of certain people can comply with it;
•  which is not justifi able; and
•  which is to the detriment of the individual because they cannot comply with it.
Indirect race discrimination - Regulations introduced in 2010 amended the 
defi nition of indirect race discrimination so that it covers not only individuals 
who are put at an actual disadvantage by a provision, criterion or practice but 
also individuals who would be put at such a disadvantage.  This will therefore 
cover individuals who are deterred from trying to access a service because of a 
provision, criterion or practice.
Like direct discrimination, indirect discrimination can be unlawful even if it is not 
intentional.  For any comparisons to take place under indirect discrimination, the 
circumstances in the case should be the same or not materially different.
Example
A bank writes its mortgage and loan agreements in the English language 
only.  While this policy is applied equally to everyone it disadvantages people 
from non English speaking countries.  A failure to translate documents or to 
provide an interpreter could be indirect race discrimination if it means that 
certain groups are unable to access the service, unless it can be justifi ed.
Example 
A single parent applies to her local education board for a bursary to attend 
to study for a professional qualifi cation on a part time basis.  She is refused 
the bursary as the board only considers applications in respect of full-time 
study.  She is unable to study full-time due to her family commitments, a 
position that more women than men are likely to fi nd themselves in.  A failure 
to fund part-time study could be indirect discrimination unless it can be 
justifi ed.
6

Disability-related discrimination
Disability-related discrimination occurs when, for a reason related to a person’s 
disability, the disabled person is treated less favourably than other people to whom 
the reason does not or would not apply, and this treatment cannot be justifi ed.
Reasonable adjustments for disabled people
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), service providers (including 
transport providers) have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to enable 
disabled people to access their services.  Failure to make a reasonable 
adjustment when one would have been appropriate may be held to be 
discrimination.  Reasonable adjustments may mean changing practices, policies 
or procedures if they make it impossible or unreasonably diffi cult for disabled 
people to access a service.
Where a physical feature makes it impossible or unreasonably diffi cult for a 
disabled person to access services, service providers have a duty to take 
reasonable steps to:
•  remove, alter or avoid the feature
•  provide an alternative method of accessing the service.
The duties placed on service providers towards disabled people are anticipatory.  
This means that service providers need to consider the requirements of disabled 
people in general and not the individual requirements of each disabled customer 
that may come to use their service.  Disabled people’s needs should be 
considered in advance, rather than waiting until a disabled person wants to use 
the service on offer.
Example of reasonable adjustment
A leisure centre installs a text phone in its reception to ensure that deaf and 
hearing impaired customers are able to contact the centre regarding opening 
times, exercise classes or other facilities.  The leisure centre advertises the 
text phone on its brochures and website.
7

Example of discrimination
A furniture store had a policy of not allowing prams and baby buggies as 
they believed they may cause damage.  Parents of a disabled child were 
refused access when they arrived with an adapted buggy.   No adjustment 
to the ‘no prams/buggies’ policy was made for the disabled child.  A court 
found that this was disability discrimination.
Harassment
Harassment6 in the provision of goods, facilities and services is defi ned explicitly 
in some of the anti-discrimination statutes.  A broad defi nition is where a 
person engages in conduct which, on a protected ground, has the effect of 
violating another person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, 
humiliating or offensive environment for that person.  Where harassment by 
service providers is not specifi cally mentioned in the legislation, it is possible for 
a person who feels harassed (and has been subjected to a detriment) to make 
a case that the harassing behaviour is less favourable treatment and therefore 
discriminatory. 
Example of harassment
A student takes driving lessons with a driving school.  She has become 
uncomfortable with her instructor because he has been making offensive 
remarks of a sexual nature about her and about other women passers-by, as 
well as making comments about her personal appearance.  This is likely to 
amount to sexual harassment under the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976.
Victimisation
This occurs when someone is treated less favourably because they have 
already made a complaint under the relevant legislation (for example, undertook 
proceedings or threatened to bring proceedings), have helped someone else to 
do so (for example, provided evidence in proceedings or acted as a witness), or 
alleged that a service provider or others have committed an unlawful act under the 
law.  Protection from victimisation is intended to ensure that people are not deterred 
from complaining about discrimination out of fear of further adverse treatment.
6Following a judicial review the harassment provisions of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 no longer apply.  Contact 
the Equality Commission on 028 90 890 890 for further details. 
8

Example of victimisation
A tenant who was subjected to sectarian harassment complains about 
the discrimination and is relocated to another house in a different area.  
Following the relocation, he has trouble getting his landlord to deal with 
repair requests in a satisfactory manner.  He believes this is because he 
made a complaint of discrimination.  If this is the case, it is likely to amount 
to victimisation.
What is less favourable treatment?
It is unlawful for service providers to treat individuals less favourably than other 
people on one of the fi ve grounds when using their services.  There must be a 
connection between the less favourable treatment and the person’s sex (including 
gender reassignment and pregnancy/maternity), sexual orientation, religious 
belief or political opinion, race or disability.
Bad treatment is not necessarily the same as less favourable treatment 
although, where a service provider acts unfairly or infl exibly, or where there is no 
comparator, a court might draw inferences that discrimination occurred.
Example
A woman who has undergone gender reassignment indicates to a landlord 
that she wishes to rent a one-bedroom fl at in a residential block of fl ats. 
The landlord refuses to allow her to rent the property, indicating that other 
tenants would feel uncomfortable in her presence.  This is likely to be 
unlawful discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Order (NI) 1976.
9

Example
Paul, who has a facial disfi gurement, went to a nightclub with two of his 
friends.  They were admitted to the club but later on Paul was approached 
by a doorman who told him he had to leave on the manager’s orders 
because he did not “meet the criteria”.  Paul took a complaint on grounds 
of disability and the nightclub owners eventually admitted that they had 
discriminated against him. 
The legislation makes it unlawful for a provider of goods, facilities and services to 
the public or a section of the public, to discriminate against individuals on one of 
the fi ve grounds by:
•  refusing or deliberately omitting to provide any service which it offers to or 
provides to members of the public, or a section of the public; or
•  providing service of a lower (inferior) standard or quality; or
•  providing service in a worse manner; or
•  providing service on less favourable terms.
Discrimination of this kind is unlawful whether or not the service is paid-for or 
provided free of charge.  Service providers will be covered regardless of size, and 
whether they are in the public, private or voluntary sector7. 
•  Refusal of service
A service provider cannot refuse to provide (or deliberately not provide) a service 
to a customer on one of the fi ve grounds which it offers to other people.  The 
service provider cannot refuse to provide services even if it thinks that serving 
that customer will upset or raise objections from other customers.
7Some public sector organisations and functions are exempt from the legislation. For further details  contact the Equality Commission on 028 
90 890 890 or visit our website at www.equalityni.org
10

Example
A woman is refused entry to a public bar because it is considered by staff to 
be a “male only” bar.  This is an unlawful refusal of a service on grounds of 
sex.
Example
An Irish Traveller is refused permission to try on a dress in a clothes shop.  
The shop owner makes excuses that it is not her size and suggests that 
it would be too expensive.  The real reason for the refusal of service is 
a prejudiced view that the Traveller customer will damage the garment.  
Such a refusal will be unlawful race discrimination as Irish Travellers are 
specifi cally protected as a racial group under the Race Relations (NI) Order 
1997.
•  Standard (quality) or manner of service
A service provider must not offer an individual (or group of individuals, or an 
organisation) on one of the fi ve grounds a lower standard (quality) or inferior 
service or serve them in a worse manner.  A lower standard of service may 
include being off hand, hostile, less courteous or rude towards them.
Example
A Chinese couple are ignored in a take-away restaurant even though they 
are next in the queue and white customers are served.  When they are able 
to place their order eventually, the assistant’s manner is hostile and rude.  
When their order is ready, it is ignored but other customers have their orders 
collected promptly.  This type of behaviour is likely to be discriminatory.
11

Example
A local council is licensed to hold both weddings and civil partnership 
ceremonies at its council offi ces.  The Registrar who normally conducts 
these ceremonies is uncomfortable with the idea of civil partnerships so 
suggests that a ceremony booked by a lesbian couple is held in a smaller, 
back room.  The council is treating the couple less favourably on grounds of 
their sexual orientation and this is likely to be discriminatory.
•  Terms of service
A service provider should not provide a service to an individual, on one of the 
fi ve grounds, on terms which are worse than the terms offered to other people.  
Worse terms could include charging more for services, imposing extra conditions 
for using the service or imposing obstacles to access.
Example 
A taxi company charges wheelchair users more for using their adapted 
taxis than they charge other people who do not use wheelchairs. This is an 
example of where the terms of service are worse than the terms offered to 
other people and is likely to be discriminatory.
Where and to whom does the law apply?
Goods, facilities and services
The law applies to all providers of goods, facilities and services to the public in 
Northern Ireland, regardless of size and whether in the private, public or voluntary 
sectors8.  It does not matter whether the services are provided free, for example 
access to a public park, or in return for payment, for example an item in a shop.
8See later section on exceptions.
12

All those involved in providing services have responsibilities under the law, 
including senior management and front line staff whether full or part-time, 
permanent or temporary.
It does not matter whether the service in question is being provided by a sole 
trader, fi rm, company or other organisation, or whether the person involved in 
providing the services is self employed, an employee, contractor or agent.  
Vicarious liability
Vicarious liability means that the service provider is legally responsible for the 
actions of its employees carried out in the course of their employment, whether 
it knew about them or not.  An employee who discriminates against a customer 
(or prospective customer) on one of the fi ve grounds will usually be regarded as 
acting in the course of their employment, even if the service provider has issued 
express instructions not to discriminate.
However, it is a defence in law that the service provider took ‘such steps as were 
reasonably practicable’ to prevent discriminatory actions.  Reasonable steps 
would include having an equality policy which covers the provision of goods, 
facilities or services which is communicated to staff and implemented effectively.  
Service providers should also ensure that they provide comprehensive equality 
training to staff and should have effective procedures for dealing with complaints 
from customers/service users.  
As a service provider, the focus of attention should be on meeting the needs of 
each customer regardless of sex (including gender reassignment and pregnancy/
maternity), sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion, race or disability.
The Equality Commission can provide further advice and guidance on developing 
policies and can provide relevant publications and training on request.  For 
further information contact our Enquiry line - 028 90 890 890.
13

Example
A cashier refuses to serve an Irish Traveller at the checkout.  The Traveller 
takes a case of discrimination against the cashier’s employer because the 
employer is vicariously liable for the actions of its employees whether it 
knows and approves of them or not.  The company’s management does not 
support the cashier’s action but has no equal opportunities policy and has 
not provided training to its employees.  The company may not be able to 
defend itself in court. 
What are goods, facilities and services?  
Although not defi ned in the legislation, the term ‘goods, facilities and services’, 
denotes a wide range of activities carried out by organisations.  Here are some 
examples to illustrate how broadly the term 'service provider' is interpreted:
 
•  advice agencies
•  charities and voluntary organizations
•  churches or other places of worship
•  courts
•  emergency services
•  employment agencies
•  housing associations, estate agents and private landlords
•  fi nancial services providers such as investment companies, banks and 
building societies or accountants
•  hospitals, clinics and heath services
•  hotels, B&Bs, guest houses and hostels
•  housing associations
•  law fi rms
•  libraries and museums
•  mail, telephone or online retailers
•  parks and other public spaces
•  petrol stations
•  post offi ces
•  property developers and management agencies
•  public utilities (such as gas, electricity and water suppliers)
•  pubs and restaurants
•  railway stations, bus stations and airports
14

•  rented business premises
•  services provided by local councils, government departments and agencies
•  shops and market stalls
•  some types of clubs
•  sports and leisure facilities
•  telecommunications and broadcasting services
•  theatres and cinemas.
The following are examples of facilities and services covered by the various 
pieces of legislation:
•  access to and use of a public place that the public is permitted to enter;
•  accommodation in a hotel, boarding house or similar establishment;
•  fi nancial services, banking, insurance, grants, loans, credit or fi nance;
•  facilities for education9
•  facilities for entertainment, recreation, or refreshment;
•  facilities for transport or travel;
•  services of a profession or trade;
•  services of a local or public authority.
Example
Two couples are refused service in a public house because they are from the 
Irish Traveller community.  This is likely to be discrimination under the Race 
Relations (NI) Order 1997.
Example 
Two blind friends were turned away from a restaurant because they had a 
guide dog with them.  They had phoned ahead to say that they would be 
bringing a guide dog, but when they arrived they were told they would have 
to tie the dog up outside, have a take-out meal or eat in a private room.  This 
is likely to be a breach of the Disability Discrimination Act. 
9Facilities for education generally are not covered by FETO but further and higher education and training are covered. 
Facilities for education are not covered in the general goods, facilities and services provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act but facilities 
provided to members of the public are covered (eg, use of a school’s premises for a meeting).  The provision of education services is covered 
separately under the Special Educational Needs & Disability Order (SENDO).  For more information, contact the Equality Commission on 
028 90 890 890.
15

Example
Jon, a black man, arrived at Belfast City Airport for a weekend break on an 
internal UK fl ight.  He was stopped by immigration offi cers who asked him to 
produce identifi cation documents.  Despite showing a considerable number 
of documents and having his employer verify his details, he was taken to 
prison and strip searched.  He was released two days later without being 
charged. 
Jon made a complaint claiming that only Black African passengers were 
stopped and checked and that no White persons were subjected to the 
same or similar treatment as him.  
Disposal or management of premises
It is unlawful to discriminate against individuals on one of the fi ve grounds in the 
disposal or management of premises in circumstances where services are being 
provided to the public.
The law covers both public and private sector housing or accommodation service 
providers, such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, housing associations, 
owners of hostels, private landlords, estate agents, property developers, 
managing agents and owner occupiers.
The term ‘premises’ includes residential accommodation such as fl ats, houses, 
bungalows, mobile homes and caravan sites, and commercial premises.  It also 
includes land of any description.
Disposal of premises
It is unlawful for a person (a person includes a legal entity such as a company) 
with power to dispose of any premises to discriminate against a person on one of 
the fi ve grounds: 
•  in the terms on which they offer to dispose of those premises;
•  by refusing an application for those premises; or
•  in the treatment of those on a list requiring housing, such as overlooking or 
giving priority to people on one of the fi ve grounds.
16

The disposal of premises includes selling or letting them.
Example
A man who wishes to sell a house instructs the estate agent not to sell to 
the highest bidder, but to a person who is the same religion as himself.  
Should the estate agent decide to action this instruction, it would leave him/
her open to a complaint of religious discrimination.  The house owner may 
also be liable for directing another to do an unlawful act.
Management of premises
It is unlawful for a person managing any premises to discriminate on one of the 
fi ve grounds against a person occupying those premises, such as tenants, other 
occupier or someone who is associated with them:
•  in the way that they afford them access to any benefi t or facilities;
•  by refusing, or deliberately omitting, to afford them access to any benefi ts or 
facilities10; or
•  by evicting or subjecting them to any other detriment. 
This covers all aspects of a manager’s duties towards a tenant, or other occupier, 
or someone associated with them. A person includes a legal entity such as a 
company.
Example
A housing association’s allocation policy gives priority for lettings to the 
sons and daughters of existing tenants.  If the racial profi le of tenants does 
not refl ect the racial profi le of people in need of housing in the association’s 
catchment area, the policy could disadvantage prospective tenants from 
underrepresented racial groups. This could amount to unlawful indirect race 
discrimination, unless it can be justifi ed.
10The wording in the DDA is slightly different: “by refusing or deliberately omitting to permit the disabled person to make use of any benefi ts or 
facilities”.
17

Example
A property management company manages and controls a residential 
block of fl ats on behalf of the landlord-owner.  The block has a basement 
swimming pool for use by tenants and their guests.  A lesbian tenant is told 
that she can only use the swimming pool at restricted times, because other 
tenants feel uncomfortable in her presence.  This is likely to be unlawful 
under the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
Example
An estate agency issues documentation to its staff indicating which 
properties, for letting or sale, are considered to be 'unsuitable' for 
occupation by members of minority ethnic groups.  This practice or policy 
discriminates against ethnic minorities.
Licence or consent
It is also unlawful for a person whose licence or consent is required for the 
disposal of any premises comprised in a tenancy to discriminate against a person 
on one of the fi ve grounds by withholding the licence or consent.
Example
A tenant of a house occupies the premises under a tenancy agreement with 
a right to sub-let the house with prior consent of the landlord-owner.  The 
tenant is being posted to work abroad for a year and wishes to sub-let the 
house to a couple who are a different religion to himself and the landlord.  
The owner of the house refuses consent to the sub-letting.  This is likely to 
be unlawful under the Fair Employment and Treatment Order.
18

Reasonable adjustments for disabled people
Landlords and managers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation 
to premises (both commercial and residential) that they let to disabled tenants 
or prospective tenants who are disabled.  The reasonable adjustments that 
landlords and managers may need to make include:
•  altering their policies, practices or procedures
•  providing auxiliary aids or services; or
•  changing the terms of a letting (but only in respect of premises that have 
already been let).
Example of good practice
A landlord has a tenant who is visually impaired.  He ensures that all written 
correspondence sent to her is in large print.
Example of good practice
A landlord waives a term of the letting which prohibits the keeping of pets, in 
order to allow a blind tenant to keep an assistance dog on the premises.
A landlord or manager will not have to take any steps that would involve 
the removal or alteration of a physical feature.  For further details of what 
constitutes a physical feature, contact the Equality Commission Enquiry line 
on 028 90 890 890.
19

Exceptions for the disposal or management of premises
The law contains certain exceptions to the provisions relating to the disposal or 
management of premises.
Owner-occupiers
The law does not apply to an owner-occupier if:
•  that person owns an estate or interest in the premises; and
•  wholly occupies the premises.
However, if the owner-occupier uses the services of an estate agent or publishes, 
or arranges to be published, an advertisement or notice, the exception does not 
apply.
Example
A person giving or selling a house privately to someone they know, and not 
using the services of an estate agent or advertising the sale publicly, would 
not be covered by the legislation (excluding race/ethnic or national origin).
Small dwellings
The law does not apply to certain small dwellings11.  The exception applies to 
residential accommodation only and is in place to preserve an individual’s right to 
privacy in their own home. 
A number of conditions must be satisfi ed before a small dwelling is exempted:
The person with the power to dispose of the premises (or whose licence or 
consent is required for the disposal) referred to as the ‘relevant occupier’ (this 
includes a near relative) must:
•  reside on the premises;
•  intend to continue to reside on the premises; and
•  be sharing accommodation on the premises with other people who are not 
members of the relevant occupier’s household (such as bathroom or kitchen);
11This exception does not apply to race/ethnic or national origin, but does apply to colour and nationality.
20

•  the shared accommodation must not be storage accommodation or a means 
of access;
•  the premises must be ‘small premises’.  To fi nd out when premises are ‘small 
premises’ contact the Equality Commission on 028 90 890 890 or visit our 
website at www.equalityni.org.
Exceptions
The law allows that people can be treated differently in certain circumstances 
and there are exceptions to the general principle of non-discrimination set out in 
the various pieces of legislation12.  Below is a sample of exceptions to the law - 
it is not an exhaustive list.  Some exceptions apply to only one equality ground; 
others apply to more than one.  Service providers should always seek advice 
before relying on an exception.
•  facilities or services where embarrassment is likely to be caused at the 
presence of a woman or a man, eg, changing rooms at a swimming pool;
•  facilities or services where physical contact between the user and any other 
person is likely, and that other person might reasonably object if the user was 
a person of the opposite sex;
•  in relation to communal residential accommodation (such as dormitories 
or other shared residential accommodation).  However, when restricting 
communal accommodation on the ground of gender reassignment, the 
degree to which such discrimination is a proportionate means of achieving a 
legitimate aim is taken into account;
•  where the essential nature of the goods, facilities or services require them to 
be provided only to persons holding or not holding a particular religious belief;
•  where the essential nature of the goods, facilities  or services require them to 
be provided only to persons holding or not holding a particular political opinion 
as in the case of a political party;13
•  an association where the main object is to enable the benefi ts of membership 
to be enjoyed by persons of a particular racial group defi ned otherwise than by 
reference to colour;
•  benefi ts conferred by charities on members of a specifi c group
•  small private clubs with fewer than 25 members unless they provide services 
to the public14;
12Exceptions for disposal and management of premises are dealt with in more detail in the previous section.
13It must be a political party registered under the Registration of Political Parties Act 1998.
14Exception only applies to some grounds.
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•  persons who make arrangements to take into their home (for reward or not) 
persons who they treat as members of their family, such as children, elderly 
persons, or persons requiring a special degree of care and attention;
•  a hospital or other establishment for persons requiring special supervision, 
attention or care;
•  organised religion where the facilities or services are restricted to men only 
or women only so as to comply with the doctrines of that religion or avoid 
offending the religious susceptibilities of a signifi cant number of followers;
•  religious organisations whose main purpose is to practice, advance or teach a 
religion or belief or to enable people of a religion or belief to receive a benefi t 
or to engage in an activity, within the framework of that religion or belief15;
•  acts relating to participation as a competitor in certain sporting events which 
are confi ned to competitors of one sex16;
•  acts which relate to the provision or disposal of accommodation or premises 
of small dwellings17;
•  acts done to protect women in compliance with the requirement of an existing 
statutory provision, for example in relation to pregnancy or maternity;
•  acts done to safeguard national security, or to protect public safety or public 
order; 
•  acts done under statutory authority.
Service providers and individuals can get more guidance on exceptions from the 
Commission.
Other relevant legislation
Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act
As well as complying with anti-discrimination law, service providers who are 
public authorities are subject to Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  This 
means that, in carrying out their work, public authorities must have due regard to 
the need to promote equality of opportunity for a range of groups, most of which 
are also covered by anti-discrimination law:
•  between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, 
age, marital status or sexual orientation; 
15Exception applies to sexual orientation only.
16Exception applies to sex and gender reassignment only.
17Exception does not apply to gender reassignment and sexual orientation.
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•  between men and women generally; 
•  between persons with a disability and persons without; and
•  between persons with dependants and persons without.
They must also have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations 
between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group.  
They must produce equality schemes, equality impact assess their policies and 
consult with those affected by their policies, including service users.  In practical 
terms, public authorities have a statutory duty not just to avoid discrimination but 
to actively promote equality and good relations for the identifi ed categories or 
groups.  For more information on the Section 75 statutory equality duties, please 
visit our website www.equalityni.org or contact our Enquiry line - 028 90 890 890.
DDA Disability duties
As part of a series of changes to the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), the 
‘disability duties’ on public authorities came into effect on 1 January 2007.  These 
duties require public authorities, when exercising their functions, to have due 
regard to the need: 
•  to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, and
•  to encourage participation by disabled people in public life.
The disability duties are positive mainstreaming duties which require proactive 
implementation of a range of measures which change a public authority’s way of 
working, in order to better promote positive attitudes towards disabled people 
and their participation in public life.
The disability duties require public authorities to submit to the Equality
Commission disability action plans showing how they propose to fulfi ll the 
duties in relation to their functions.  Public authorities are also required to
produce annual progress reports and fi ve yearly reviews of their disability action 
plans and submit these reports to the Equality Commission.
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Legislation applying to the education sector
Schools
As service providers and education providers, Northern Ireland schools, including 
grant aided and independent schools, are covered by the Sex Discrimination 
Order, the Sexual Orientation Regulations, Special Educational Needs and 
Disability (NI) Order and the Race Relations Order.   This means that schools 
cannot discriminate against pupils/students or prospective pupils/students on 
grounds of sex, sexual orientation, disability or race.  In some cases, former 
pupils/students may also be protected from discrimination.  
There is explicit protection from harassment in some of the legislation.  For other 
grounds, individuals may be able to claim that harassing behaviour or treatment 
amounts to unlawful discrimination.
The Fair Employment & Treatment Order does not apply to education provided by 
schools.  
Further and higher education
Further and higher education establishments including colleges and universities 
are covered by the fi ve pieces of legislation.  It is also unlawful to discriminate on 
grounds of age in further and higher education. 
Harassment in further and higher education establishments is explicitly unlawful 
under the legislation relating to the fi ve key areas (sex, disability, race, religious 
belief/political opinion, and sexual orientation) and under the Age Regulations.
Making a complaint
Complaints relating to discrimination in respect of the provision of goods, 
facilities and services or the disposal or management of property should be made 
to the County Court within 6 months of the date the discrimination took place. 
Complaints about disability discrimination in grant aided and independent 
schools should be made to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal 
(SENDIST) within 6 months of the date of the alleged act of discrimination.
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Complaints about disability discrimination in further and higher education should 
be made to the County Court within 6 months of the date of the alleged act of 
discrimination.
Advice and assistance
Help for individuals
The Equality Commission can provide free and confi dential advice and 
assistance to people who believe that they have been discriminated against by 
service providers on any of the fi ve grounds - see contact details at the end of 
this booklet.
Assistance by the Equality Commission may range from simply giving information 
or advice to arranging for legal representation in some cases.  The Equality 
Commission does not decide whether discrimination has occurred; this is for a 
court to decide. 
Help for service providers
The Equality Commission can provide general information and advice to service 
providers and others on recommended good practice under the relevant 
legislation - see contact details at the end of this booklet.  The following relevant 
publications are available on our website at www.equalityni.org (some are also 
available in hard copy - please contact our Enquiry line - 028 90 890 890).
Useful publications
•  Guidelines for providers of goods, facilities and services on developing a 
model equality policy for service provision (2010)
•  Disability Discrimination Act Code of Practice:  Rights of Access - goods, 
facilities, services and premises (2003)
•  Disability Discrimination Law in Northern Ireland - short guide (updated 2010)
•  Eliminating Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Northern Ireland: A Guide on 
the Provision of Goods, Facilities, Services, and Premises (2008)
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•  Eliminating Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Northern Ireland - short guides 
for providers of housing, education, hospitality, fi nancial services and health & 
social care (2009)
•  Sexual Orientation Discrimination Law in Northern Ireland – A Short Guide 
(2011)
•  Sex Equality Legislation - Update on the provision of goods, facilities, services 
and premises (2008)
•  Sex Discrimination Law in Northern Ireland - A short guide (updated 2010)
•  What service providers need to know about racial discrimination law in relation 
to Irish Travellers
•  Racial Discrimination Law in Northern Ireland - short guide (updated 2010)
•  Religious Belief and Political Opinion Discrimination Law in Northern Ireland - 
short guide (updated 2010)
•  Avoiding disability discrimination - good practice guides for transport 
providers (2009)
•  Avoiding disability discrimination in transport - a short guide to your rights 
(2009) 
•  Equality law - a guide for the tourism sector (2010)
•  Racial equality in health & social care - good practice guide - see website
•  Racial equality in education - good practice guide - see website.
All our publications and further information for individuals, service providers and 
employers are available on our website at www.equalityni.org.  Publications and 
other information can be made available in alternative formats and languages on 
request.  
At time of publication, other codes of practice that relate to service providers are 
in preparation – contact us for more information.
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Contacting the Equality Commission
If you need information or advice on any aspect of anti-discrimination and 
equality law, or would like to request copies of available  publications, please 
contact us:
Enquiry line: 
028 90 890 890
Reception:  
029 90 500 600
Text phone: 
028 90 500 589
Fax:   
 
028 90 248 687
Email:   xxxxxxxxxxx@xxxxxxxxxx.xxx
Website:  
www.equalityni.org
Information can be made available in other languages and formats on request.
The Commission’s information and advisory services are free and confi dential.  
We can also provide a range of training to service providers, employers, 
community and voluntary groups and the education sector.  
Equality Commission for Northern Ireland
Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast
BT2 7DP
March 2011