Age discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities

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The ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities will come into force on 1 October 2012.

The ban was originally intended to come into force in April 2012, but implementation was delayed to allow the UK Government further time to consider exemptions from the ban.

With some exceptions, it will apply to any person or organisation that is:

  • Providing (or refusing to provide) goods, facilities or services to another
  • Carrying out (or refusing to carry out) a public function for another
  • Running an “association” like a private members club.

The law is focused on banning potentially harmful discriminatory behaviour including:

  • Direct discrimination - where someone is unfairly treated in comparison with another
  • Indirect discrimination - where a rule or practice applies to everyone, but puts a particular group of people at a disadvantage
  • Harassment - unwanted conduct which violates a person’s dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that person
  • Victimisation - where someone who has made a complaint of discrimination or harassment or supported someone else’s complaint is treated unfairly.

The ban in relation to the provision of goods, services and facilities will only protect persons aged 18 and over. This means that organisations can continue to provide different services at different rates and on different terms to children of different ages, and can refuse to admit or serve children altogether.

The ban, which will be brought into force under the Equality Act 2010, will contain a limited number of exemptions which organisations may be able to rely upon. In addition, organisations can take "positive action" to meet the needs of, or to prevent or compensate for disadvantage suffered by, a particular age group.

There will be a general exemption to the ban which will allow organisations to engage in practices which would otherwise be discriminatory if the organisation can show that those practices are a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim and that there is no fairer way of achieving the desired outcome. Government guidance suggests that the types of practices which may benefit from this exemption are practices which are socially positive or generally in the public interest rather than for purely for commercial reasons. A practice which benefits a business commercially without wider social benefits is unlikely to fall within the exemption.

There will also be a limited number of specific exemptions to the ban. These include:

  • Financial service providers will be able to use age to assess risk when providing financial services, provided that the risk assessment is based on relevant and reliable information
  • Giving concessions to members of a particular age group will be allowed (eg cheaper deals for students or pensioners)
  • Clubs and associations which cater for particular age groups will be allowed
  • Holiday providers will be allowed to provide holidays for members of particular age groups (eg 18-30 holidays)
  • Age verification schemes where a retailer asks for proof of age before selling an age restricted product (eg alcohol or fireworks) will be permitted
  • Tesidential park homes will be able to include age limits in their park admission rules. Age-restricted sports teams and competitions will be permitted (eg under 18s football teams)
  • Age limits set out in legislation that allows or requires people to be treated differently because of their age will also be unaffected.

Most organisations will already be running their business in line with the new law given that the updated rules dealing with sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion and belief and discrimination came into force in October 2010 and will not need to make any specific changes to achieve compliance with the ban on age discrimination.

However, it would be sensible for all organisations to carry out a review to establish what, if any, age related practices and policies might need to be amended to ensure compliance with the new rules before they come into force. If those practices and policies do not benefit from the positive action provision, the general exemption or any of the specific exemptions, they will need to be changed before 1 October 2012.