UK: Service Providers - Are You Ready For The Age Discrimination Ban?

Last Updated: 14 December 2012
Article by Jo Rees

1 October 2012 has been another key date for the diary. This was the day that the final provision of the Equality Act 2010 came in to force, namely, the ban on age discrimination in services.

As a result, treating people differently because of their age (one of the nine "protected characteristics" covered by the Act) when providing goods, facilities or services will generally be unlawful subject to certain exceptions.

Most of the Act came into force on 1 October 2010 including protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace. Also in force from that date was a ban on discrimination in the provision of services covering the other protected characteristics such as race, disability and sex. The reason for age discrimination in the provision of services not being included when the Act came into force almost two years ago was because of the specific need to consult on the circumstances when differential treatment based on age could still be permitted.

Who is affected by the ban?

In short, pretty much everyone. The ban will affect both public and private organisations and will apply to any person or organisation (with some exceptions) 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" such as a private members club.

The categories referred to above encompass a wide range of organisations including retailers, insurance companies, banks, holiday operators, local councils, housing associations, hospitals and managers of private clubs and associations.

Clearly the ban will also affect customers and service users. Note however that the ban does not apply to children aged under 18.

Given the extensive scope of the ban it is surprising that there has been so little media coverage of it to date.

When will different treatment based on age be permitted?

The purpose of the ban is to prohibit harmful treatment that results in unfair discrimination because of age. However, the government does not want to prohibit different treatment which is justifiable or beneficial. Consequently, there are a number of circumstances when it will be lawful to treat people differently because of their age:

  • Exceptions
  • Objective justification
  • Positive action


There are general and specific exceptions. The general exceptions arise where, for example, a current piece of legislation allows or requires people to be treated differently because of their age. Some examples include the age limits on jury service, the age limits in adopting and fostering and the winter fuel allowance for pensioners.

In addition, there is a range of specific exceptions which include financial services, age-based concessions, agerelated holidays and age-restricted goods.

Objective justification

Objective justification of discriminatory treatment can be relied on where there is a good reason for the discriminatory practice or policy. The legal test is whether the discriminatory practice or policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim, for example, the public interest. Some common examples of objective justification arise in the NHS. For instance, certain cancer screening programmes are provided only to women over a specific age or seasonal flu vaccinations which are available to the elderly.

Significantly, there are no "exceptions" to the ban on age discrimination in the provision of health or social care services which means that any age-based practices will need to be objectively justified if they are challenged.

Positive action

The purpose of positive action is to compensate for disadvantages suffered by a particular age group or to meet its particular needs where there is under representation of that group. An example given by the government Guidance (see below) is of libraries offering "silver surfer" sessions to older people to help them become more computer literate.

What to do to ensure compliance with the Equality Act?

  • The first step is to identify whether or not your organisation has any age-related practices which result in differential treatment.
  • If there are, then the next step is to establish whether any of the exceptions apply.
  • If they don't, then consider whether positive action or objective justification can be relied on to enable you to continue to treat people differently because of their age.
  • If it appears unlikely that you will be unable to objectively justify the discriminatory practice, it will need to be changed.
  • Finally, make sure all staff are aware of these new developments in relation to age discrimination.

More information

The Government Equalities Office has now published a series of guides on the age discrimination ban in services. The guides are available from

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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