Sexual Orientation and Discrimination in Goods & Services
Taking action about discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and
services on the grounds of sexual orientation can be difficult and you may
need specialist help and advice.
The information on these pages only outline the procedure and we recommend
that you seek individual advice if you are intending to take action.
Although there is now a specific law dealing with sexual orientation and
discrimination in goods and services, using that law may not always be the
quickest or most effective way of resolving a problem.
When considering action to tackle discrimination you need to consider the
- the courses of action that are available
- the result you want, for example, financial compensation, an apology,
publicity or a combination of all of these
- the availability of more specialised advice
- the possible cost
- whether or not the respondent is a public authority.
If your priority is getting the problem resolved quickly at an early stage.
You may be able to achieve this by negotiating with the person/body who you
feels has discriminated against you, or by using an established grievance
or complaints procedure. However, you need to be aware that there are time
limits for taking legal action.
For example, if you wanted a housing transfer and you believed you were
being denied through discrimination. It may be quicker to try to enforce you
rights under the tenancy agreement or through the local authority's stated
policy, rather than take a case under the sexual orientation discrimination
If you do not want to use other options, or if you have tried these methods
with no success, you can:-
- take an individual case under sexual orientation discrimination legislation
through the county court (from October 2007, with or without the help of
the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)); and/or
- from October 2007, give details of the case to the EHRC if the problem
appears to be widespread and the Commission may wish to investigate.
Intention to discriminate
When taking action about discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,
you do not have to demonstrate that there was an intention to discriminate
against you. It is merely necessary to show that discrimination took place.
However, if it can be proven that there was an intention to discriminate,
this may affect the amount of damages a court will award.
Finding a comparator
When taking action against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation,
a comparison must normally be made between how a person of a particular sexual
orientation has been treated compared to how someone of another sexual orientation
has been treated. However, if the complainant cannot identify a comparator
who is being treated, or has been treated, more favourably, s/he can still
take a case if s/he can show that a comparator would have been treated more
favourably (a hypothetical comparator).
Evidence and witnesses
It is important to gather any evidence and details of witnesses of the discrimination.
If there are witnesses, you will need to know whether they would be prepared
to give evidence. This is particularly important if you decide that you want
to take legal action.
Possible costs involved
It is important to consider the possible costs involved in taking action.
You may be able to get help with court fees and in some cases may be eligable
for Legal Aid. If no sources of help are available, you may have to pay a
solicitor to represent you.
Going to court – how a case is dealt with
If a person is applying to a county court (sheriff court in Scotland), s/he
must do so within six months of the date of the discriminatory act s/he is
It is useful for the person who believes s/he has been discriminated against
to use what is known as the 'questions procedure' by completing a questionnaire.
There is no obligation on the claimant to use the questionnaire before making
a claim to court, but s/he may find it very useful to use the questionnaire
to gain information form the respondent. The questionnaire can help a person
assess whether s/he has been discriminated against. It also helps to gather
more information about the reasons for her/his treatment. Using a questionnaire
is not compulsory but it will be useful because:-
- the answers given by the person who is being accused of discrimination
(the respondent) may make the complainant realise that s/he has not been
treated less favourably on grounds of sexual orientation, and that her/his
case is unlikely to succeed
- when the respondent receives the questionnaire, s/he may realise that
s/he has discriminated and offer a remedy and/or compensation without the
need for further action
- the answers will identify potential conflicts of evidence in the event
of the case going to court. This will give the complainant an opportunity
to consider how s/he should respond.
If the time limit for applying to the county court is getting close, a person
who wants to take court action should not wait to send out her/his questionnaire
but should register her/his claim at the county court