Anti-discrimination legislation

Roger Pebody
Published: 05 August 2010
  • People with HIV are protected against discrimination by businesses and service providers, including public sector organisations providing a free service.

  • A number of people with HIV have experienced discrimination from healthcare providers.

  • The Equality Act also covers discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation and other characteristics.

The Equality Act 2010 protects all people with diagnosed HIV from discrimination, harassment or victimisation by businesses and service providers. Under the legislation, all people who have been diagnosed with HIV are considered to have a disability and are therefore protected.

The law also protects against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy, maternity, religion and belief. These are referred to as ‘protected characteristics’. Although the examples used in this chapter mostly relate to HIV status and other disabilities, this legislation may also be helpful for people who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of their race, gender, sexual orientation or another protected characteristic.

The law protects against discrimination in employment, and these provisions are described in Employment. (In addition, some aspects of the Equality Act are described in more detail in that section).

This section concentrates on the way the Equality Act protects against discrimination during the delivery of goods, facilities and services. The law applies to any organisation providing services to the public, including:

  • Businesses (including shops, banks, restaurants, hotels, property agents, tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians, etc).

  • Healthcare and social care organisations (including hospitals, GP surgeries, charities, voluntary organisations, social services departments, residential care homes, etc.).

  • Charities, voluntary organisations and religious groups which are providing services.

  • Government departments, local authorities and other public bodies (and organisations working on their behalf).

  • Education providers (schools, colleges, universities etc.).

  • People selling or letting flats, houses or other property.

Under the law, service providers:

  • Must not refuse to serve people with HIV or refuse to take them on as a client.

  • Must not stop serving people with HIV if, in the same circumstances, they still serve other clients who do not have HIV.

  • Must not give people with HIV a service of a worse quality or in a worse way than they would usually provide.

  • Must not give people with HIV a service with worse terms than they would usually offer.

  • Must not put people with HIV at any other disadvantage.

It doesn’t matter whether a service is free or whether it is paid for – it will still be covered by equality law. Both small and large organisations must comply with the law.

It is not just the people in charge of organisations who must avoid unlawful discrimination. A service provider is legally responsible for acts of discrimination, harassment and victimisation carried out by their employees while at work. (This also applies to volunteers and other people acting on behalf of the service provider.) It does not matter whether or not the service provider knew about or approved of what their person did. A service provider can reduce the risk that they will be held legally responsible for the behaviour of their employees, volunteers and agents if they tell them how to behave so that they avoid unlawful discrimination, harassment or victimisation.

Also, as well as not unlawfully discriminating against people themselves, an estate or letting agent must not accept an instruction to discriminate from a property seller or landlord. If they follow a landlord’s instructions not to rent a flat to a person with HIV, they would themselves be liable for direct discrimination.

Most parts of the Equality Act 2010 come into force in October 2010.

The Equality Act only applies in England, Wales and Scotland. In Northern Ireland, anti-discrimination legislation is found in several different laws, including the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (as amended, including a number of amendments specific to Northern Ireland).


Written by: Roger Pebody

With thanks to: Daniel McAlonan (British Dental Association)

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.
Community Consensus Statement on Access to HIV Treatment and its Use for Prevention

Together, we can make it happen

We can end HIV soon if people have equal access to HIV drugs as treatment and as PrEP, and have free choice over whether to take them.

Launched today, the Community Consensus Statement is a basic set of principles aimed at making sure that happens.

The Community Consensus Statement is a joint initiative of AVAC, EATG, MSMGF, GNP+, HIV i-Base, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, ITPC and NAM/aidsmap

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.

NAM’s information is intended to support, rather than replace, consultation with a healthcare professional. Talk to your doctor or another member of your healthcare team for advice tailored to your situation.