What is disability discrimination?

The Equality Act 2010 protects disabled people from discrimination. It's against the law for landlords, mortgage lenders and other service providers to treat disabled people less favourably than non-disabled people.

The definition of disability

You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.

How the Equality Act protects disabled people

The Equality Act improves your rights if you are disabled and renting or thinking about renting or if you want to buy a home and apply for a mortgage.

It's against the law for the following people or organisations to discriminate against disabled people:

  • employers

  • schools, universities and other education institutions

  • service providers (businesses and organisations which provide goods and services).

Service providers include:

  • banks, letting agents, estate agents, shops, restaurants, pubs, cinemas and leisure centres

  • organisations such as councils, hospitals, advice agencies and charities

Public transport services are not covered by the Equality Act.

Disability discrimination explained

Under the Equality Act, disability discrimination occurs when:

  • a disabled person is treated less favourably than a non-disabled person, and

  • they are treated this way for a reason arising from their disability, and

  • the treatment cannot be justified

For example, a letting agent would be treating a disabled person less favourably if they:

  • refuse to serve them,

  • offer them a reduced service or a worse standard of service than they offer to non-disabled people, or

  • offer them the service on poorer terms than they offer to non-disabled people (for example, by charging more)

If you’re being discriminated against

You can take action if you feel that a person or service provider is discriminating against you.

Dealing with disability discrimination

Reasonable adjustments

Under the Equality Act, service providers must make reasonable adjustments to their services and premises to ensure that disabled people can access them.

These could include:

  • installing an accessible toilet

  • building a ramp or putting up handrails at the entrance to their premises

  • providing written information in alternative formats, for example in Braille or large print

Service providers have to change policies, practices and procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use their service.

They must also provide auxiliary aids and services, such as arranging an interpreter for a meeting, if that will help disabled people use the service.

The definition of 'reasonable' depends on who the service provider is and what their resources are. For example, a large chain of estate agents would be expected to make more adjustments for disabled people than an estate agent who only has one office.


Health and safety concerns

A service provider can refuse to let a disabled person access their services or can restrict their use of the services if there are genuine health and safety concerns.

The service provider must have real evidence that there is a danger, for example, by having a risk assessment carried out.

If the disabled person is incapable of entering into a contract

A service provider can refuse or restrict their services to a disabled person if they have evidence that the person cannot understand the nature of the transaction or give informed consent.

However, service providers cannot refuse or restrict their services if someone else is acting legally on a disabled person's behalf (for example, if they have a power of attorney).

If the service provider would otherwise be unable to provide the service to the public

Before refusing or restricting their services to disabled people, the service provider must make sure that there are no ways they could get around this. For example by providing aids or extra assistance to help a disabled person access the service.

If the service provider would otherwise be unable to provide the service to the disabled person or other members of the public

A service provider can justify providing a reduced or worse service to a disabled person if this is the only way they can offer the service. For example, a hotel may only have a few rooms that are fully accessible, giving disabled people a reduced choice.

If offering the disabled person a tailor-made service costs the service provider more

Service providers are entitled to charge disabled people more if they are offering a special, tailor-made service. However, this service must be over and above any reasonable adjustments the service provider should make by law.

Last updated: 23 June 2021

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England