About sexual orientation and gender reassignment discrimination

This page explains what sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination is and how the law protects you.

What is sexual orientation?

Your sexual orientation defines whom you are attracted to physically and emotionally - whether you are attracted to people of the opposite sex, or the same sex, or both.

What is gender reassignment?

Gender reassignment is the process of altering your physical characteristics to match your gender identity. Your gender identity is the gender you feel that you are inside. The gender you identify with may not necessarily be the same as the physical sexual characteristics you were born with. The term commonly used to describe people whose gender identity conflicts with society's 'gender norms' or expectations is transgender.

What is sexual orientation and gender reassignment discrimination?

Discrimination occurs if you are treated less favourably than someone else because you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual or transgender. If someone treats you less favourably on this basis, but you are not lesbian, gay, bisexual, heterosexual or transgender, this still counts as discrimination.

Am I protected against discrimination?

The Equality Act protects you from sexual orientation and gender reassignment discrimination:

  • at school, college or university

  • when renting or buying a home

  • when you buy goods or use services provided by, for example:

    • shops

    • pubs, restaurants and nightclubs

    • banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions

    • cinemas, theatres and leisure centres

    • hotels and B&Bs

    • public transport, travel agents and airlines

    • builders, plumbers and other tradespeople

    • doctors, hospitals and other health providers

    • the council

The information on this website is mainly concerned with your rights in housing situations. If you think you've been discriminated against at work, visit Direct.gov's page on sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

What kind of discrimination am I protected against?

There are three kinds of sexual orientation discrimination:

  • direct discrimination

  • indirect discrimination

  • victimisation

What is direct discrimination?

Direct discrimination takes place if you are treated less favourably than a non-LGBTQ+ person would be in a comparable situation. For example, direct discrimination occurs if:

  • you are refused a service because you are/perceived to be LQBTQ+ (for example, if a mortgage lender turns down an application from a gay couple or a couple in a civil partnership, but accepts an application from a heterosexual couple or married couple in a similar financial situation)

  • you are offered a lower standard of service because you are/perceived to be LQBTQ+ (for example, if a landlord charges someone they believe to be gay a higher deposit than their other tenants are charged)

What is indirect discrimination?

Indirect discrimination takes place when a service provider (for example, a landlord or the council) introduces for no good reason a rule or policy that applies equally to everyone but is more restrictive for LGBTQ+ people.

What is victimisation?

If you are treated badly because you have complained about discrimination, or have helped another person complain, this is victimisation.

How does this affect my housing rights?

It's illegal for a landlord, letting agent, estate agent, council or housing association to discriminate against you because of your sexual orientation or gender reassignment. This includes when they are letting or selling houses, flats, mobile homes, business premises, hotels and holiday accommodation and agricultural land.

As the law covers services provided by financial institutions, it's also illegal for mortgage lenders to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender reassignment.

This means that the Equality Act is likely to protect you in the following situations.

Renting a home

If you're renting accommodation, discrimination because of your actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender reassignment may occur if:

  • a landlord or letting agency will not allow you to view a property for rent, or specifies in an advert that the property is only available to people with certain sexual orientations

  • a landlord or letting agency gives you worse terms in your tenancy agreement than other tenants they let property to

  • a landlord or letting agency charges you higher rent or larger deposit than other tenants they let similar properties to

  • a landlord or letting agency restricts your use of facilities that other tenants have full access to (such as kitchen facilities or a communal garden)

  • a landlord or letting agency tries to evict you on this basis

  • a council or housing association refuses to put your name down on their housing waiting list, or puts you lower down the list than other people who are in the same situation as you

  • a council or housing association gives you a short Scottish secure tenancy instead of a Scottish secure tenancy

Buying a home

If you're buying a home, discrimination because of your actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender reassignment may occur if:

  • an estate agent or owner won't let you look around a property that's up for sale or refuses your offer on a property

  • a mortgage lender asks you more questions about your health than normally needed

  • a mortgage lender sets more conditions for same-sex couples than for opposite-sex and transgender couples (for example, by insisting on a higher deposit).

Making a homeless application

You may also experience discrimination when you make a homeless application to the council. For example, this may be the case if:

  • a council refuses to accept a homeless application from you because you're LGBTQ+

  • a council refuses to accept that you are homeless because you are fleeing domestic abuse from your same-sex partner.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some housing situations that are exempt from the law.

Home owners

Home owners can choose to let or not to let their property if:

  • they live in the property as well, for example they are renting out a room to a lodger, and

  • they don't use an agent to let the property, and

  • they don't advertise the property for rent

Resident landlords of small premises

Exceptions also apply if:

  • the person letting or subletting the property also lives there, or

  • a near relative of the person letting the home lives there (a near relative can be a wife or husband, civil partner, parent, child or adopted child, grandparent or grandchild, or brother or sister, including, for example, half-sister, step-sister and sister-in-law), and

  • they share accommodation with their tenants (for example, a living room or kitchen - shared storage space doesn't count), and

  • the home is classed as a 'small premises' - this means that, in addition to the person letting the property and their family, there are no more than:

    • two other households living there (for example, two couples or families), or

    • six unrelated people living there

Religious organisations and charities

If a religious organisation provides accommodation (for example, in a refuge or hostel) it has the right to restrict who can stay there, in order to comply with its beliefs. LGBTQ+ charities also have the right to provide accommodation solely for LGBTQ+ people.

What can I do if I'm being discriminated against?

If you think that a landlord, council, mortgage lender or other service provider has discriminated against you, you can take action against them. Read the page on dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination to find out more.

Where can I get help and advice?

If you feel that you have been discriminated against by a service provider such as a landlord and you wish to take further action, get in touch with the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They may be able to help you take your case to court.

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help. Get Help

Last updated: 19 January 2021

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England