What does the Equality Act say?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) serves as the regulator for the Equality Act. The EHRC has produced guidance on single-sex exemptions as legislated in the Equality Act 2010.

This guidance aims to address the potential conflict between the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment.

Please click on the relevant headings for more information from the EHRC website.

Separate and single-sex service providers: a guide on the Equality Act sex and gender reassignment provisions

The Equality Act allows for the provision of separate or single sex services in certain circumstances under ‘exceptions’ relating to sex.

To establish a separate or single-sex service, you must show that you meet at least one of a number of statutory conditions (set out in this section of the guide) and that limiting the service on the basis of sex is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. For example, a legitimate aim could be for reasons of privacy, decency, to prevent trauma or to ensure health and safety. You must then be able to show that your action is a proportionate way of achieving that aim.

There are circumstances where a lawfully-established separate or single-sex service provider can prevent, limit or modify trans people’s access to the service. This is allowed under the Act. However, limiting or modifying access to, or excluding a trans person from, the separate or single-sex service of the gender in which they present might be unlawful if you cannot show such action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This applies whether the person has a Gender Recognition Certificate or not.

When considering how your service is provided to trans people, you must balance the impact on all service users and show that there is a sufficiently good reason for excluding trans people or limiting or modifying their access to the service. Some service providers may find it helpful to have a policy for how services are provided to trans people. Where this is the case we recommend you develop a policy but this is not a legal requirement. If you do have a policy you should be prepared to consider whether particular circumstances justify departing from the policy.

When you can provide a separate or single-sex service

If you are providing a service to one sex only (and not to the other), you must be able to meet one of the following conditions:

  1. Only people of that sex need the service.
  2. Providing the service jointly to both sexes would not be sufficiently effective.

Example: if women of a particular religion or belief will not use the local swimming pool at the same time as men, women-only swimming sessions could be provided as well as mainly-mixed sessions.

  1. The level of need for the services makes it not reasonably practicable to provide separate services for each sex.

Example: a women-only support unit for women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence can be set up, even if there is no parallel men-only unit because of insufficient demand.

  1. The service is provided at a hospital or other place, where users need special care, supervision or attention.

Example: single-sex wards in hospitals and nursing homes.

  1. The service is likely to be used by more than one person at the same time and a woman might reasonably object to the presence of a man (or vice versa).

Example: separate male and female changing rooms.

  1. A person might reasonably object to the service user being of the opposite sex because the service involves physical contact.

Example: sports sessions involving a high degree of physical contact or any service involving intimate personal health or hygiene.

You must also be able to show that providing the service on a single-sex basis is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Again, proportionality requires that you balance the impact on all service users of providing services only to one sex.