Charities Exceptions

There are certain exceptions to equality law that apply to organisations in all sectors, for example they can restrict job opportunities for specific roles to people with a particular protected characteristic if it would be a ‘proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim’. This is called an occupational requirement; for example to work in a women’s refuge, it may be an occupational requirement that post holders should be female.

However, there are other exceptions that apply only to charities. Charities are allowed to restrict the services they provide to a particular target group of people with a specific protected characteristic. However, if an organisation wants to do this, it has to show:

  • that the ability to restrict services is included in their charitable instrument (e.g. governing document or constitution), and either
  • Restricting the service is objectively justified (i.e. a proportionate means of meeting a legitimate aim, this means they must have evidence to show it will make the service better or more appropriate), or
  • Restricting the service will help to prevent or compensate for disadvantage linked to the protected characteristic.

None of these exemptions can apply to colour – i.e. jobs and services can’t be restricted to people on the grounds they should be ‘white’ or ‘black’.

Provided they have had a rule about this since before 18th May 2005, membership charities are also allowed to ask potential members to make a statement that they belong to a particular religion or belief (or accept that religion or belief) in order to become a member, and can also refuse people access to benefits if they don’t accept that religion or belief.

All charities are allowed to restrict events or activities to support the charity to one sex only (for example a women-only fundraising marathon).

There are a separate set of exceptions for religion and belief charities, which we don’t cover on the Mainstreaming Equalities Organisational Development Programme. These can be fairly complex and we suggest that these organisations may want to seek specialist advice before applying exceptions.

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