Charity Commission guidance on the Equality Act
Section F of the guidance describes the main exemptions that apply to charities – restricting membership and restricting who can benefit. It provides examples to highlight when the exemptions would apply and considers membership of associations, men only or women only fundraising, membership based on religious belief, positive action in service provision, religious or belief organisations, admission to education and sport.
Here are three examples extracted from Section F for illustrative purposes only:
Example: restricting membership of an association
An association is set up to support women with breast cancer. Membership is open to women only. The association has 30 members. New members must be approved by the committee. This is an association covered by the Act. The Act allows associations to restrict their membership to people who share a protected characteristic. This association is allowed to restrict its membership to women.”
Example: Charitable associations
An association is set up to provide a place of worship in a particular area. The membership is limited to a particular ethnic group in reliance on the association exception. The association also wishes to limit use of the place of worship on the same basis. Whilst this is not unlawful under the Act, the association could not be a charity. This is because the Commission considers that such a restriction is not for the public benefit and that the place of worship should be available for those members of the local community who wish to worship there.”
Example: positive action for disabled people generally
In the example above, the youth centre provides discounted admission for disabled people. This is allowed because it is lawful to treat disabled people more favourably than non-disabled people. This approach doesn't require a positive action justification.
It also highlights further guidance provided by the Equality Office and Equality and Human Rights Commission and recommends that charities affected by these other exceptions should refer to these guides.