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A practical guide to the law in relation to single-sex spaces has been published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). 

The guidance helps service providers to make lawful decisions about any services they offer to women and men separately, by explaining the permitted sex and gender reassignment exceptions in the Equality Act 2010. 

It advises organisations such as hospitals, retailers, hospitality and sports clubs to put in place policies that are both legal and balance the needs of different groups. 

The guidance confirms that service providers wishing to limit services to a single sex are legally able to do so, provided the reasons are justified and proportionate. 

Providers can also choose to open their services to all groups. This can be legal too. The guidance helps providers to understand how to put legal policies in place that best meet the needs of all their service users. 

Key areas of the guidance  

The guidance sets out:  

  • What the law states. Under the Equality Act, you must not discriminate against someone because of the protected characteristics of sex or gender reassignment. However, the Act includes ‘exceptions’ which allow organisations lawfully to exclude, modify, or limit access to certain groups in certain circumstances. In the case of separate or single-sex services, providers must show that providing the service differently is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’. This could be for reasons of privacy, decency, to prevent trauma or to ensure health and safety. The guidance includes a few scenarios where such exceptions are possible. 
  • Points to consider when applying exceptions. When deciding whether to use an exception, providers of a single-sex service must take a number of factors into consideration. These include the rights and needs of all users, including trans people. 
  • Practical steps to help decision-making. The guidance offers organisations that provide single-sex services advice on how best to meet the needs of all their users, including trans people. It advises organisations to put in place policies, informed by our guidance and the law, that are specific to their own circumstances. 

The guidance does not address the wider debate on sex and gender identity. It clarifies the law for service providers, as has been called for by various stakeholders, including the Women and Equalities Committee in Parliament. 

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: 

“There is no place for discrimination against anyone based on their sex or gender reassignment.” 

“Where rights between groups compete, our duty as an independent regulator is to help providers of services and others to balance the needs of different users in line with the law. 

“Organisations are legally allowed to restrict services to a single sex in some circumstances.  

But they need help to navigate this sensitive area. That is why we have published this guidance – to clarify the law and uphold everyone’s rights.” 

The guidance 

The guidance is available here. Its purpose is to provide clarity on what the Equality Act says about exceptions relating to sex and gender reassignment. 

For more information visit      

Emma Waddingham

Emma Waddingham

Editor, Legal News

Emma Waddingham is the Editor & Founder of Legal News. She is a seasoned legal editor and journalist and experienced marketing & events consultant, working almost exclusively with the UK legal sector.