The Protected Characteristics of Equality

Anti-discrimination laws and equality legislation are all set out in the single Equality Act 2010.

The  Equality Act 2010 sets out nine characteristics which are protected under equality legislation.  

  1. Age
  2. Disability
  3. Gender reassignment
  4. Marriage and civil partnership
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race
  7. Religion and belief
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual orientation

Definitions of the Protected Characteristics  

These are defined by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as:-


A person of a particular age (for example 32 year olds) or people belonging to a range of ages (for example 18 - 30 year olds).


Disability refers to physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Gender reassignment 

The process of transitioning from one gender to another.

Marriage and civil partnership 

Marriage is defined as a 'union between a man and a woman'. Same-sex couples can have their relationships legally recognised as 'civil partnerships'.  Civil partners must be treated the same as married couples on a wide range of legal matters.

Pregnancy and maternity 

Pregnancy is the condition of being pregnant.  Maternity refers to the period of 26 weeks after the birth, which reflects the period of a woman's ordinary maternity leave entitlement in the employment context.


Refers to the protected characteristic of Race. It refers to a group of people defined by their race, colour, and nationality (including citizenship) ethnic or national origins.

Religion and belief 

Religion has the meaning usually given to it but belief includes religious and philosophical beliefs including lack of belief (for example Atheism). Generally, a belief should affect your life choices or the way you live for it to be included in the definition.


A man or a woman.

Sexual orientation 

Whether a person's sexual attraction is towards their own sex, the opposite sex or to both sexes

Positive Action Provisions

Some people with protected characteristics are disadvantaged or under-represented in some areas of life, or have particular needs linked to their characteristic.  They may need extra help or encouragement if they are to have the same chances as everyone else.  Positive action provisions in the Equality Act 2010 enable service providers to take proportionate steps to help people overcome their disadvantages or to meet their needs. 

Special Provisions 

Special provisions within the Equality Act 2010 apply to:-

  • private clubs and other associations with 25 or more members whose membership is controlled by rules and involves a selection process.  They can restrict membership to people with a protected characteristic, provided that this is not a group defined by colour. However, they cannot discriminate against members or people applying to become members, or members' guests on protected grounds.
  • charities can provide benefits exclusively to people with a particular protected characteristic (but not a group defined by colour), provided that the charity acts on the basis of its constitution, and that this can be justified as intended to meet a legitimate objective in a fair, balanced and reasonable way or is for the purpose of preventing or compensating for a disadvantage linked to that protected characteristic.

For more information on this go to the Equality and Human Rights Commission website (contact details below)

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Last Updated 05/09/2012 16:04