Policy focus - Equality Act

The Equality Act 2010 is an enormous bill that reworks all equalitylaw making it unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of a 'protected characteristic' (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation). The Act is generally concerned with preventing discrimination on the basis of these protected characteristics and promoting equality between them.

This new Act may have unexpected consequences for communal charities as it bans discriminating in the provision of services. Parts of the Act make it unlawful to make it more difficult for someone to access a service or join an organisation on account of one the protected characteristics.

The Act restricts the ability of charities to discriminate in the provision of services. A Charity is only allowed to restrict the benefits it provides to people who share a protected characteristic if it is "in pursuance of a charitable instrument" and is either: "a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim", or "for the purpose of preventing or compensating for a disadvantage linked to the protected characteristic".

Put simply, if a charity provides kosher food to the poor but restricts its provisions to Jews, it can argue that it is compensating for a disadvantage (needing kosher food) linked to the fact that the individual is Jewish. All charities that provide services to Jews only will have to go through an exercise which tests their activities according to these criteria. Some may find it difficult to justify their current ways of operating, or will need to significantly rework their constitutions. The JLC and the Board of Deputies are working jointly to address these concerns.