Charities cannot justify breaking the Equality Act on the grounds that they would lose access to funding from sources that will only provide it on a discriminatory basis, according to new guidance from the Charity Commission
The guidance, published yesterday, is an updated and extended version of a set of guidance on the act that the regulator released in September 2010. It does not change the commission’s stance but provides more detail on how charities can ensure they comply with the act.
A new clause in the guidance says: "A charity could not justify restricting benefits to a particular group as a means of obtaining funding from a source who will only provide it on a discriminatory basis."
The new document also says charities may restrict their benefits to certain groups of people that share "protected characteristics" such as age, race and sex if they can show that this is in their governing documents and that the group in question faces a particular disadvantage.
Charities may also do so in an attempt to achieve a legitimate aim in a proportionate way, the guidance says, but they must be able to provide "a convincing and weighty justification" for doing so.
The guidance says organisations that the act defines as "religious and belief organisations" can make restrictions because of sexual orientation if this is necessary to comply with the organisation’s doctrine or to "avoid conflict with the religious or belief-based convictions of many followers of the religion or belief on which the organisation is founded."
The new document also says it is not a breach of the Equality Act for charities to organise activities or events that are restricted to one sex only, and cites Cancer Research UK’s women-only Race for Life as an example of a legitimate activity.