Accepting customers

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in the Pink Book, we regret that we cannot be responsible for any errors. The Pink Book contains general information about laws applicable to your business. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.  Read our full disclaimer.

Key facts

  • You cannot discriminate against any customer on the basis of a range of characteristics including race, religion, sexuality and disability.
  • A hotel can refuse guests who appear unable or unwilling to pay, or who are not in a fit state to be received.
  • You are bound to honour a booking unless the booking was made on the basis of false statements that impact on the provision of services or facilities.

Can I turn customers away?

As a service provider, the Equality Act 2010 applies to your business. This means that it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the following 'protected characteristics':

  • Disability;
  • Gender reassignment;
  • Pregnancy and maternity;
  • Race – this includes ethnic or national origins, colour and nationality;
  • Religion or belief;
  • Sex;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Marriage and civil partnership;
  • Age – this applies to guests aged 18 and above (for example, you cannot have a policy excluding under 25s).

Discrimination does not just mean refusing to provide services to people on the basis of their 'protected characteristics'. It also means providing them with different standards of service, different products, charging different prices or having different terms and conditions. For example, it would be discriminatory to only allow gay couples to have a twin bedroom rather than a double bedroom, or to prevent groups of more than 10 men from entering an attraction.

However, you are allowed to provide different products and services for disabled customers, as long as there is an objective justification for doing so. Objective justification is said to occur when the difference in the goods or service provided is 'a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'. For example, it could probably be considered justified to only sell ground floor rooms in a listed building to a wheelchair user if the upper floors were only accessible by a staircase. Similarly, it would probably be considered justified to advise pregnant women not to undertake a particularly violent ride at an adventure park on the basis of medical risk.

It should be noted that it is the inability to make alterations rather than the cost of making alterations that provides objective justification – that is, you cannot provide a discriminatory service on the basis of cost alone.

In addition to not being able to discriminate against customers on the above grounds, you cannot discriminate against anyone on the grounds of association. This means not discriminating against the parent, partner, friend or carer accompanying someone with one of the ‘protected characteristics’ listed above.

Indirect discrimination

You must be careful not to have booking conditions or rules that would constitute indirect discrimination. Indirect discrimination occurs when any requirement, which in itself is not discriminatory, would have a disproportionate impact on people with a protected characteristic. For example, if you have a requirement that all-male groups had to pay a higher booking fee because you had problems with stag parties in the past, this could be deemed to be indirect discrimination as it would always apply to gay couples but would not apply to heterosexual couples.

To help ensure that you do not discriminate, you are required to undertake reasonable adjustments to your premises or to the way you deliver your services. This, for example, could mean providing improved access, undertaking staff training on equality issues, or providing meals that comply with the religious requirements of guests.

For more information on accepting disabled customers, see the Disabled Customers section.

Requirements for accommodation providers

For accommodation businesses, there are further requirements related to accepting guests.

Guests with prior bookings

When a guest has made a prior booking, you must honour the booking unless there are legal grounds for not doing so. Such legal grounds may include accepting the booking on the basis of false statements made by the guest: for example, if you state that pets are not allowed at your establishment and the guest arrives with a pet, or if they book a room for two adults and they arrive with children who they want to sleep on the sofa. In these situations, you can turn the guests away and you may also be able to claim damages from them if you are unable to re-let the room.

'Walk-in' guests

Under the Hotel Proprietors Act 1956, a hotel can only refuse to let a room to a walk-in guest with no booking if that guest appears unable or unwilling to pay, or is not in a fit state to be received. This would be the case, for example, if the guest was drunk or if you had reasonable grounds for believing that the guest would be a nuisance to other guests.

However, you have complete discretion to decide which room to allocate to a guest, provided that the guest has not booked a specific room.

Note: the Hotel Proprietors Act 1956 defines a hotel as ‘an establishment held out by the proprietor as offering food, drink and, if so required, sleeping accommodation, without special contract, to any traveller presenting himself who appears able and willing to pay a reasonable sum for the services and facilities provided and who is in a fit state to be received’. As such, it is possible for an operator whose premises do not fit this definition to refuse walk-in guests.

Accepting bookings from under 18s

Anyone under the age of 18 does not have the same legal capacity as an adult to enter into a contract, such as making a room booking. You can accept bookings for someone under 18 to stay, but you should be careful. For example, the booking itself should be made by someone 18 or over – such as a parent, guardian or another adult who can take responsibility for payment or damages.