The Dutch constitution says that everyone shall be treated the same when the circumstances are the same (my translation; original: gelijke behandeling in gelijke gevallen). In addition to that, there is a law that further implements this principle, the general equal opportunity law (Dutch) which requires equal opportunities in regards to offering work, housing, goods, and services. I assume that most European countries have similar clauses and my question is not limited to the Netherlands, it just happens to be that I know the Dutch law a little bit.

Why is it that companies can refuse someone business in equal cases? I.e. accept one customer but not another.

One example is a bank, where I am refused an account without any given reason but seemingly because their snitches have no information on me (a GDPR request turned up "we have no data on you"). Another example would be a cheap rental place requires the tenant to earn 5 times the rent (nobody that earns 5x that rent wants to live there), so they refuse me despite my offering to pay the full rental period ahead (one year). There is no nondiscriminatory reason for refusing to do business with me, since from a business perspective my case is equal or even more favorable than others'.

I am probably misunderstanding this principle and applying it incorrectly, since I am not a lawyer. Nevertheless, when comments on sites like reddit tell me that "of course they can always just refuse your custom" and I ask "why? The law says [as above]" nobody seems to have an answer. I'm curious what the reason is and would be happy with an answer for any country in the European Union that has a similar principle of equality.

The only reason I can think of is that the law doesn't say "you have to give a reason when refusing business", and therefore I cannot prove that the reason was discriminatory. Or even if it wasn't, they won't give it for the case that I find some legal reason why it isn't a valid reason. Still, in equal situations it seems to me that I should expect equal treatment.

I've seen this other question but that is about the USA (with a completely different set of values and laws).

  • 3
    Why can't you force the landlord to give you a tenancy? Why can't you force the bank to give you a loan? Once you figure that out, the right of businesses to refuse custom is obvious.
    – user4657
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 11:41
  • How do you know the bank is not treating you the same as any other person about whom there is "no data"? How do you know that, in the requirement of earnings being five times rent, the landlord is not treating you the same as any other would-be tenant?
    – Lag
    Commented Feb 7, 2020 at 11:43

1 Answer 1


Why is a business allowed to refuse a customer?

Because also freedom of contract is a right. Except for discrimination on the basis of protected categories, a person or entity is entitled to discretion on whether or with whom to do business and enter contracts.

The last sentence in your post reflects a misconception of "completely different set of values and laws" between the USA and members of the EU. Clearly there are many differences, but a comparison of the Wikipedia link you posted and, for instance, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2 reflects an overlap of protected categories in the laws of the Netherlands and of the US, such as religion, sex, race, or national origin/nationality.

One would need persuasive evidence to support a finding of unlawful discrimination in the two examples you have experienced.

Assuming the bank responded to your GDPR inquiry truthfully, the bank's refusal to open an account might have stemmed from profiling or decision-making that (1) does not precisely require specific data about you, and/or (2) uses information the bank does not need to log for purposes of compliance with the GDPR. Note that the GDPR does not outlaw algorithmic decision-making.

Since legislation in the EU (as in the US) portrays an approach of market economy, both bank and landlord are entitled to made decisions on the basis of their inner policies for risk management. The policies might be unclear to you, but that does not necessarily mean they contravene principles of equal opportunity.

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