My daughter was asked to leave a pet shop as she was unaccompanied by an adult and was under 14. She was in there with the intention of making a genuine purchase and there is no way she would have been doing anything that would be considered disruptive.

Is it against UK equality laws for a company to have a policy like this? Certainly I can see it being so if it was, for example, a policy of no one over a certain age, or of a particular race, but I’m wondering if some kind of duty of care or health and safety consideration could trump this when it comes to younger people. In which case, my question is why 14? What makes it different for someone who is only 13 years and 364 days old versus someone who is 14 years and one day old?

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    – feetwet
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 20:59
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    Just to address the last sentence - you obviously don't become a different person on your 14th, or any other birthday, but if you restrict anything by age, you have to draw a line somewhere, and there will be a day when you cross that line. Most things in the UK draw that line at 16 or 18, but that's not universal; films have age restrictions at 12 and 15, for instance.
    – IMSoP
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 9:35

5 Answers 5


I’ve managed to answer my own question. Age discrimination legislation only applies to over 18s:

It’s only discrimination if a trader or service provider treats you unfairly because of:

  • age - if you’re 18 or over
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation


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    Amusingly, I've just been wondering how it's not discrimination for e.g. a night club to limit entry to only people over 20 or 24 years of age. (Or any age limit that's higher than whatever the legal limitations for serving alcohol to minors is.)
    – ilkkachu
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 17:49
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    Discrimination by age is fairly accepted by usage of the law. Elderly get cheaper tickets, personalized service and often other perks. All as it should be,if you ask me.
    – Stian
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 18:16
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    @StianYttervik women get into bars for free, and get cheap drinks.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 19:54
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    @Darren there’s a pub near to me where it’s over 21 only. But that’s not the only case of discrimination. In my city 19s and under get cheaper bus tickets, elderly people get free bus tickets, you have to be 24 to drive a bus (21 a large lorry), you can’t join the army when you’re older than 36. The list goes on.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 8:30
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    Age is an exception to blanket non-discrimination: (2)If the protected characteristic is age, A does not discriminate against B if A can show A's treatment of B to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/13
    – Ben
    Commented Aug 11, 2021 at 14:38

My daughter was asked to leave a pet shop as she was unaccompanied by an adult and was under 14. She was in there with the intention of making a genuine purchase...

It may be because the shopkeeper didn't want to commit a criminal offence under s.11(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006:

A person commits an offence if he sells an animal to a person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be under the age of 16 years.

ETA in response to comments...

It's not that uncommon for some shops to impose a blanket ban or a "maximum number at any one time" policy for unaccompanied children when, for example, they have been subjected to antisocial behaviour or lost significant amounts of stock through shoplifting. I cannot find any law that make this type of policy unlawful.

Also, in the UK, when shops "exhibit goods for sale" it's an invitation to treat and they are not obliged to sell anything to anyone - unless it discriminates against a protected characteristic (which in this scenario does not as appear to be the case according the OP's answer).

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    Then the policy would be no under 16s, no?
    – Darren
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 14:41
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    @Darren Many kids that look 17 year old are really under 16. If you look at them you have reasonable cause to believe they are under 16. So the shop could have a policy "Don't sell to anyone looking under 21 unless they prove they are 16. "
    – gnasher729
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 16:16
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    @Darren Maybe she misunderstood what the shopkeeper said, or he didn't exactly remember the minimum age from the law. But apparently it was correct to deny her the purchase - given she actually wanted to buy an animal, and not only food or a pet house.
    – PMF
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 5:39
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    @PMF no, she was buying accessories, and I don’t think the conversation even went so far as to establish what they were there for. And it’s definitely 14 as I’ve since confirmed it with the shop myself.
    – Darren
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 6:16
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    @Barmar "He's not allowed to kick her out of the store just because he's prohibited from selling an animal to her. She's allowed to browse, she's allowed to purchase non-animals" - the shop is still private property and the child is not in a protected category, so the shop keeper can legally require her to leave the premises.
    – user28517
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 4:33

Given the existence of laws mandating "discrimination against" young customers in the case of products and services deemed to be for adults only, from alcohol and tobacco to various forms of "adult entertainment," it would seem a bit absurd to assert that it is illegal for stores to discriminate against customers on the basis of being too young.

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    But the question is about the law. It's conceivable that a law against discrimination could be phrased in a way which would make it illegal to deny sale of anything other than the items which are illegal to sell.
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 4:46
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    Another answer here suggests that it would in fact be illegal for stores to discriminate based on age, but only when discriminating among people over the age of 18. An 18+ pet shop would be legal, a 21+ pet shop might not be. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 14:26

TL;DR: Shopkeepers can exclude children.

In the UK it is is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of age, but there is a big exception.

Section 13(2)

If the protected characteristic is age, A does not discriminate against B if A can show A's treatment of B to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

There are also a large number of exemptions and exceptions.

In addition the Secretary of State may make exceptions by order (powers in section 196). The government also produces guidance:

In particular for small businesses, the guidance says:

You can still:

If you provide age based services:

− Advertise, market and sell products and services to younger or older people as niche marketing, provided you don’t refuse the service to anyone outside your target group.

If you run a shop:

− Exclude or restrict the number of children in your shop (or hotel or restaurant), as children are not protected by the ban.

− Offer discounts to people based on their age. (See Part 9(b) of the overview guide for more information www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/equalities/equality-actpublications/equality-act-guidance/).

− Refuse to sell age-restricted products to someone who looks below the minimum legal age and who does not have any ID

It seems clear from this that the shopkeeper can exclude children.


OCR enforces the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (Age Act), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in HHS-funded programs and activities. Under the Age Act, recipients may not exclude, deny, or limit services to, or otherwise discriminate against, persons on the basis of age.


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    Is this an American law? The question was specifically about the UK, but useful to have an answer for other jurisdictions.
    – Darren
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 10:52
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    Although possibly correct, this does not appear to answer the question. UK petshops are not HSS programs or activities.
    – user35069
    Commented Aug 9, 2021 at 10:55
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    @Darren - it appears to be. "HHS" is an acronym for "Health and Human Services", and OCR is an acronym for the Office for Civil Rights, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 15:02
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    That appears to apply specifically to discrimination against people for being over a certain age, not for being under a specific age. Most U.S. discrimination laws that I'm aware of target that type of discrimination. Commented Aug 10, 2021 at 22:00

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