Back in 2008 The Manager of The Blue Mile pub in Oxfordshire was fined £8,000 for refusing to serve a traveller.  Travelling communities claim that they continue to experience unacceptably high levels of discrimination and this is an area where publicans do occasionally fall foul of the law.

Only recently JD Wetherspoon faced 2 cases of discrimination against travellers.

JD Wetherspoon was ordered to pay £3,000 to each of 8 claimants when they were refused entry to the Coronet in Holloway following a Traveller Movement conference.  The manager had hired security staff to stand outside the pub on the day of the conference. The Judge said that the manager’s reaction had been “irrational” and had been “suffused with the stereotypical thinking that Irish Travellers and English Gypsies cause trouble wherever they go”.

So what is the advice when it comes to refusing entry?

Right to refuse entry

The age-old right of a licensee to refuse entry to whomever he wishes still remains and a landlord is not obliged to serve anyone just because they are willing to pay.  A pub is a private place and the landlord can make the rules. HOWEVER, when deciding who to permit entry to or who to serve, a licensee must not make his judgement based on prejudice. Entry must not be refused unlawfully and equality legislation makes it unlawful to refuse entry on the grounds of sex, race, religion, sexual orientation and disability amongst other reasons.

Equality Act 2010

It is race discrimination to refuse to serve a customer because they are a traveller or gypsy.  Romany and Irish Gypsies are protected by The Equality Act 2010.

In 1988 the case of Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton decided that a sign displayed in a pub saying “No Travellers” was discriminatory and that Romany Gypsies are a racial group and therefore protected by equality legislation.  In O’Leary & Others v Punch Retail & Others, Irish travellers challenged a “No Travellers” sign in a pub and it was decided that Irish travellers are also a distinct racial group and therefore protected by equality legislation.


Like other forms of discrimination there is a defence of justification available.  This was successfully invoked by an hotelier in Ulster who barred members of the travelling community from booking further functions at the hotel after one group went on the rampage with machetes, knives and axes.  Staff and doormen were forced to hide.  The hotelier continued to allow travellers access other facilities at the hotel e.g. bar and restaurant.  However, he banned them from further functions due to genuine fears for staff safety.

It is lawful to refuse entry on the grounds of prevention of crime and disorder.  For example, if an individual has been involved in a disturbance in another local pub earlier in the evening.  It is wise to inform the individual why they are being refused entry and to keep a written log of refusals.


The cost of discrimination is high as damages for race discrimination are uncapped.  Compensation is made up of an award for injury to feelings and an award for damage suffered.

Action points for licensees

  • Do not put up “no traveller” signs
  • Do not refuse to serve a customer just because they are a gypsy or a traveller
  • You can refuse to serve troublemakers as long as your reason for refusing them is not because of their race
  • Keep a log of refusals, when they are made and the reason why
  • Train staff in equality and unlawful reasons for refusing entry.


Click here to read: Age discrimination brief guide hospitality sector

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.