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Single-sex toilet law for new buildings explained as government pushes for change





Single-sex toilets will have to be provided by law in new buildings under plans the government is considering

Ministers are expected to set-out their ideas for a change to current legislation within the next few weeks and here’s what’s being proposed:

The government is proposing a change in the law. Image: iStock.
The government is proposing a change in the law. Image: iStock.

Single-sex toilets for new buildings

New offices, shopping centres and restaurants would be among the sites that would have to provide separate male and female toilets under plans being considered by the government.

It has confirmed it is planning to push ahead with a change to the current law, that would force all new non-domestic buildings to install separate toilet facilities for both men and women.

In situations where there isn’t enough space for entire single-sex toilet blocks, the new rules would instead insist that self-contained universal toilets are built instead.

This is defined as a private cubicle that would have a fully enclosed toilet room, and also contain a sink and hand dryer within the same space, that could only be used by one person at a time in order to protect their privacy.

A universal toilet could also be provided alongside - and in addition to - single-sex toilets if there was enough room.

Self-contained toilets would need their own handwashing facilities. Image: Stock photo.
Self-contained toilets would need their own handwashing facilities. Image: Stock photo.

Applying a new law

While existing buildings would not be affected by any change in the law, the legislation could apply to buildings which are undergoing a major refurbishment or rebuild.

But there would be some exceptions for places like care homes, spaces used for early years provision such as nurseries and custody suites within police stations.

In schools, separate toilets for boys and girls aged eight years and over must already be provided or the toilet must be in a room that can be secured from the inside and intended for use by one pupil at a time.

Any new public toilets would need to have separate male and female blocks under the new law. Image: iStock.
Any new public toilets would need to have separate male and female blocks under the new law. Image: iStock.

Why the change?

The government has made it clear for some time that it wants to put a stop to an increase in unisex - or gender neutral - mixed toilet spaces.

Plans to change the law have long been talked about and in plans initially unveiled last August the government said it was concerned about the public being forced to share cubicle and hand-washing facilities or wait in shared queues, with limited privacy and little choice.

Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said she believes such spaces ‘deny privacy and dignity to both men and women’.

Kemi Badenoch. Image: Stock photo.
Kemi Badenoch. Image: Stock photo.

In a statement about the new legislation, Ms Badenoch said: “These regulations will guide organisations to design unisex and single-sex toilets, ending the rise of so-called ‘gender-neutral’ mixed sex toilet spaces, which deny privacy and dignity to both men and women.

“Today’s announcement will also create better provision for women so that our particular biological, health and sanitary needs are met.

“This is following our work last week limiting the use of mixed-sex wards in the NHS and demonstrates how this Government is committed to ensuring single-sex spaces are protected for all.”

The government also points to a recent consultation which received more than 17,000 responses and through which 81% of people agreed with separate single-sex toilet facilities and 82% agreed with the intention to provide additional universal toilets where space allows.

The rule change would apply to new buildings or those being rebuilt or refurbished. Image: iStock.
The rule change would apply to new buildings or those being rebuilt or refurbished. Image: iStock.

Who will the new law support?

The proposed policy change, says the government, will have a positive impact on many people.

In outling the initial policy last year, documents explained: “This proposed policy will have a positive impact for many people.

“It may reduce queues for disabled people’s toilets – which may, in cases, be the only non-gendered toilets available – and enhance the privacy of women and transgender people, who may be fearful of being verbally or physically assaulted while using toilet facilities.”

However many campaigners argue that many transgender and non-binary people prefer to use gender-neutral toilets because they risk discrimination when using single-sex toilets or washing facilities and a change in the law would not accommodate that.

Mermaids, a transgender youth support charity, said in response to Government proposals: “In order to ensure ‘everyone is served fairly’, and that everyone can feel comfortable using public toilet facilities, not only are gender-specific facilities in which trans people can feel safe in using vital, but gender-neutral facilities are also greatly necessary to ensure non-binary people’s experiences with toilet facilities are one of comfort.”

When could a new law come into force?

The government is expected to set out its plans in parliament within the next couple of weeks, with the aim of bringing in a new law before the end of the year.

Any change in the law will apply to England only.



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