Why are Gender Neutral Toilets being Scrapped in 2024 

The Government’s stance on gender neutral toilets has been reviewed and updated. New regulations announced on 13th August 2023 mean single sex toilets are to become the default on new non-residential buildings and those undertaking major refurbishment. 

What Does it Mean for the Workplace, Schools and Public spaces?

The types of buildings affected by the change includes private and public environments, such as: workplaces, office, schools, hospitals, public washrooms, travel, hospitality and recreational facilities. All of which will need to re-address their washroom signage and, in some cases, the design and layout.

Why Are we Returning to Single Sex Toilets?

The increase of gender-neutral washrooms with shared cubicles and hand-washing facilities in schools, workplaces and public spaces has caused concern over privacy and dignity for women and girls. It is also reported that shared queue and a decreased choices have led to the decision.

While trans-rights groups argue that gender neutral toilets can combat discrimination for people using male or female toilets, Rushi Sunak explained that communal cubical and hand-washing areas have led to “dignity and privacy concerns” among women who feel “unfairly disadvantaged.”

Kemi Badenoch, minister for women and equalities, said: “It is important that everybody has privacy and dignity when using public facilities. Yet the move towards ‘gender neutral’ toilets has removed this fundamental right for women and girls.

“These proposals will ensure every new building in England is required to provide separate male and female or unisex facilities and publish guidance to explain the difference, protecting the dignity, privacy, and safety of all.”

What Will and Won’t Change?

All new non-domestic public and private buildings will be required to provide separate single-sex toilets for women and men and/or a self-contained, private toilet as a minimum.

Some examples of non-domestic public and private buildings, include: schools and education establishments; office and commercial environments; shops and shopping centres; airports and train stations; cafes, coffee shops and restaurants; hotels, gyms, leisure facilities, museums and tourist attractions.

The new regulations will enforce:

  • Return of default single sex male and female washrooms in non-residential buildings and newly refurbished buildings.
  • Increase in self-contained toilets for unisex use where space allows.
  • Disabled toilets will not be affected.

Why Were Gender Neutral Toilets Introduced Originally?

The application of gender-neutral toilets was introduced after an uprise in demand from trans-rights groups who wanted a reform on toilet labelling to give more choice to trans and non-binary individuals. The uptake in gender neutral washrooms accelerated during the period 2013 to 2022. 

During this time, public, educational, and commercial spaces have been encouraged to adopt unisex washrooms in their establishments to become more inclusive. However, with this change, there has been cause for concern over the shared system, mostly relating to the privacy and dignity of women and girls. 

The Government’s Call for Evidence Received 17,589 Responses

The change in building regulations surrounding gender neutral washrooms followed the government’s call for evidence for the provision of toilets for men and women.

They received 17,589 responses from individuals and organisations (17,484 individuals and 105 organisations) and updated the information on 13 August 2023.

Key Take Aways That Led to the Decision

While 83% of people that responded to the call for evidence were supportive of non-gendered toilets and only 12% stated supportive of separate sex toilets, a staggering 86% of people had safety concerns for particular groups:

  • 79% of responses mentioned safety concerns for trans/non-binary people
  • 75% mentioned safety concerns for women

In the technical review on gov.uk, it states:

“While men can then use both cubicles and urinals, women can only use the former, and women also need safe spaces given their particular health and sanitary needs (for example, women who are menstruating, pregnant or at menopause, may need to use the toilet more often). 

“Women are also likely to feel less comfortable using mixed sex facilities, and require more space.”

Other Top-Level Issues Mentioned in the Report Include:

  • Menstruation – 74%
  • Design of toilet facilities/accommodation (including urinals) – 73%
  • Family use/children – 72%
  • Disabled persons toilets – 71%
  • Equality Act 2010 – 69%
  • Medical conditions – 69%

Complaints About Gender Neutral Toilets

In recent years, the topic of gender-neutral toilets has been debated, surveyed, researched, and deliberated since they became a popular feature in schools and public spaces. 

It’s a topic that has hit the headlines on numerous occasions. Even Suzanna Reid – Good Morning Britain’s co-host at the time – wrote her column in the Mail Online in October 2019 about ‘Why we MUST keep the ladies’s loos for the ladies’

The main issues lie with the concerns around privacy and dignity for women and girls. To give some perspective on this, a blog on Trans Gender Trends shared feedback over the years from concerned parents, teachers and pupils in schools, which have been encouraged by councils to install gender neutral washrooms in a bid to prevent bullying and become more inclusive.

Examples of complaints from parents in schools:

“There are seven-year-old girls using the same toilets as 11-year-old boys.”

“My daughter has said she doesn’t feel comfortable about it.”

“Although we are all up for equality we feel this is not allowing our children to choose.”

“A lot of our children don’t want to use toilets of the opposite sex.”

“My daughter told me that other girls in the school felt equally outraged and I wasn’t surprised. I dislike unisex toilets even as an adult, but imagine being a teenage girl having to open a sanitary towel or tampon with a boy in the cubicle next door. No, no and no. Girls need privacy.

“Talking of boys, I asked my daughter how her male counterparts felt about the new loos. “They’re pervs,” she joked. “They’re delighted. They’ll probably drill holes in the walls.”

How are Schools Affected?

Schools that have adopted the gender-neutral washrooms will need provide a male and female washroom. In some cases, it will simply mean relabelling the existing washrooms with the appropriate signage and informing students of the change. 

If the design and layout is more complex, then JBH can offer support and advise on adapting and dividing the space to provide male and female washroom facilties.

How are Public Spaces Affected?

Public spaces will be required to provide single sex male and female washrooms with clear signage, plus a facility for disabled users. If space allows, public washrooms can also offer ‘universal washrooms’. Essentially, a universal washroom has a self-contained, private toilet, with a wash hand basin for individual use.

How are Commercial Spaces and Office Refurbishments Affected?

Privately owned non-residential properties should provide separate male and females toilets, plus facilities for disabled people. Where it is only possible to provide a ‘universal washroom’ (the official term for gender-neutral), the washroom must be enclosed and self-contained with a toilet and hand basin. 

For workplaces undergoing a major office refurbishment, the designs and layouts should accommodate a single-sex toilets and disabled washrooms as default. 

Continuing The Conversation about the Practicals of Toilet Design

While it has been established that toilets should now be for single sex and disabled use, the conversation continues, as the government launches a technical review in accordance with the Equality Act, which will explore the following:

  • Reducing queuing for toilets, as male toilets allow for a quicker turnaround.
  • Clearer signage relating to gender specific language to avoid confusion.
  • The ratio of female toilet spaces needed, versus the number for men, given the need for women to use cubicles. 

What Does This Mean for JBH Clients?

Building regulations will be adapted to stipulate the changes from gender-neutral to single sex toilets. As a commercial design and build company that provides fit outs and refurbishments for a range of environments, including schools, offices, public spaces, retail, hospitality and industrial, we will adhere to the latest regulations as outlined below to ensure our clients provide a safe and respectful workplace. 

  • Separate single-sex toilets facilities are provided for men and women.
  • and/or self-contained, private toilets are provided where space allows to ensure privacy and safety.
  • Mixed sex shared facilities are not an option, except when lack of space allows only a single toilet.

For advice on washroom refurbishments, or commercial fit outs, please contact our team.