Enforcement powers


One of the Commission's key roles as a modern regulator is to use our enforcement powers. These powers are vested in the Commission by the Equality Act 2006. This section signposts you to different aspects of our enforcement work. For more information please download our Compliance and Enforcement policy. You can also find out about our enforcement work in our latest 'Legal enforcement snapshot'.

Our enforcement powers

The Commission is extremely effective at resolving cases at an early stage, without the need for formal enforcement proceedings. About 80 per cent of cases (approximately 99 to date) have been resolved in this way. However, we will not hesitate to invoke our formal enforcement powers where this is necessary. For examples of use of our enforcement powers please see our enforcement work page.


The Commission can conduct an inquiry into any matter which relates to sections 8 or 9 of the Equality Act, namely equality and diversity or human rights. There is no specific standard of evidence needed to trigger an inquiry. The Commission does not need to suspect that there has been a breach of equality or human rights legislation to launch an Inquiry.

Details of some of our inquiries can be found on our enforcement work page.


Assessments are used to test compliance with public sector equality duties and enable the Commission to scrutinise compliance by particular public authorities with the race, disability or gender equality general and specific duties. Assessments can be used to obtain evidence for further enforcement action to secure compliance, as well as identifying areas of best practice in the performance of the duties.

Find out more about our assessments on our enforcement work page.


The purpose of an investigation is to establish whether a person or organisation has acted in breach of the Equality Act 2010. The Commission can carry out an investigation where it has evidence to suspect that an unlawful act may have been committed.When the Investigation is complete the Commission will publish a report of its findings which can include recommendations. If it finds that an unlawful act was committed it may also issue an unlawful act notice. The person being investigated has the right to make representations including on the terms of reference of the investigation and the draft report of the Commission's findings. The Commission can also carry out an investigation into whether a person has complied with an unlawful act notice or taken the steps they agreed to take under a formal agreement.

Find out more about our investigations on our enforcement work page

Unlawful Act Notice

If an investigation finds that a person has committed an unlawful act the Commission can issue them with an unlawful act notice. The notice will set out what the unlawful act was and may require the preparation of an action plan to avoid it being repeated or continued. The Commission can recommend action to be taken for that purpose.


The Commission can enter into a formal agreement with a person who it believes has committed an unlawful act. This will involve putting in place an action plan. In many instances an agreement will be entered into as an alternative to taking other formal enforcement action. Agreements can be entered into even where there has been no formal investigation. Entering into an action plan is not taken as an admission that there has been an unlawful act.

Alternatively the Commission may suspend an investigation on the basis of a section 23 agreement that we will not investigate or issue unlawful act notice provided that the other party undertakes not to commit an unlawful act and takes specified actions.

Once the agreement and action plan is in place the Commission will keep in regular contact and require the organisation to report regularly on progress. During the monitoring phase of an agreement, we frequently build a close working relationship with the organisation in question, generating considerable cooperation and goodwill, and leading in some cases to those organisations becoming champions of best practice in equality and advocates for the work of the Commission.

However, if there is a failure to comply with an undertaking in the agreement or we think that compliance is unlikely, the Commission can take further action through the courts.

Find out more about our agreements.

Compliance notice

Where the Commission thinks that a public authority has not complied with a public sector duty, we have the power to serve a compliance notice. The notice may require compliance with the duty or provide an opportunity for the written proposal to show the steps which will be taken to ensure compliance. This written information must be produced to the Commission within 28 days of receipt of the compliance notice.

A notice may also require further information to be produced to the Commission for the purposes of assessing compliance.

A person who receives a compliance notice must comply with it. Failure to comply can result in the Commission applying to the relevant court for an order requiring compliance. Failure to comply with the court order is a criminal offence.

Last Updated: 24 Dec 2015