Commission issues gender equality duty compliance notices to three local authorities

Councils face enforcement action

30 November 2009

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued compliance notices to three local authorities warning that they need to take steps immediately to address gender inequality in their community or face legal action for failing to comply with the Sex Discrimination Act.

The Commission believes Arun District Council, Chiltern District Council and East Cambridgeshire District Council are in breach of the Act’s Gender Equality Duty. This duty requires public authorities to address gender inequality in their communities, for example by providing specialist services such as domestic violence and rape crisis centres for women who have experienced violence.

The local authorities have not yet published their plan for addressing gender inequality - a legal requirement since April 2007. They also appear to have not fulfilled their duty to gather information or considered the need for services to support women who have experienced violence. They have also failed to consult their communities or gathered any information to assess what women in their area need, as they are compelled to do by the Duty.

The councils have received a compliance letter which is the first step towards legal action. Arun and Chiltern District Councils have until 23rd December to respond, outlining what they plan to do to address this lack of progress. All three Councils have an additional three months to deliver on their plan. Failure to deliver will result in the Commission seeking an order for compliance in the County Court.

The Commission has written to a further 14 councils also warning they may be in breach of the Gender Equality Duty and outlining that they too need to make changes within three months.

Three million women experience violence in Britain each year and it is one of the largest barriers to gender equality for women at the community level. The Commission’s Map of Gaps study earlier this year identified significant gaps in the provision of services to help women escape and recover from violence and abuse.

Susie Uppal, Director of Legal Enforcement at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'The Commission’s statutory role includes a duty to investigate possible breaches of sex discrimination law and take action where appropriate. Three councils are in clear breach of the Sex Discrimination Act. Another 14 may also be in breach of the Act for failing to properly investigate, develop plans or deliver services that address gender inequality for women. These include providing services specifically to help women who have experienced violence. These local authorities can avoid litigation action by providing a satisfactory response to our letter and taking steps to address their requirements under the Act.

'Most women who experience violence will live with the consequences, both physical and emotional, for the rest of their lives. Local authorities have a legal obligation to take a lead on assisting women who have experienced violence. Without help, the relationships, life chances and personalities of these women are likely to be damaged. Every woman should have someone to call in a crisis. They should have access to a place of safety and genuine backing in their search for justice.'

Ends

Notes to editors

Under section 76A of the Sex Discrimination Act local authorities are required to comply with the Gender Equality Duty. This includes publishing a Gender Equality Scheme by April 2007, gathering information and consulting on the gender equality needs of their community and developing a plan for implementing services specifically for women.

Specialist support services that a local authority should be seeking to provide are:

  • Women’s Aid services and refuges
  • Perpetrator programmes targeting offenders
  • Specialist domestic violence courts
  • Sexual assault referral centres
  • Rape crisis centres
  • Services specifically for ethnic minority women suffering violence such as those provided by the Southall Black Sisters.

Timeline of action:

  • In 2007, in conjunction with End Violence Against Women coalition, we undertook Map of Gaps 1 outlining where there was a shortage of services and informing 107 authorities we would be seeking information on their improvements in the forthcoming year along with information on their Gender Equality Schemes.
  • In January 2009, in Map of Gaps 2 we named the organisations which didn’t have specialist services. We wrote to them requesting information on their Gender Equality Scheme including what information they had gathered about gender inequalities in their communities, what consultation they had undertaken and the timeline for delivering services.
  • We have now issued compliance letters to Arun District Council, Chiltern District Council and East Cambridgeshire District Council warning them that they may be in breach of the Act and to make immediate changes.
  • We wrote to another 14 local authorities in September stating that they needed to:
    • respond to the Commission within 14 days outlining their plans for complying with the Duty
    • develop a comprehensive Gender Equality Scheme including time lines for implementation within three months
  • Another 56 local authorities have been directed to make improvements to their Schemes when they come under review in April 2010.
  • Failure to comply will lead to legal action.
  • The majority of Public Sector bodies subject to the gender equality duty are due to revise their gender equality schemes in April next year.  The Commission will issue guidance over the next month to assist them with this. The guidance will set out the information that public bodies need to include in their revised schemes and will highlight some key areas of gender inequality, including tackling violence against women, that the Commission expects these organisations to address in their revised schemes.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.