1. What is the purpose of the new Act?

A: The Equality Act 2010 brings together a number of existing laws into one place so that it is easier to use. It sets out the personal characteristics that are protected by the law and the behaviour that is unlawful. Simplifying legislation and harmonising protection for all of the characteristics covered will help Britain become a fairer society, improve public services, and help business perform well. A copy of the Equality Act 2010 and the Explanatory notes that accompany it can be found on the Home Office website.

2. Who is protected by the Act?

A: Everyone in Britain is protected by the Act. The “protected characteristics” under the Act are (in alphabetical order):

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion and belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

3. What behaviour is unlawful?

A: Under the Act people are not allowed to discriminate, harass or victimise another person because they have any of the protected characteristics. There is also protection against discrimination where someone is perceived to have one of the protected characteristics or where they are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic.

  • Discrimination means treating one person worse than another because of a protected characteristic (known as direct discrimination) or
  • putting in place a rule or policy or way of doing things that has a worse impact on someone with a protected characteristic than someone without one, when this cannot be objectively justified (known as indirect discrimination).
  • Harassment includes unwanted conduct related to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect or violating someone’s dignity or which creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for someone with a protected characteristic.
  • Victimisation is treating someone unfavourably because they have taken (or might be taking) action under the Equality Act or supporting somebody who is doing so.

4. Who has a responsibility under the Act?

  • Government departments
  • Service providers
  • Employers
  • Education providers (Schools, FHE colleges and Universities)
  • Providers of public functions
  • Associations and membership bodies
  • Transport providers

5. What’s new?

A: Most of the new Equality Act was already in place in the previous anti-discrimination laws that it replaces. This includes the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In total there are nine pieces of primary legislation and over 100 pieces of secondary legislation being incorporated. Bringing it into one piece of legislation will make the law easier to understand and apply. 

As the Act is an amalgamation and harmonisation of existing law, there aren’t many massive changes. For example, indirect discrimination is being extended to apply to disability and gender reassignment for the first time. The prohibition on direct discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment will apply in schools for the first time. The Act also introduces some new provisions such as the prohibition on discrimination arising from disability.

6. When does the new Equality Act come into force?

A: The Government Equalities Office says 90 per cent of the law came into force on 1 October 2010. The remaining ten per cent has been set to one side by the Government because it wants to consider in more detail how it might work. It is up to the Government to decide when these parts of the Act will be implemented. More information about the implementation of the Equality Act can be found on the Home Office Website.

7. What will I need to do?

A: What you need to do depends on your role and the setting you’re in. Anyone who wants to get to grips with the law can work through our beginner’s guide to the Equality Act which assumes no previous knowledge of equality law. It should give you an indication of what you should be thinking about. 

8. What’s the Commission’s role in making sure people understand the new law and uphold it.

A: As well as explaining the law, we can enforce it. The remit given to us by the government is to protect, enforce and promote equality.

Explanation: Our team of experts has written a suite of guidance to support successful implementation of the Act:

a)    Codes of Practice: These documents explain what employers and service providers need to do to comply with the law. Failure to follow guidance in the Statutory Codes can be taken into account when a court is deciding whether or not someone has acted unlawfully. 

Three Codes of Practice became law on 6 April 2011:

  • Employment
  • Equal Pay
  • Services, Public Functions and Assocations.   

Download the Codes of Practice

 We will also be producing Codes of Practice on:

  • Further and Higher Education (consultation runs from 1 October 2010)
  • Public Sector Equality Duty (date tbc)
  • Schools (date tbc)

b)    Non Statutory Guidance: This guidance is written in a more practical, ‘how to’ style, and provides lots of examples, suggestions and sign-posts to further sources of advice and information. It does not have legal weight in court. There are two versions of each piece of guidance. One is aimed at those who have responsibilities under the new legislation and the second is aimed at individuals who want to know what their rights are under the new act.

Currently available non-statutory guidance covers:

  • Employment (including Equal Pay)
  • Services, Public Functions and Associations
  • Education
  • Public Sector Equality Duty


As well as providing advice to individuals and organisations, as a regulator we have powers that enable us to enforce the law. These powers include helping individual people with their legal cases; and taking legal action against organisations that appear to have broken the law. More details about the Commission’s enforcement work can be found in the Legal and Policy section of the website.

9. Can the Commission tell me if I’ve been discriminated against under the Act?

A: There is advice and guidance on this website, but it is up to a court to decide if a particular set of circumstances break the law. If you are considering legal action we suggest you find a solicitor or lawyer to help you with your case. In a few instances the Commission may help people with their cases if it is an area of equality that is unclear or if it is a set of circumstances where a clear win would help to improve the lives of many by setting a new precedent in case law.

10. Where can I find out more?

A: Further information on the new Act can be found on our website here: www.equalityhumanrights.com/ea2010

The Equality Act and explanatory notes are on the Home Office website. This government department has also produced a number of quick start guides.

Last Updated: 04 Sep 2015