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Equality Act FAQs

Here you can find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the Equality Act 2010.

1. What is the purpose of the Equality Act 2010?

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 changed with the Equality Act 2010?

A: Most of the Equality Act 2010 was already in place in the previous anti-discrimination laws that it replaced. This includes the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In total there were nine pieces of primary legislation and over 100 pieces of secondary legislation that were incorporated. Bringing it into one piece of legislation was designed to make the law easier to understand and apply. 

As the Act is an amalgamation and harmonisation of existing law, there weren’t many massive changes. Indirect discrimination was extended to apply to disability and gender reassignment for the first time and the prohibition on direct discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and maternity and gender reassignment also applied in schools for the first time. The Act also introduced some new provisions such as the prohibition on discrimination arising from disability.

6. When did the Equality Act 2010 come into force?

A: The Government Equalities Office says 90 per cent of the law came into force on 1 October 2010. There are still some provisions of the Act which have not been implemented and it is up to the Government to decide when these parts of the Act will come into force. More information about the implementation of the Equality Act can be found on the Home Office Website.

7. What do 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 is the Commission’s role in making sure people understand the 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 Associations.   

Download the Codes of Practice

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.

Enforcement:

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 regulatory action against organisations that appear to have broken the law. More details about the Commission’s enforcement work can be found on our inquiries, investigations and wider powers page.

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 Act can be found on our Equality Act 2010 page.

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