The Equality Advisory and Support Service: three years of advice and guidance

by Andrew Goldsby

Published: 25 Nov 2015

The Equality Advisory and Support Service, also known as the EASS, provides free advice and guidance to members of the public across Great Britain who may have faced incidents of discrimination. Over the last three years, the EASS has assisted thousands of individuals in searching for informal ways to resolve complaints related to equality and human rights.

By focusing on two pieces of legislation, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act, the team at EASS help people understand how the law applies to their particular issue and work with them to find effective ways to resolve it.

The advice line is open to all those with concerns related to the protected characteristics of the Equality Act (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation) in all sectors. Examples of these concerns include workplace discrimination, discrimination when using services, public functions and premises,  and discrimination in education.

When a person contacts the EASS they speak with an adviser who has been specially trained to support them using the Equality Act and Human Rights Act. Should that person’s issue appear to amount to discrimination, the adviser will work with them in order to develop a step-by-step action plan which will outline how the incident can be challenged and resolved informally.

In response to one particular issue brought to the EASS, the adviser supported the individual who complained that access to their local gym was impossible when a refit did not take the needs of wheelchair users into consideration. After receiving advice, the individual spoke to the gym about their rights under the Equality Act. Initially their concerns were ignored, but then the EASS approached the gym directly in an attempt to encourage positive dialogue. The gym agreed to speak to the individual and this discussion gave them the opportunity to consult on and explore ways to improve access. Equipment was moved and the individual was able to continue using the service.

Another example demonstrating how the EASS can make a positive difference was when the service was contacted by a trans caller whose mobile phone contract had been cancelled because the company refused to believe they were talking with the account holder. Even though the person answered security questions correctly, they were taken through further security checks. Again they passed these. Despite this, the customer service adviser refused to allow any further transactions to take place and froze the account. The caller was a trans woman who had a deep voice and this was the reason given for the refusal of service.

With permission from the caller, the EASS spoke to the mobile phone company about the issue and also took the opportunity to explain how the Equality Act works. The account was subsequently re-instated with a goodwill gesture made to the caller. The individual was extremely happy that the outcome was not only positive for them personally, but moved the company to re-visit their security protocols.

The EASS has also helped disabled individuals to challenge higher insurance premiums and parents of disabled children to get access to schools for their children after an initial refusal to admit them. Pregnant women have been supported by the service when returning to work and looking for flexible working arrangements, and older people have been able to challenge potentially discriminatory decisions to refuse employment or promotion at work.

The EASS is also one of the very few official bodies able to provide human rights advice. Individuals raising human rights questions are given information on how the Human Rights Act works and provided with guidance on how to use human rights language to complain about or highlight their issue.

The service is free to use and can be accessed through various channels. Telephone is the most common contact method but individuals can also write or email us, use our web chat and even communicate with us via social media.

There are accessible options for deaf people, including a textphone or provision of British Sign Language, which is provided by the Royal Association for Deaf People. The service also offers support for those whose first language is not English.

Anyone who feels that they have been discriminated against or who wants to check their rights within the Equality Act or Human Rights Act can contact the service free of charge. The service is available to anyone who has experienced a potential incident of discrimination in England, Scotland or Wales.