Services provided by a public authority - complaining about discrimination

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Public authorities, like the police or a local authority have a duty not to discriminate against you when they carry out their work. This includes when they provide services, like libraries or leisure facilities. It also includes when they carry out public functions, like policing or making decisions about your tax and benefits.

If you’ve experienced discrimination by a public authority you can make a complaint to them about the way you were treated.

Read this page to find out more about making a complaint about discrimination by public authority.

Making an informal complaint

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first - for example, by talking to the person who discriminated against you or their manager. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. You should contact the public authority as soon as possible to make sure you’re not running out of time if you want to take further action.

If you make an informal complaint, it’s a good idea to include the following things in your conversation:

  • a description of the service you tried to use

  • the names and job titles of the people involved

  • a short description of what happened

  • the date and time of the incident

  • a description of how the incident affected you

  • what you want the organisation to do now - for example, apologise or review a decision already taken or offer compensation

  • when you expect a reply.

It’s best to keep a record of the conversation and make a note of the date. It’s also a good idea to follow up the conversation with a letter recording what was discussed.

Making a formal complaint

If the problem isn't resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint. Ask the public authority for a copy of their complaints procedure.

You should make your complaint as soon as possible as there may be time limits. Also if you think you may want to go to court, you need to make sure you're within the time limits for taking legal action. You need to make your claim in court within 6 months of the discrimination happening.

What should you include in your written complaint?

If you make a written complaint about discrimination you should include the following things:

  • explain what happened - include any relevant dates and times, the names of anyone involved

  • say how the discrimination has affected you - for example, that it's made you feel very upset or that you've lost money as a result

  • say what you want to happen as a result of the complaint - for example, an apology, a review of the decision that's been taken or compensation

  • say when you want a reply

  • include your name and contact details.

If an adviser is helping you with the complaint and you want them to advocate on your behalf, you should include their name and contact details in your written complaint. You would also need to attach a letter of authorisation signed by you to show you want the adviser to act for you.

Keep a copy of the letter and write down when you sent it. It's best to send the letter by recorded delivery, or you can ask for a free certificate of posting.

Taking your complaint further

Complaining to an ombudsman

If you’ve complained to the public authority but your problem hasn’t been resolved, you may be able to contact an ombudsman who can look at your complaint. There are different ombudsmen depending on where you live and the organisation your complaining about.

Contacting the Equality and Human Rights Commission

In some situations, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) may be able to help with your discrimination complaint. The EHRC won’t normally take on individual cases. However they can take on an individual case if it would be of wider public interest and it is referred to them by an advice agency. They could also launch an official inquiry and formal investigation if the problem seems to be widespread.

Using human rights law and the public sector equality duty

Public authorities must comply with human rights law and the public sector equality duty. If you’ve been discriminated against by a public authority you may be able to use human rights and the public sector equality duty to strengthen your discrimination claim. You may also be able to take separate action.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

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