Services provided by a public authority - taking action 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.

If you’ve experienced discrimination by a public authority there are different things you can do. For example, you can make a complaint or you can make a discrimination claim in court.

Read this page to find out more about what you can do if you’ve experienced discrimination by a public authority.

Services or public functions?

Many of the things public sector organisations or public authorities do are services to the public - for example, the provision of libraries, leisure facilities or council run nurseries. These activities are called services under the Act.

Other things public authorities do are called public functions. For example, when a local authority makes a decision about your benefits or when the police investigate crime.

Does it matter whether something is a service or a public function?

It doesn’t usually matter whether something is a service or a public function. In both cases, public authorities have a duty not to discriminate against you and you can take action under the Equality Act.

Before you take action about discrimination

Before you take action about discrimination, you need to:

  • be reasonably sure that unlawful discrimination has taken place, according to the Equality Act 2010

  • check the time limits for making your claim if you want to take legal action.

If the treatment doesn’t count as discrimination under the law, you may still have been treated badly or unfairly and you may be able to do something about that. For example, you may still be able to make a complaint about the way you were treated.

Think about what you want to achieve

When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.

You may want:

  • the discrimination against you to stop

  • an apology

  • the organisation to look again at a decision they’ve already taken

  • a change in the organisation’s policy

  • staff training in discrimination issues

  • money for financial losses or compensation - for example, for stress or injury to feelings.

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense of taking legal action. But you should be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action. You need to make your claim in court within 6 months of the discrimination taking place. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.

What can you do to sort out a problem?

Make a complaint

You can try talking to the person who discriminated against you about your problem first. If the problem isn’t resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint. If you make a formal complaint you should ask the public authority for a copy of their complaints procedure.

Taking your complaint further

If your problem hasn’t been resolved by following the organisation's complaints procedure, there are other organisations who can look at your complaint - for example, the Local Government Ombudsman if your complaint is about a local authority.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) includes things like mediation, conciliation or arbitration. This is where people on different sides of a dispute use an independent professional, called a mediator, conciliator or arbitrator, to help them find a solution to a problem. If you want to take legal action, the courts now generally expect you to have considered the use of ADR, before you start court action.

You can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) which can help you find a mediator or conciliator.

There are strict time limits for making a court claim. You have to make your discrimination claim in the civil courts within 6 months of the discrimination you’re complaining about. You may also be able to make a claim for judicial review against the public authority.

If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should talk to an adviser.

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

Help us improve our website

Take 3 minutes to tell us if you found what you needed on our website. Your feedback will help us give millions of people the information they need.