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Must public authorities always comply with the public sector equality duty?

This advice applies to Scotland

The Equality Act 2010 says public authorities must comply with the public sector equality duty when they make policies and decisions about how to provide their services. This is in addition to their duty not to discriminate against you.

There are some situations where public authorities don’t have to comply with the public sector equality duty.

Read this page to find out more about the exceptions to the public sector equality duty.

What’s the public sector equality duty?

The public sector equality duty means that when public authorities carry out their functions, they must think about the need to do the following things:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t   
  • foster or encourage good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.

What's a protected characteristic?

People who are protected under the Equality Act have what’s called protected characteristics - for example, race, sex or disability. Public authorities mustn't discriminate against you if it's because of your protected characteristic.

Although marriage and civil partnership are protected characteristics under the Equality Act, it's not covered by the public sector equality duty.

When are public authorities not required to comply with the public sector equality duty?

There are some situations where public authorities don’t have to comply with the public sector equality duty. This depends on what functions the public authority is carrying out.

Judicial functions

The public sector equality duty doesn’t apply when public authorities carry out judicial functions. For example, courts don’t have to consider their public sector equality duty when they make judgments in cases before them or when they make decisions about how the proceedings will be conducted.

Exceptions relating to age

Public authorities don’t have to comply with the public sector equality duty in relation to age in the following areas:

  • education and provision of services to pupils in schools
  • the provision of accommodation and services in children’s homes.

This means - for example, that a school doesn’t have to think about advancing equality of opportunity between pupils of different ages. It also means it doesn’t have to think about how to foster good relations between pupils on different ages.

But it would still have to think about - for example,  the need to foster good relations between pupils of different religions or the need to advance equality of opportunity for disabled pupils.

Immigration functions

When a public authority carries out immigration functions they don’t have to think about to the need to advance equality of opportunity in relation to the following protected characteristics:

  • age
  • religion or belief
  • race.

This means - for example, that immigration officers don’t have to think about the need to advance equality of opportunity for people of different religions when taking immigration decisions, like refusing someone the right to live or stay in the UK.

But they would still have to consider the need to advance equality of opportunity for people of different sexual orientation or disabled people.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

The EASS helpline can provide advice and information on discrimination and human rights issues.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

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

You can also find guidance on the public sector equality duty on the EHRC website at

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