Who must comply with the public sector equality duty?
The Equality Act 2010 says public authorities must comply with the public sector equality duty. This is in addition to their duty not to discriminate against you.
Private organisations and individuals don’t have to comply with the duty.
Read this page to find out more about what's a public authority.
What's a public authority under the Equality Act?
The Equality Act sets out a list of public authorities who must comply with the public sector equality duty.
These organisations include:
- government departments and ministers
- the armed forces
- the NHS
- local authorities
- the police
- educational bodies like schools and universities
- the information commissioner.
Other organisations not listed in the Act must also comply with the public sector equality duty if they carry out public functions. This can be a public sector organisation. It can also be a private organisation or charity.
Private organisations and charities
Private organisations and charities are also subject to the public sector equality duty when they carry out public functions.
This could include - for example:
- privatised utilities like water companies, British Gas and Network Rail
- some organisations who have been subcontracted to carry out a public function like a private security company running a prison
- some housing associations when carrying out some of its functions as a social landlord
- private care homes providing care on behalf of the local authority
- private hospitals providing care on behalf of the NHS.
Private organisations and charities which carry out public functions are called hybrid authorities.
How do you know if an organisation is carrying out a public function?
If an organisation is not set out in the Equality Act, it’s the courts who decide if it's a public authority carrying out a public function.
Generally speaking a public function is something that’s normally provided to the public by the state like education, prisons or health services.
So if an organisation carries out one of these activities on behalf of the state they may be a public authority. But it’s not enough for a private organisation to carry out a public service for it to count as a public authority.
The courts will look at a number of things to decide if a private organisation is carrying out a public function. It will look at whether the organisation is:
- publicly funded
- supervised by a state regulatory body
- exercising powers given to it by the law
- taking the place of central or local government
- providing a public service
- acting in the public interest
- carrying out coercive powers devolved from the state.
The courts will also look at whether there's a close relationship between the organisation and a public authority.
Which organisations don’t have to comply with the public sector equality duty?
Some organisations don’t have to comply with the public sector equality duty. This includes the following:
- the Security Service
- the Secret Intelligence Service
- Scottish Parliament
When must a public authority comply with the public sector equality duty?
Public authorities must comply with the public sector equality duty when they carry out their functions or services.
The duty applies when public authorities adopt policies - for example, when a local authority adopts a new housing policy or a school changes their school uniform policy.
It also applies to individual decision makers within the public authority - for example, when a housing officer refuses your application for social housing or when a teacher says you can't wear a religious symbol at school.
Public authorities must comply with the duty before they make decisions or introduce new policies. The policies or decisions can be formal or informal, written or unwritten.
Private organisations or charities only have to comply with the duty when they carry out their public functions.
A private security company runs a prison for the government. It also provides security guards to a supermarket. It would only be covered by the public sector equality duty in its public function of running the prison, not in providing the security guards to the supermarket as this is of a private nature.
- Must public authorities always comply with the public sector equality duty?
- When can you use the public sector equality duty?
- Taking action about the public sector equality duty
- What's the public sector equality duty?
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