Discrimination because of race

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

What is race discrimination

Race discrimination is when you are treated unfairly because of your race, or because of the race of someone you are connected with, such as your partner.

‘Race’ includes colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins.

If race discrimination takes place in any of the following situations it is illegal and you may be able to take action about it:

Race discrimination can be direct or indirect. It may also take the form of harassment or victimisation.

Race discrimination does not need to be deliberate. Someone may be discriminating against you without realising it or meaning to, but this might still count as discrimination.

Direct race discrimination

It is direct race discrimination to treat someone less favourably than someone else would be treated in the same circumstances, because of race. To prove direct race discrimination, it will help if you can give an example of someone from a different racial group who, in similar circumstances, has been, or would have been, treated more favourably than you. Racist abuse and harassment are forms of direct discrimination.

One example of direct race discrimination is where you are from a particular racial group and an employer refuses to appoint you because, the employer says, you ‘wouldn’t fit in’ or ‘the customers would object’.

It’s also direct discrimination if an employer turns you down for a job because of your connection with someone else of a particular racial group. For example, an employer might turn you down for a job because your partner is Afro-Caribbean.


I'm Asian and the other night, I went to a nightclub with some of my friends. They said we couldn't get in because it was full. Yet a group of white people just walked in. Is this discrimination? Is there anything we can do about this?.

Yes, this could have been an example of direct race discrimination. You might be able to take court action and get compensation if you have been discriminated against because of race. Go to your local Citizens Advice for advice.

For more information about direct discrimination, see Direct discrimination.

Indirect race discrimination

It is indirect race discrimination to have a rule, policy or practice which people of a particular racial, ethnic or national group are less likely to be able to meet than other people, and this places them at a disadvantage.

Examples of indirect discrimination might include:

  • an employer insisting that candidates for a job should have UK qualifications

  • the banning of wearing headscarves, or insisting on the wearing of skirts, at work or at school

  • an employer insisting that someone has English as a first language.

If you think that indirect race discrimination might have occurred, you may be able to make a complaint about it. However, if the person or organisation you are complaining about can show that there are genuine reasons for the rule, policy or practice and that it has nothing to do with race, this won't count as discrimination.

For example, an employer may be able to show why an employee needs to have gained their qualifications in the UK in order to work in a particular role. If they can do this, there won't have been any discrimination.


I'm of Indian origin and was employed on a casual basis. Now all the casual workers have been asked to take a written test to decide whether we can stay in the job. I have problems with writing in English. We never have to write anything down in the job and my spoken English is fine. I complained to my boss but he just said I had to take the test or leave. Is there anything else I can do?

You may have a case for indirect race discrimination. Go to your local Citizens Advice for advice about what to do. They could help you negotiate with your employers. If this doesn't work, you may be able to make a claim to the employment tribunal.

For more information about indirect discrimination, see Indirect discrimination.

What is ‘race'

Race means being part of a group of people who are identified by their race,colour,

nationality, citizenship, or ethnic or national origins.

If you are part of one of these groups and you experience discrimination, this counts as race discrimination.

Even if you’re not part of one of these groups, it still counts as discrimination if someone discriminates against you because they think you are. This is known as perceived race discrimination.

Ethnic origins

It's not always easy to say exactly what is meant by 'ethnic '. However, legal cases about race discrimination have made it clear whether certain groups of people can be counted as being ethnic. These include Jewish people, Romany gypsies, members of the Irish traveller community and Sikhs.

Muslims and Rastafarians do not count as ethnic. However, people from these groups can make a complaint about discrimination because of religious belief.

For more information about discrimination because of religious belief, see Discrimination because of religion or belief.

Race discrimination by association

Someone may discriminate against you because of the race of someone else you know, rather than because of your own race. This is known as discrimination by association. For example, an employer may not appoint you to a job, even though you are the best qualified person, just because the employer knows your partner is black. This would be direct discrimination and you would be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

Find out more about taking action about discrimination at work.

For more information about race discrimination, see Race discrimination.


If you complain about race discrimination, you shouldn’t be victimised because you complained. This means that you shouldn’t be treated unfairly just because you’ve made a complaint.

Making a complaint includes taking a case to court, going to an employment tribunal or standing up for your rights in some other way.

You can get protection if you are victimised because you’ve made a complaint about race discrimination. You can also get protection from discrimination for helping someone else to make a complaint about race discrimination, for example, by giving evidence as a witness in court.


I have complained to my manager about the racist language used in my workplace. Now no one will talk to me. It's really upsetting and making me ill. Is there anything I can do?

This could be an example of what is called victimisation. Victimisation is illegal. There are steps you can take to try and sort out the problem. Go to your trade union, if you’re a member. Or get help from an experienced adviser, for example, at your local Citizens Advice.

For more information about victimisation, see Victimisation.

Race discrimination in employment and training

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of race. This includes all employers, no matter how few people they employ. Most workers, including employees, agency workers, trainees and those who are self-employed have protection from race discrimination at work. This includes:

  • recruitment and selection

  • promotion

  • training, pay and benefits

  • redundancy and dismissal

  • terms and conditions of work.

You can check if your problem at work is discrimination.

Trade unions have a duty not to discriminate against their members or those wanting to become members.

There are some situations where employers are allowed to treat you less favourably because of your race and this won't count as discrimination.

Are there times when employers are allowed to treat you less favourably because of race?

There are times when an employer is allowed to treat you less favourably because of your race and this won't count as discrimination..

If an employer can show that you need to be a particular race in order to do a certain job, they can insist on employing someone of that race.

This is known as an occupational requirement and does not count as discrimination.

An example of where an occupational requirement might apply is a hostel for Asian women who have suffered violence. They may be able to insist that they only want to employ Asian women workers because the women in the hostel would find it easier to relate to and communicate with people of the same sex and racial group.

Race discrimination in education

It is illegal for any school or college to discriminate against someone because of race. This applies to both state and private schools and colleges.

A school or college must not discriminate in any of its policies and practices. This includes its:

  • admissions policies

  • treatment of pupils

  • exclusions

  • decisions about a pupil’s special educational needs or disability (SEND)

Schools and colleges also have a duty to protect pupils against racial abuse and violence from other pupils, both on school premises or on the way to or from school.

What can you do about race discrimination in education

You can make a complaint about discrimination by a school, college or university in your local county court (sheriff court in Scotland). However, there may be several other options that you should try first.

If you are thinking about taking court action about race discrimination, you should get advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at your nearest Citizens Advice.

You might also be able to get help from one of the organisations listed under Further help.


If your child is being discriminated against or suffering racist abuse by other pupils in school, you should bring this to the attention of the head.

All state schools should have a clear policy to get rid of racism and to advance race equality. This means that a school should take positive steps to discourage race discrimination and stop racist attacks. If the local education authority has an adviser with special responsibility for race issues, you should also report racist incidents to them

If you are still unhappy, you can then take your complaint to the school's governing body.

If a school or college does not have an anti-racist policy or is unwilling to take steps to prevent race discrimination or racist attacks, you should get advice from a specialist organisation about how to take further action. You may want to tell the police if a criminal offence is involved, for example, if your child is being assaulted.

If your child has suffered racist abuse at school, it could also be a hate crime or hate incident. You can check what to do if your child has experienced a hate crime or incident.

For more information about how to complain about a school, see Sorting out school problems.

Colleges and universities

If your complaint is about a college or university, you should first use the institution's own complaints procedure. If you are complaining about a further education college funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, you could also complain to the agency. Find out how to complain on GOV.UK.

If your complaint is about a university in England or Wales, you could take your complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the OIA). The OIA can be contacted at:

Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA)

Third Floor

Kings Reach

38-50 King's Road



Tel: 0118 959 9813

Fax: 0118 955 9099

E-mail: enquiries@oiahe.org.uk

Website: www.oiahe.org.uk

Race discrimination when providing goods, facilities and services

It is illegal for anyone providing goods, facilities or services in the UK to discriminate because of race.

Examples of goods, facilities and services include, shops, banking, entertainment, transport and libraries.

Someone providing goods, facilities or services must not:

  • refuse to provide you with goods, facilities or services because of your race

  • provide any of these things on less favourable terms or conditions because of your race

It is illegal to discriminate regardless of how the goods and services are provided or whether you have to pay for them or not.

For example, it’s illegal for someone to discriminate against you when you’re buying something in a shop or over the internet, when you’re making a telephone enquiry or when someone gives you written information.


There's a notice in our local pub saying 'No Travellers'. I'm not a Traveller myself but I still find the notice horrible. Is there anything I can do about it?

Members of the Irish Travelling community are counted as an ethnic group so this notice counts as race discrimination and is probably illegal. An experienced adviser, for example, at your local Citizens Advice, could help you to make a complaint or take the matter further if this doesn't solve the problem.

Are there times when people providing goods, facilities or services are allowed to treat you less favourably?

Clubs, associations and charities set up especially for people of a particular ethnic or national group are allowed to discriminate in some circumstances. They can discriminate against you because of your nationality or ethnic or national origin. However, they are not allowed to discriminate against you because of your colour.

Race discrimination and public authorities

It's illegal for a public authority to discriminate against you because of your race while carrying out any of it's functions. Public authorities includes government departments, local authorities, NHS trusts, courts and tribunals, police officers and prisons.

On top of this, public authorities have a legal duty to take action against discrimination and to actively promote equality.

Race discrimination and advertising

With a few limited exceptions, it's illegal to publish or broadcast an advert which discriminates because of race, or which advertises discriminatory services.

If an advertisement like this is published, the Equality and Human Rights Commission can take court action against the publisher, if the case is referred to them by an advice agency.

Race discrimination in housing

For information about discrimination in housing, see Discrimination in housing.

What can you do about race discrimination

If you think you’ve suffered race discrimination there are a number of things you may be able to do. These include:

  • talking to the person or organisation that discriminated against you

  • using a grievance procedure or making a claim to an employment tribunal if it is an employment problem

  • publicising your case through the media

  • taking legal action through the courts

  • giving details of the problem to an advice agency who may able to refer it to the Equality and Human Rights Commission if you believe the problem is widespread

When deciding what action to take about race discrimination, you will need to think about what you are trying to achieve. For example, do you want financial compensation, justice or publicity? You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.

Any course of action is likely to be complicated and may involve court action. You should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at Citizen’s Advice. Search for your nearest Citizens Advice.

For more information about making a claim to an employment tribunal, see the Taking action about discrimination at work page.

For more information about what you can do about discrimination, see Taking action about discrimination.

If someone has been violent or hostile towards you because of your race, you can report it to the police as a hate crime or hate incident.

If you don’t want to go to the police, check what support you can get if you’ve experienced a hate crime or incident.

Help with taking a race discrimination case

If you want to take legal action about race discrimination, you may be able to get some help with your case.

You can get advice about this from your local Citizens Advice or from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. Search for your nearest Citizens Advice.

If you qualify for legal aid, you may get free legal advice and assistance from a solicitor. This comes under Legal Help (advice and assistance) scheme in Scotland. You might also be able to get help with the cost of taking a case to court under Legal Representation.

Other types of discrimination

As well as race discrimination, you could be discriminated against for other reasons. For example, because:

  • of your sex

  • you're pregnant

  • of your sexual orientation

  • of disability

  • of religion.

For example, you're a black woman who is pregnant and you're sacked. If you think you've been sacked because you're black and because you're pregnant, you can make two claims, one for race discrimination and one for pregnancy discrimination.

Find out more about taking action about discrimination at work.

For more information about other types of discrimination, see our discrimination pages.

Further help

Helpline (England and Wales only)

The Monitoring Group Freephone Emergency Helpline advises victims of racial harassment and abuse. It is available 24 hours a day and it is staffed by volunteers recruited from black and minority ethnic communities to ensure they can communicate with the caller in the appropriate language. The helpline number is 0800 374 618.

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

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

More about the EASS helpline 

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at www.equalityhumanrights.com.

Law centres

Law centres can offer free legal advice to people who want to take action about race discrimination. If you are represented by a solicitor from a law centre, you may be entitled to legal aid. Details of the nearest law centres are available from:-

In England and Wales

The Law Centres Network

Floor 1, Tavis House

1-6 Tavistock Square



Tel: 020 3637 1330 (admin only)

Email: contact form available on the website

Website: www.lawcentres.org.uk

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