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When can you use the public sector equality duty?

This advice applies to Wales

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.

You can use the public sector equality duty to challenge policies or decisions by a public authority which you think discriminate against you or disadvantage you because of who you are.

Read this page to find out more about when you can use the public sector equality duty.

What’s the public sector equality duty?

The public sector equality duty is a duty on public authorities to consider or think about how their policies or decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act. People who are protected under the Equality Act have what’s called protected characteristics - for example, race, sex or disability.

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

When can you use the public sector equality duty?

You may be able to use the public sector equality duty if you’ve been, or will be, affected by the way a public authority has made a decision about how it delivers its services or implements a policy.

Examples of where the public sector equality duty could apply include when:

  • you apply for benefits, housing or other public services
  • a local authority decides not to fund or to reduce its funding for services like care homes, advocacy for disabled people or transport services for older people
  • a school makes decisions about school uniforms or school transport.

Are you protected under the Equality Act?

You can only use the public sector equality duty to challenge a decision or policy if you're someone who's protected under the Equality Act.

Example

Your local council has decided to stop funding a women’s refuge. If you’ve been affected by this decision, you could take action against the council saying it hasn’t properly considered its public sector equality duty.

One of the things public authorities must do under the duty is to think about the need to advance equality of opportunity between people of different groups. So if you’re from an ethnic minority background, you might be able to argue that that the council didn’t properly think about the needs of women of minority ethnic communities who experience domestic violence.

How do you know if there’s a public sector equality duty issue?

A challenge under the public sector equality duty is about whether the decision-making process, or the way the decision was made, is lawful.

If you want to take action, you will need to show that when the public authority made its decision or policy, it didn’t consider its public sector equality duty.

The following things can help you decide if there's a public sector equality duty issue you can take action about:

  • is it about how a public authority delivers public services or carries out its public functions?
  • what's the public function - for example, the provision of health services, education or policing?
  • what's the policy or decision you want to complain about?
  • how have you’ve been affected by the policy or decision - for example have you been disadvantaged because of your protected characteristic or discriminated against?
  • which part of the public sector equality duty is relevant - for example, has the public authority not considered its duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination?
  • how will you and other people like you benefit from a change in the decision or policy?
  • what was wrong with the decision making process?

When should you contact the public authority about your problem?

If you want to challenge the way a public authority plans to make, or has made, a decision, or the way in which it is delivering its services, then you should do so as soon as possible.

You may want to:

  • influence a public authority before it makes a decision
  • find out more information to see if it did consider the public sector equality duty when it made a decision
  • tell it that you think it has breached the duty
  • make a formal complaint
  • take legal action.

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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