Equality Legislation in the UK

There are specific equality legislation and regulations in the UK that serve to promote equality in the context of race, disability, age, ethnicity and gender.

These are:

  • The Equality Act 2006.
  • The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.
  • The Disability Discrimination Act 2005.
  • The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006.
  • The Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.
  • The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.
  • The Civil Partnership Act 2004.
  • Gender Recognition Act 2004.

These various statutes and regulations focus on the elimination of discrimination on the grounds of the following:

  • Race / Ethnicity.
  • Disability.
  • Gender.
  • Age.
  • Religion and Belief.
  • Sexuality.


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Equality Legislation in the UK

This page is intended to provide a useful guide and not a statement of the law. For detailed information on the laws covering equality of opportunity please consult appropriate legal advice.

The aims of the Equality Act 2006 are to:

  • Make discrimination unlawful (apart from certain exemptions), on the grounds of religion or belief in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education, the use and disposal of premises and the carrying out of public functions
  • Make discrimination unlawful on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education, the management of premises and the carrying out of public functions;
  • Create a duty for public bodies to promote equality of opportunity between men and women (known as the gender duty) and to prohibit sex discrimination in the workplace.

The Race Relations Act 1976 (RRA)

This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, and ethnic or national origins. Exceptions to the act include genuine occupational requirements. This exception means employers are able to recruit staff on the basis of a genuine occupational requirement if it can be shown that it is a genuine and determining requirement of the job to be of a particular, race or of particular ethnic or national origin.

Race Relations Amendment Act (2000) (RRAA)

This amendment places a statutory obligation on all public bodies to develop a race equality policy and action plan, not only to eliminate race inequality but proactively to promote equality between different racial groups, to assess the impact of all its policies on staff and students from different racial groups, to ensure all staff are trained in their duties regarding promoting race equality, to monitor the recruitment and progress of minority ethnic staff and students and publish results and progress.

information on equality legislation is available at the personal development cafeThe Sex Discrimination Act 1975 (SDA)

This Act protects people from discrimination on the grounds of sex, and marital status. Exceptions to the Act include genuine occupational requirements. Employers will be able to recruit staff on the basis of a genuine occupational requirement if it can be shown that it is a genuine and determining requirement of the job to be of a particular gender.

Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999

The regulations cover employment and vocational training only. The regulations extend the Sex Discrimination Act (1995) to cover discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment – defined by the Sex Discrimination Act as ‘a process undertaken under medical supervision, for the purposes of reassigning a person’s sex by changing physiological or other characteristics of sex and includes any part of such a process.’ The regulations do not cover the provision of goods, facilities or services.

Equal Pay Act (EPA) 1970 (Amendment) Regulations 2003

This act and amendment introduced the concept of equal pay for work of equal value. It prevents discrimination between male and female employees in the same job in relation to pay and terms and conditions. The employer will not be required to provide the same pay and benefits if it can prove that the difference in pay or benefits is genuinely due to a reason other than one related to sex.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA)

The DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of disability in the areas of employment, provision of goods, facilities and services and buying or renting land or property. Disability is defined in the Act as ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day to day duties’. ‘Long term’ is currently defined as 12 months or more, unless the person’s life expectancy is less than 12 months.

The Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006

These came into force on 1 October 2006 and make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age in all aspects of employment, including recruitment and training. The regulations do incorporate some situations where discrimination can be lawful if there is ‘objective justification’ but these are subject to strict guidelines. A default retirement age of 65 was introduced and employers are only able to set a retirement age below 65 if it can be shown to be appropriate and necessary.

Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003

These regulations outlaw discrimination (direct or indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation) in employment and vocational training on the grounds of sexual orientation. It covers people whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual. Discrimination on the grounds of perceived sexual orientation is also banned. The legislation also protects those people who are discriminated against because of the sexual orientation of the people with whom they associate.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007:

These regulations took effect in 2007 and made it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in:

  • the provision of goods, facilities and services
  • the disposal and management of premises
  • education
  • the exercise of public functions

Civil Partnership Act 2004

The Civil Partnership Act came into force on 5th December 2005. The Act created a new legal relationship which can be formed by two people of the same sex and is distinct from marriage. It gives same sex couples the ability to obtain legal recognition for their relationship.

Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003

This outlaws discrimination (direct or indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation) in employment and vocational training on the grounds of religious belief or similar philosophical belief. Non-belief is also covered by the regulations.

Article 9 of the Human Rights Act gives important rights in this area: It states:

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public and private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
  • Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’.

Direct discrimination – this means treating someone less favourably than another purely on the grounds of their age, disability, race, sex etc and without justification (for example, not employing a woman because of concerns that she might want to start a family). Another example would be not considering a disabled person without looking at whether they meet the selection criteria and whether any reasonable adjustments can be made.

Indirect discrimination – this means operating a practice, criteria or provision that applies to everyone but indirectly, (whether intentionally or not) puts some groups or individuals at a disadvantage compared to others without justification on other grounds.

Victimisation – if a person is treated less favourably if they have brought, or given evidence in a case of discrimination. This is unlawful.

Definition of Harassment: A person subjects another to harassment where he/she engages in unwanted conduct which has the purpose or effect of:

  • violating that other person’s dignity, or
  • creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him / her,
  • and in the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect.

Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) has been incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act. The Act introduces a range of political and civil rights. Under the Act, only a person considered a victim, who is directly affected can bring proceedings against a public authority. Individuals can bring claims under the HRA against public authorities for breaches of Convention rights. UK courts and tribunals are required to interpret domestic law, as far as possible, in accordance with Convention rights. Previous case law may be overturned if there is a breach of Convention rights and the relevant law can be re-interpreted in a way which is compatible with Convention rights. Convention rights include a right not to be discriminated against on non-exhaustive grounds, which include that of sex, where another Convention right is engaged.

There are sixteen basic rights in the Act – some are absolute and some are qualified. In certain circumstances a restriction of a right can be legitimate if it is necessary to achieve the following objectives:
The restriction is –

  • In the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country
  • Necessary for the prevention of crime or disorder
  • Necessary for the protection of health and morals
  • Necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others
  • Is applied in a non-discriminatory manner.

A qualified right can only be limited if it’s in accordance with all three of the following conditions:

  • It is in accordance with the prescribed national law
  • It is necessary to further the aims of the ECHR
  • It is necessary in a democratic society. A democratic society is one characterised by broad mindedness, tolerance and pluralism.

Knowing the laws regarding equality and diversity is one thing.  But what about its effect?  How much is perception and how much is fact?  Take our short equality and diversity quiz and see how well you do.

We hope this information on equality legislation in the UK has helped you gain a better more informed idea of how this affects people and their rights in the UK.

For further information, current data on equality and diversity in the UK, visit the equality and human rights website.  The Equality & Human Rights Commission have an excellent website that provides advice and guidance on rights, responsibilities and good practice, based on equality law and human rights.  They also publish equality and diversity workshop reports and operate a helpline.

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