These pages do not apply outside Great Britain.
The bulk of the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1st October 2010. The Act has brought disability, sex, race and other grounds of discrimination within one piece of legislation, and has also made changes to the law. Mostly it does not apply to Northern Ireland.
|Main links on the Equality Act:
Guidance: Guidance and Codes of Practice.
Full text of the Act: Equality Act 2010 (link to legislation.gov.uk).
Statutory Codes of Practice and guidance on the Equality Act have been issued as regards employment, provision of services, and definition of disability. Non-statutory guidance is also available. No more statutory Codes are to be issued, but 'Technical guidance' has been published on schools, further and higher education and the Public Sector Equality Duty. See Guidance and Codes of Practice.
Most of the Equality Act, "90% or more", came into force on 1st October 2010, as intended by the previous Labour government.
Some parts such as the single public sector equality duty came into effect later, mostly in April 2011. A few aspects are not yet in force, and some provisions will not come into force at all. For more, see Equality Act 2010: when does it come into force?
How does one decide whether discrimination falls within the DDA as before 1st October 2010, or within the Equality Act as after 1st October 2010. This is unlikely to be relevant for anyone considering starting a claim now. However, my page on it is Which Act applies: Equality Act or DDA? - and see the Government guidance Equality Act 2010: Transitional Arrangements (link to GEO site archived at National Archives).
Some of the main changes relating to disability discrimination law are as follows:
For some types of discrimination, an employer or service provider etc has a defence if it can 'justify' how it treated the disabled person. The tests previously used are replaced by a single objective 'justification' test, namely that the employer, service provider etc must show that its conduct was a 'proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim'.
Who is protected
Disability equality duty
A decision by the House of Lords in LB Lewisham v Malcolm severely curtailed some rights to claim for disability discrimination. However, the Equality Act aims to shift the position back to a more balanced approach, giving disabled people wider rights, but subject to the employer etc being able to 'justify' its conduct. This is being achieved by the introduction of new ways to claim for disability discrimination - called 'discrimination arising from disability' and 'indirect discrimination'. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on New heads of discrimination).
There is a new rule against employers asking job applicants disability-related questions. The rule is subject to important exceptions. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on pre-employment enquiries)
Until April 2011 there were three separate 'public sector equality duties' applying to public bodies. The duties covered race, disability and gender. Under Equality Act 2010, from 5th April 2011 there is a single public sector equality duty which also embraces other grounds such as sexual orientation and religious belief, as well as race, disability and gender. Not only the scope but also the content of the duty is changed - at least in England 'equality schemes' will no longer be required. Came into force: 5th April 2011 for the 'general' public sector duty, but later in England and Scotland for the 'specific' duties. (More on single Public Sector Equality Duty.)
Direct discrimination or harassment based on 'perceived' disability is probably made unlawful (or, for employment, possibly more clearly unlawful). This may help a claimant if, for example, an employer argues that the effects of an impairment on normal day-to-day activities are not substantial. The employer (or service provider etc) may be liable even if the effects are not substantial, on the basis it perceived there to be a disability. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on discrimination by perception.)
Direct discrimination or harassment based on association is made unlawful, or in the case of employment more clearly unlawful. This might apply for example where a friend of a disabled person is harassed. The change implements a European Court decision in Coleman v Attridge Law, but also goes beyond it. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on discrimination by association.)
Treating a disabled person more favourably was not prohibited by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. However, the right to do this may have been restricted by the Equality Act. Broadly, it is still lawful under the Equality Act to treat disabled people in general more favourably than non-disabled people. But it may be that one cannot prefer people with a particular impairment (or class of impairments) unless that is permitted by some particular provision in the Equality Act. Came into force: 1st October 2010. For more: Can a disabled person be treated more favourably?.
It is now easier to claim reasonable adjustments from service providers. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on lower threshold for reasonable adjustments).
Under the Equality Act a tribunal can make a recommendation benefiting the wider workforce, even if it is no longer relevant for the individual claimant. This is most likely to happen where the individual has left the employer. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on recommendations.)
Claims for direct discrimination on two combined grounds (but no more than two) were to be expressly allowed - e.g. discrimination for being a disabled woman. However this provision is now not going to be brought into force for the time being. (More on multiple/dual discrimination.)
There are (or seem to me to be) some drafting problems in the Equality Act 2010. Some have been corrected now, but uncorrected issues include the following:
Not exactly a drafting problem, but an issue to be resolved is: how far if at all one disabled person can be treated more favourably than another disabled person. (I assume here that a specific exception does not apply, such as 'positive action' or 'occupational requirement'). The Government's intention seems to be that -
For some of the changes and clarifications made to the Equality Bill during its passage through Parliament, see Equality Bill: passage through Parliament.
Various changes to the law were proposed but did not find their way into the Equality Act. An important source of recommendations which in various respects go beyond the Act is the April 2009 report of the Work and Pensions Committee (House of Commons): The Equality Bill: how disability equality fits within a single Equality Act (link to parliament.uk).
I will mention just two recommendations (not in the Act) which seem to me particularly important:
The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee renewed calls for protection to extend to everyone who has (or has had) an impairment without requiring the effects of that impairment to be substantial or long-term. For more, see: Wider definition of disability?
To address the current difficulties in bringing discrimination claims on provision of services, the Work and Pensions Committee recommended the introduction of Equality Tribunals which would deal with both employment claims and services claims.
Equality Act 2010: full text (link to legislation.gov.uk) - the full Act.
The Equality Act 2010 (Commencement No. 4, Savings, Consequential, Transitional, Transitory and Incidental Provisions and Revocation) Order 2010 (link to legislation.gov.uk) - the main Commencement Order which brought the bulk of the Act into effect on 1st October 2010.
Equality Act 2010 (Disability) Regulations 2010 (link to legislation.gov.uk) - these say for the Equality Act pretty much what previous regulations already said for the DDA. Also explanatory memorandum on the regulations.
The changes contained in the Equality Act 2010 were mostly announced in Summer 2008, following consultation on a Green Paper issued in June 2007. The Equality Bill was published in April 2009.
Equality Bill Parliamentary proceedings (link to parliament.uk), including text of Bill with Explanatory Notes, proposed amendments, and links to debates and Committee proceedings;
Report of Work and Pensions Committee (House of Commons): The Equality Bill: how disability equality fits within a single Equality Act, April 2009.
Framework for a Fairer Future - The Equality Bill (link to Archived equalities.gov.uk), June 2008
Government response to the Discrimination Law Review (pdf file, link to Archived equalities.gov.uk), July 2008
Original Green Paper (link to communities.gov.uk), dated June 2007.
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Last updated 29th June, 2013