20 years of stammeringlaw 1999-2019
Overview Disability Discrimination Employment Services Education Business Brexit Advice More...
These pages do not apply outside Great Britain.

Equality Act 2010 - how did it change disability discrimination law?

The bulk of the Equality Act 2010 came into force on 1st October 2010. The Act brought disability, sex, race and other grounds of discrimination within one piece of legislation, and also made changes to the law. Mostly it does not apply to Northern Ireland. There is a separate page on Brexit and the Equality Act 2010.

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).

More links below....

The Equality Act included some major changes to disability discrimination law, compared with the pre-2010 position under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. This web page focuses on those changes. For example

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.

When did the Act come into force?

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?

Transitional arrangements

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).

How did the Act change the law?

Some of the main changes relating to disability discrimination law are as follows:

Objective justification test

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'.

The new objective justification test came into force on 1st October 2010. (More on objective justification test).

More detail on changes to:
Who is protected
Disability equality duty

Remedying the Malcolm case

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, and seems to have been successful in doing this, giving disabled people wider rights but subject to the employer etc being able to 'justify' its conduct. This is achieved by the introduction of new ways to claim for disability discrimination. The most important is called 'discrimination arising from disability', and the other is 'indirect discrimination'. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on New heads of discrimination).

Pre-employment enquiries

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)

Single equality duty

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.)

Discrimination by perception

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.)

Discrimination by association

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 disabled person more favourably

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?.

Reasonable adjustments by service providers

It is now easier to claim reasonable adjustments from service providers. Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on lower threshold for reasonable adjustments).

Definition of disability

The Act removes the list of 'capacities' Came into force: 1st October 2010. (More on changes to definition of 'disability'...)

Recommendations by Tribunals

Under the Equality Act a tribunal could 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. However, the new power was subsequently repealed, from October 2015. Came into force: 1st October 2010, repealed 1st October 2015. (More on recommendations.)

Dual discrimination

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.)

Liability for harassment by customers etc

In some circumstances the Equality Act expressly made employers liable if staff are being harassed by third parties, such as customers or suppliers. However this was subsequently repealed from 1st October 2013. Came into force: 1st October 2010, repealed 1st October 2013. (More on harassment by third parties)

Auxiliary aids as reasonable adjustment for schools

Schools and LEAs have a new duty to provide an auxiliary aid or service where reasonable. Came into force: 1st September 2012 (More on new auxiliary aid duty...)

Statutory guidance and Codes of Practice

See Guidance and Codes of Practice.

Recommended changes not in the Act

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:

Greater extension of legal definition of 'disability'

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?

Equality Tribunals

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 - external links


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.

Guidance and Codes of Practice

See Guidance and Codes of Practice.


Homepage | Equality Act in outline | Meaning of "disability" | Employment | Goods and services | Education | Human Rights Act | Proposed changes | Advice | Links | What's new | Site index | Privacy (cookies) | Disclaimer

© Allan Tyrer 1999-2016
Last updated 28th December, 2016