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Equality Act 2010

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act is a new law passed in 2010 to simplify, and in some case strengthen, laws against discrimination.

In the past there were several different laws to protect people from discrimination on grounds of their:

  • disability
  • race
  • sex
  • sexual orientation (whether being lesbian, gay, bisexual or heterosexual)
  • religion or belief
  • being a transsexual person (transsexuality is where someone changes their sex – called ‘gender reassignment’ in law)
  • having just had a baby or being pregnant
  • being married or in a civil partnership (this applies only at work or if someone is being trained for work), and
  • age (this applied only at work or if someone is being trained for work).

Most of the Equality Act started to apply in October 2010. This section contains information about some of the most important points in the Equality Act. It doesn’t cover all your rights you should get more advice if you think you’re being discriminated against.


Where has the law been made stronger?

Here are some of the areas where where the law has been made stronger from October 2010. Not all the changes in the Equality Act  started at the same time. So if you think you might be covered by the new law, you’ll need to get advice about whether it has come in to force yet.

If you’re disabled

If you’re discriminated against because you’re disabled, the new law may help you. For example, there is a slightly different test of what "disability" means. Under the new law, it is easier for someone to show that they have difficulty carrying out their day-to-day activities, and therefore that they come under the definition of "disabled person" and are protected under the Act.

Indirect discrimination

Another way the new law could help you if you are disabled is that for the first time, the law protects you from "indirect discrimination". This is where a policy or practice is applied in the same way to everyone, but it puts disabled people at a particular disadvantage. (However, it doesn’t count as indirect discrimination if the person applying the policy can justify it)

Under the new law it is easier for you to make a claim for discrimination that happens because of something connected with your disability. It counts as "unlawful discrimination" if someone who knows you are disabled treats you unfavourably because of something that results from your disability, provided that treatment can’t be justified. This is called "discrimination arising from a disability".

 Here are some more examples of how the Equality Act may help you if you’re disabled: 

  • Employers will generally no longer be allowed to ask questions about health or disability before they offer you a job or before they include you in a pool of people to be offered a job when a vacancy arises. However, they can ask you such questions if they have a good reason. 
  • If you’re at a substantial disadvantage when compared with someone who isn’t disabled, reasonable changes ("adjustments") must be made by your employer or by someone providing goods or services. They may have to change the way things are done, or make changes to a building, or provide aids such as special computer software to help you do your job. Reasonable adjustments can also include providing information in an accessible format. The new law makes it clear that when receiving services you can’t be asked to pay the costs of making these reasonable adjustments.

If you’re a carer

If you look after someone who is elderly or disabled, you’re already protected from being discriminated against at work because of your association with the person you care for. The new law will make this protection clearer. In addition, direct discrimination and harassment because you care for a disabled person will be banned when:

  • you’re shopping for goods or services
  • you use facilities like public libraries or cafes
  • you use services like public transport.

Positive Action

Positive action is when something is done specifically to help someone who has a protected characteristic. There are several different reasons why it may be appropriate to take some sort of positive action, for instance if someone is suffering some kind of disadvantage linked to that characteristic, or if they have particular needs, or if people with that characteristic are underrepresented in an activity or a type of work.

  • One form of positive action is encouraging or training people to apply for jobs or take part in an activity in which people with that characteristic are under-represented. This may be done by means of training courses, mentoring schemes or even open days or other events to show people what a particular job or activity is really like.
  • Another type of positive action is where someone providing goods or services targets a group who share a protected characteristic because they have particular needs linked to that characteristic.

The new law makes it easier for employers and service providers to take positive action. However, taking any form of positive action is entirely voluntary and people don’t have to consider doing it if they don’t want to.

More information

Information on this page is adapted from “Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know?” You can download this document – and a range of other guides to the Equality Act from the Government Equalities Office website - for example:

Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A summary guide your rights


Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know as a carer?

Voluntary and community groups:

Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A summary guide for voluntary and community sector service providers 

Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know? A quick start guide for voluntary and community sector associations 


Information about the Act from other organisations

Equality and Diversity Forum,

How to use the Equality Act 2010: a guide for voluntary and community organisations

 Equalities and Human Rights Commission:

Equalities Act Starter Kit: (Online information including podcasts and videos)