What responsibilities does the Equality Act 2010 impose on the public sector?

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits public sector service providers from discriminating against, harassing and victimising certain classes of persons. The Act also places an obligation on public sector service providers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. From 6 April 2011 the public sector will also be subject to the “Equality Duty”.

Who is protected by the Act?

People who access goods, facilities and services possessing the following “protected characteristics” are protected by the Act:

  • Age – persons under the age of 18 are not protected by the provisions relating to service providers and the provisions of the Act relating to those over the age of 18 have yet to come into force;

  • disability;

  • gender reassignment;

  • pregnancy and maternity;

  • race ;

  • religion or belief;

  • sex;

  • sexual orientation.

In addition, except in the case of pregnancy and maternity, the Act also protects

people who are unfairly treated because they are wrongly perceived to have a particular characteristic (or are treated as though they had it) or because they associate with someone who has one of the above characteristics.

What does the Act prohibit?


The Act prohibits public sector service providers from discriminating against a person requiring a service by not providing the person with the service. Where a service is provided the Act prohibits discrimination by the public sector service provider during the course of the provision of the service. This includes discrimination as to the terms on which the service is provided, termination of the service and the subjection of a person to any other detriment.

Both direct and indirect discrimination is prohibited by the Act.

Direct discrimination takes place where a person treats another person who has a protected characteristic less favourably than he or she treats or would treat others not possessing the protected characteristic.

Under the Act it is unlawful for a public sector service provider to discriminate against a woman because she is breastfeeding.

Indirect discrimination occurs where a provision, criterion or practice is applied which is discriminatory in relation to protected characteristic. This includes conduct which is applied or would apply to persons who do not share the characteristic in question and conduct which puts or would put a person possessing a protected characteristic at a particular disadvantage. For example, a policy that only offers appointments by telephone will indirectly discriminate against deaf people as it will be harder for them to make an appointment.

Conduct which can be shown to be a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim is, however, permitted. For example, it will be legitimate in some circumstances for public sector service providers to provide single sex services such as toilets or changing rooms, although in such circumstances they should exercise caution so as to avoid discrimination of transsexuals.


The Act prohibits public sector service providers from harassing a person requiring a service and where a service is provided the Act prohibits harassment during the course of the provision of the service.

Harassment occurs where a person is subjected to unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating his dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him.

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For more information on:

  • Victimisation
  • What obligations does the Act place on public sector service providers?
  • What is the Equality Duty?
  • Who is protected by the Equality Duty?
  • The general duty
  • Specific duties
  • How is the Act enforced?
  • In general
  • The Equality Duty