The Equality Act


The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. This information guide provides a general overview of the Equality Act. It describes ways in which it is against the law to treat someone and what to do if you feel you have been treated unfairly.

The Equality Act came into force in October 2010 and replaced previous laws with one Act, making the law easier to understand.


Discrimination means treating you unfairly because of who you are. It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of their:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

These things listed above are called ‘protected characteristic’. Discrimination because of one or more of these ‘characteristics’ is unlawful under the Act.

The Equality Act sets out the different ways  it is against the law to treat someone, such as: ‘direct and indirect discrimination’, ‘harassment’, ‘victimization’ and ‘failing to make a reasonable adjustment for a disabled person’. It protects you from discrimination by:

  • employers
  • businesses and organisations which provide goods or services (like shops and banks)
  • public bodies (like government departments and local councils)
  • health and care providers (like care homes and hospitals)
  • someone you rent or buy a property from (like housing associations and estate agents)
  • education providers (like schools and colleges)
  • transport services (like buses trains and taxis)

Disability Discrimination

The Equality Act defines a disabled person as:

“someone who has a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. 

The Equality Act includes special rules that ensure that people with HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis are seen as disabled people from when they are diagnosed, rather than from when the conditions stops them carrying out normal day-to-day activities. Some conditions aren’t covered by the disability definition e.g addiction to non-prescribed drugs or alcohol.

For further information on the definition of disability, see the Equality Act Guidance.

Duty to make reasonable adjustments

Employers, service providers and education providers have to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people in three circumstances:

  • Change the way things are done: you could ask the places to change the way it does the thing which makes it difficult for you to access. This could be a policy, rule or a practice. The Equality Act calls this a ‘provision, criterion or practice’
  • Change a physical feature: sometimes a physical feature of a building or other premises may make it more difficult for you to access or use it. Examples of reasonable adjustments to this could include providing ramps, widening doorways and better lighting
  • Provide extra aids or services: You may need a particular aid, piece of equipment or an additional service to help you access or do something. The Equality Act calls this ‘auxiliary aids and services’. Examples of auxiliary aids and services could include a portable induction loop for people with hearing aids or providing a British Sign Language interpreter.

Finding a reasonable adjustment can be a creative process as there’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer. It might depend on:

  • how easy it is to make the changes
  • if the change you ask for would stop the problem you and other disabled people experience
  • the size of the organisation
  • how much money or resources they have
  • the cost of making changes

Public Sector Equality Duty

The Public Sector Equality Duty came into force in April 2011. It places a duty on public authorities to consider or think about how their policies and decisions affect people who are protected under the Equality Act. There are also Scottish Specific Duties.

What to do if you feel you’ve been unfairly treated?

If you feel you have been treated unfairly there a number of steps that you can take. You can speak to an advisor at an advice agency such as your local citizens advice bureau or you can call the Equality Advice Support Service (EASS) who can advise and assist people on issues relating to equality and human rights.

There are several things you can do:

  • Complain directly to the person or organisation. You can write a formal letter or complaint. Your letter should also say what you would like to happen next. For example: an apology; changes to the way they do things; money as compensation. You can use a template form available from the Equality Advisory Support Service
  • Mediation. You can ask someone else to help you sort it out. Some mediation services offer free or subsidised mediation. Contact the Scottish Mediation Network.
  • Advocacy. An advocate can support you to say what you want to say, or will say what you want to say, when you are not able to do so. Contact the Scottish Independent Advocacy Service.
  • Make a claim in Court. Be aware that if you do decide to make a claim in court, you need to tell the court about your claim (by filling in a form and paying a fee) within six months of what happened. Information about how to make claim in Scotland can be found on the Scottish Courts Service website

You do not have to choose only one of these. Instead, you could try each of them in turn. You can, if you want to, make a claim in court straight away. Do think very carefully about whether making a claim in court is the right course of action for you. Making a claim may be demanding on your time and emotions, and before starting the process you may want to look at whether or not you have a good chance of succeeding.

Employment Tribunal

If you have got a problem at work that you can’t sort out, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. You should contact Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to use their free Early Conciliation service before applying to a tribunal. In most cases the tribunal must receive your claim within three months of the dispute.

Further information and useful contacts

Citizens Advice Scotland
Tel: 0808 800 9060

Equality Advisory Support Service
Tel: 0808 800 0082

Equality and Human Rights Commission: Useful resources and guides on the Equality Act

The Equality Act Easy Read

Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS)
Tel: 0300 123 1100

Scottish Mediation Service
Search their website to find a local mediator.

Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance (SIAA)
Search their website to find a local advocacy organisation.
Tel: 0131 260 5380

Information last updated on 7 April 2022. Please note that information may be subject to change. All information is provided in good faith but Disability Information Scotland does not endorse any product or service referred to within this resource.

If you would like this information guide in another version then please contact us and we will post or email you a copy.

Equality, Legal & Advocacy:Frequently Asked Questions

Through our helpline we receive enquiries spanning a wide range of different topics. Here is a selection of those most asked:

What can I do if I feel that I have been discriminated against?

Back to top