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16 Racial Discrimination

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1. Introduction

2. When discrimination can happen

3. What the law says

4. Discrimination at work

5. Harassment at work

6. Discrimination when renting or buying a house or flat

7. Discrimination at school or college

8. Discrimination when buying goods or services

It is against the law for businesses or service providers to racially discriminate against or harass you by:

  • refusing or deliberately failing to provide you with 'goods, facilities or services'; or
  • by not providing goods, facilities or services of the same quality, on the same terms and in the same way as they would to other people.

It covers things that are free, as well as those you pay for. It covers many businesses and services, including:

  • shops;
  • public places, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and leisure centres;
  • bank accounts, loans, credit cards and insurance;
  • travel and transport services that are either public or offered by private companies and travel agents; and
  • services supplied by local authorities (such as leisure services).

When a business or service provider is allowed to discriminate

A business or service provider can discriminate on some grounds if:

  • it is a charity whose main purpose is to provide services to a particular racial group (though it still can’t discriminate on the grounds of colour);
  • the matter is not covered by the Race Relations Act;
  • there is an exemption under the Race Relations Act. An example might be a club with more than 25 members whose main purpose is to provide services to a particular racial group (though it still can’t discriminate on the grounds of a person’s colour).

Discrimination by public authorities

It is against the law for public bodies to racially discriminate in the way they carry out their functions. Examples of bodies and functions which are included are:

  • the police (stops and searches);
  • local authorities (environmental health inspections);
  • the prison service (prison discipline);
  • Inland Revenue (tax inspections); and
  • Customs and Excise (searches).

Also, public bodies have a duty when carrying out such functions to consider how they can:

  • eliminate racial discrimination; and
  • promote equality of opportunity and good race relations. 

You might be able to take legal action against a public body that does not comply with this duty. Some public authorities must also have a Race Equality Scheme (called a Race Equality Policy in educational institutions), which sets out how their policies meet these criteria or what arrangements will be put in place to meet the criteria. If they do not have a Race Equality Scheme or Policy, the Commission for Racial Equality can take action against them.


9. What you can do about discrimination

10. Going to an employment tribunal

11. Going to court

12. The Human Rights Act

13. Further help

14. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with the Commission for Racial Equality.

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The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet Version:  July 2017

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