Find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions on the equality duty.
There is no express legal requirement for public authorities to do this under the equality duty, but it is helpful for identifying priorities for action. The functions of a public authority include all of their powers and duties. This means everything that they are required to do, as well as everything that they are allowed to do. To ensure that they are having due regard to the aims of the duty, public authorities need to consider all of their functions in order to determine which of them are relevant to the aims of the duty. Some functions will be relevant to most or all protected groups, such as recruitment.
Other functions may be relevant to one 'arm' of the duty but not to others, or to the needs of some protected groups but not to others. There is no prescribed process for determining or documenting relevance.
If a body is legally part of a government department then it is captured under the obligations on the government department. For example, the Department for Vehicle Licensing is an executive agency of the Department for Transport, so it would be captured under the obligations of the Department.
If the body is a separate legal entity, then it will not be covered by the specific duties unless it is listed / named in its own right. For example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is a non departmental public body funded by the Department for Education, but it has a separate legal entity so it would only be covered if it is listed in its own right (which it is).
Yes, public authorities can choose to use equality schemes as a format for publishing a range of equality information, including their equality objectives.
Listed bodies need to publish information to demonstrate compliance with the general equality duty. The requirement to publish information at least annually does not mean that public authorities need to wait until the end of the year to publish individual sets of information. It is good practice to publish information as soon as it is available in order to keep it up to date.
The specific duties regulations don't refer to assessing impact on equality. Are public authorities still required to do this?
Yes. The general equality duty requires public authorities to have due regard to the aims of the general equality duty when making decisions and setting policies. To do this, it is necessary for the organisation to understand the potential impact of its decision-making on different people. This can help them to identify practical steps to tackle any negative impacts or discrimination, and to advance equality. This will help to ensure that their policy making is more effective.
Assessing the impact on equality of their policies and practices is an important part of complying with the general equality duty. The general equality duty does not set out a particular process for assessing impact on equality that public authorities are expected to follow. It is up to each public authority to choose the most effective approach for doing this, and approaches are likely to vary depending on the size of the public body, the type of functions they carry out, and the nature of the decisions they are making.
Having due regard to the aims of the general equality duty is about informed decision-making, not about carrying out particular processes or producing particular documents. They can choose whether to extend an existing impact assessment approach to all of the protected characteristics, or to develop a new approach for their organisation. Assessing impact on equality involves using good equality information and analysis, and doing this at the right time, as part and parcel of their decision-making.
There is nothing to stop public authorities doing this. However, they need to ensure that they focus on understanding the effect of their activities on different people, by using good evidence and analysis, and doing this at the right time, as part and parcel of the decision-making process. There is no point in producing a document for its own sake, and doing so after the decision has been taken will not achieve compliance with the public sector equality duty.
What equality information do public authorities need to collect and publish under the public sector equality duty?
The information that different authorities will need to collect to inform their decisions under the general equality duty will vary widely between different sectors. It is within their discretion to decide exactly what information they need to collect. This will depend on a number of factors, which will be particular to their organisation or the field in which they operate. It will be difficult for public authorities to understand the impact of their functions on different protected groups unless they have sufficient information.
If a public body has not yet achieved a culture where employees or service users are ready to be asked about their sexual orientation, gender identity or religion or belief, they should take steps to engender a culture of trust in which this information could be collected in the future. There may be other means of identifying the issues faced such as analysing national or local research or engagement. Collecting information about gender reassignment is a particularly sensitive area and opinion continues to be divided on this issue. People could be very negatively affected by disclosure, but without any information it may be difficult to monitor the impact of policies and practices on transsexual people.
Public authorities covered by the specific duties must publish information to demonstrate their compliance with the general equality duty. This information must include information relating to people who share a protected characteristic who are its employees, or affected by its policies and practices.
Do public authorities need to undertake engagement, involvement or consultation when assessing the impact on equality of their policies and practices?
There are no express requirements to undertake engagement under the specific duties for England (and non devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales). However, case law states that consultation/involvement/engagement may still be important in ensuring public authorities understand the impacts of some types of decisions on different people.
In order to comply with the general equality duty, public authorities need to have an adequate evidence base for their decision-making. Collecting and using equality information enables them to develop a sound evidence base.
Collecting and using equality information helps public bodies to:
- understand the impact of their policies, practices and decisions on different protected groups and plan them more effectively
- take steps to meet the needs of staff and service users from different protected groups and thereby improve the efficiency of the organisation
- identify if there are any actions they can take to avoid discrimination and harassment, advance equality or foster good relations.
- identify what the key equality issues are for their organisation
- benchmark their performance against that of similar organisations nationally or locally.
- set useful equality objectives and measure progress against them.
Last updated: 13 Oct 2020