A general guide on how you are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act and what your rights are.
The public sector equality duty is a special duty. It means most public authorities have to think of ways their policies would affect disabled people. This includes bodies like government departments, local authorities, police forces and NHS hospitals.
This is because they have a legal duty to:
- Eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation, and any other conduct prohibited by or under the Equality Act
- Make sure people with a protected characteristic have the same opportunities as other people
- Make sure people with a protected characteristic have good relations with other people
This means that public authorities should:
- Remove or minimise any disadvantages you might have because of your mental health problem
- Take steps to meet the needs of people with mental health problems that are different from the needs of people who don't have mental health problems
- Take steps to encourage people with mental health problems to get involved in public life. Or in any activity in which their participation is disproportionately low
The public sector equality duty applies in addition to their duty not to discriminate against you.
Example of how the public sector equality duty could apply
A local authority plans to cut its mental health care support services. This decision has to comply with the public sector duty. This means that the authority should:
- Consult the people who use the service and their families
- Consider the impact this decision will have on the service users and their families
If it fails to do this then it may not have followed its public sector equality duty. People could make complaints, or take the local authority to court.
If you think an organisation is not following its public sector equality duty then you should get legal advice as soon as possible.
You can make a complaint using the complaints procedure of that organisation. You may also be able to challenge the decision or act of the organisation by taking a judicial review challenge.
A judicial review is a legal challenge to the way a public authority has made a decision or has done or not done something lawfully.
- The judge will look at whether the public authority has followed its public sector equality duty and its human rights duties.
- If the judge decides that the public authority has not acted lawfully, it can cancel the public authority's decision. Or it can order the public authority to do something, or order it to not do something.
- You have to get permission from the High Court before bringing a claim for judicial review. You should do this with the help of specialist solicitors.
- There are strict time limits: you have to do this as soon as possible. And at the very latest within 3 months, minus 1 day, of when the public authority made the decision you want to challenge.
- You need to get advice from a legal adviser who specialises in public law and human rights about whether you can apply for a judicial review.
These are organisations whose role is of a public nature. This includes:
- NHS hospitals and employees
- local authorities and their employees
- some nursing and personal care accommodation providers
- prison staff
- courts and tribunals, including Mental Health Tribunals
- government departments and their employees
- statutory bodies and their employees (for example the Information Commissioner’s Office).
Public sector equality duty
This is the legal duty which public authorities like councils, NHS hospitals and government departments have to follow. It means they have to consider how their policies and practices affect people with protected characteristics, like people with mental health problems.
Private or voluntary organisations also have to follow the public sector equality duty when they carry out a public function on behalf of public authorities. For example, a private firm that is employed by a local council to collect council tax arrears needs to follow the public sector equality duty.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
'Protected characteristics' is the name for the nine personal characteristics that are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act.
- disability (this can include mental health problems)
- gender reassignment
- marriage and civil partnership
- pregnancy and maternity
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation.
See our pages on disability discrimination for more information.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This is a type of court procedure where a judge reviews a public authority’s decision, policy, practice, act or failure to act, and decides whether it is lawful or not.
If it is not lawful, the court may cancel the decision or action (‘quash’ it), and require the public authority to reconsider it, lawfully. The court can order the authority to do or not do something.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This information was published in October 2023. We will revise it in 2026.
This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published.
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