Discrimination in everyday life

Explains the law that protects you from discrimination by organisations or people that provide goods, facilities or services. Explains what you can do if you have been discriminated against and where you can get support and advice. Applies to England and Wales.

How might I be discriminated against in everyday life?

There are six types of disability discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. This page gives some examples of how these might occur in everyday life:

To find out more about each of these types of discrimination, see our information on disability discrimination.

Examples of direct discrimination

  • Lena phones a holiday company to book a holiday cottage for the first week in June. They say it is available to let. She explains she has borderline personality disorder. The company then says that she cannot rent the cottage.

    On the same day her friend Zelda, who does not have any mental health problems, phones the same company and is allowed to book the cottage for the first week in June. The holiday company has refused a service to Lena because of her mental health problem. This is direct discrimination.
  • Sylvie is a solicitor who represents people with mental health problems. She goes to a café and the owner tells her that he does not want her using his café because she acts for people with mental health problems. This would be direct discrimination – discrimination by association.
  • Brook does not have a mental health problem. He is asked to leave a gym where he is exercising as the organiser hears a false rumour that Brook has schizoaffective disorder. This is direct discrimination – discrimination by perception.

Example of discrimination arising from disability

Jeannette goes to her dentist for a routine appointment. She experiences panic attacks as one symptom of her long-term mental health condition. She suddenly runs out of the dental surgery in the middle of her treatment. The dentist says she is not prepared to treat her anymore because of her behaviour.

The dentist is refusing Jeannette a service because of behaviour related to her disability. This may be discrimination arising from disability.

But her dentist can justify that the decision if she can show that:

  • she treated Jeannette that way for a good reason, and it was appropriate and necessary in the circumstances, or
  • she did not know or could not reasonably have known that Jeannette had a disability.

Example of indirect discrimination

An outdoor centre provides a variety of activities from walks on gravelled areas to ones involving strenuous physical activities. Their policy says they will only let people do the activities if they have a medical certificate of good health.

Ensuring health and safety is reasonable, but applying a policy like this to every activity is likely to be indirect discrimination. This is because customers who had mental health problems would not be able to join any activities and so would be treated worse than other customers.

People with mental health problems might be quite capable of:

  • doing any of the activities on offer as their mental health conditions would not affect their ability to take up exercise, or
  • taking up the less strenuous activities.

But it will not be indirect discrimination if the outdoor centre is able to justify this policy by showing that it is:

  • for a good reason, and
  • appropriate and necessary.

Organisations providing services or public functions also have an anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. That means planning their services with the needs of people with mental health problems in mind. Read more about the anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Example of harassment

Patrick has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He goes to the counter to pay for his shopping in his local supermarket. The till operator tells him to hurry up and abuses him in front of other customers, referring to his mental health problem. Patrick is humiliated and distressed. This is harassment. 

Example of victimisation

Sarah makes a complaint that her GP’s receptionist has discriminated against her because of her mental health problem. As a result, her GP practice manager tells her she must leave the practice and register with another practice. This is likely to be victimisation.

Examples of failing to comply with the duty to make reasonable adjustments

  • A social worker plans a social care assessment for Fatima who finds it is difficult to concentrate or to participate meetings to discuss her needs. This is because she has been experiencing acute anxiety and agitation from her underlying anxiety disorder. To help support her, the social worker arranges an independent advocate for Fatima.

    Providing the advocate in this case can be a reasonable adjustment when providing the social care assessment process.
  • Leroy has agoraphobia. He has been told he has to go to a meeting about his benefit claim in the Job Centre. He explains he can’t leave home because of his mental health problem and provides a doctor’s report to confirm this. The benefit adviser agrees to meet Leroy at home.

    Changing the meeting place is a reasonable adjustment to the normal practice.

This information was published in February 2018. We will revise it in 2020.

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