Discrimination using services and public functions

Explains the law that protects you from discrimination when you use services or public functions, what you can do if you have been discriminated against and where you can get support and advice. Applies to England and Wales.

Services and public functions

What is the Equality Act?

The Equality Act 2010 is the law that gives you the right to challenge discrimination. You are protected under the Equality Act if you can show that your mental health problem is a disability, and you have been treated worse because of your mental health problem.

Do I have a disability?

To get protection under the Equality Act, you need to show that your mental health problem is a disability. 'Disability' has a special legal meaning under the Equality Act, and can include mental health problems. To find out more, see our disability discrimination information page.

When am I protected from discrimination?

The Equality Act protects you from discrimination in certain situations; for example, when you:

This guide only looks at how you are protected from mental health discrimination when you use services or public functions.

What are services and public functions?

The Equality Act protects you from discrimination when you use services or public functions.


This includes services provided by:

  • private companies and people like hotels, restaurants, solicitors, accountants, telesales businesses, leisure centres, sports facilities, gas and electric companies, buses, trains, theatres, cinemas
  • local councils like advice services or social work services and park and leisure services
  • government departments like prison education, job centres and court services
  • charities like information and advice services
  • places of worship
  • GPs, hospitals and clinics

Services can:

  • be provided to the public, or a section of the public
  • be free, or you can pay for them
  • provide goods and facilities, or information through a website
  • follow special rules. For example, there are special rules for insurance services (see our information on insurance cover and mental health).

A service provider must not discriminate against people with disabilities:

  • in the terms of the service it offers – like charging more or making it subject to conditions
  • by taking away or refusing a service
  • by treating them worse or putting them at a disadvantage

Public functions

A public function is an act or activity taken by a public authority (like the police, NHS hospitals, and government departments), which is not a service.

A public authority carries out a public function when it performs its particular legal duties and powers, for example licensing, planning or enforcement of parking.

  • Private companies or voluntary organisations. Public authorities can get private companies or voluntary organisations to carry out their public functions. For example: planning application procedures, tax collection, enforcement of the law by the police and assessment and delivery of welfare benefits.
  • Public functions not covered by the Equality Act. Some public functions are not covered by the Equality Act at all, including: procedure in parliament, conduct of a judge or someone on their behalf when they are carrying out work relating to judgments in a court of law, anything done to ensure that the armed forces are combat effective and functions of the Security Services and GCHQ.


This information was published in March 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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