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Dealing with religious discrimination

This page looks at the steps you can take if you believe a person or organisation has discriminated against you because of your religion or beliefs. You may be able to resolve the situation by making a complaint. If this fails, you could take legal action, provided that the laws against religious discrimination apply in your situation. This page looks at your options, and explains where you can get help and advice.

Can I take action?

In order to take action against religious discrimination, you need to be sure that:

  • you received less favourable treatment because of your religion or beliefs, and not for any other reason, and
  • a person of a different religion, or with no religion, in a comparable situation would have been treated more favourably, and
  • the situation in which the discrimination took place is covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Read the page about religious discrimination to find out what 'less favourable treatment' means and which situations the 2010 Act covers.

Was there any other reason why you might have received this treatment?

You need to be sure that the reason you have received poor or unfair service is connected to your religion. For example, if you are Hindu and have been turned down for a mortgage, could this be due to your financial situation rather than your religion?

Would another person of a different religion have received different treatment?

For example, if your landlord isn't fulfilling their responsibilities (by refusing to carry out repairs or withholding your deposit, for instance) find out whether they treat all their tenants as badly, or whether it's just you. If other tenants of different religions are treated more favourably, you could have a case for religious discrimination.

Does the Equality Act cover the situation?

If you want to take legal action, you also need to make sure that the Equality Act applies to the situation in which the discrimination took place. For example, if your landlord raises your rent but doesn't raise the rent of any other tenants who have different religions, or no religion at all, this could be religious discrimination. However, if your neighbour invites everyone in your street to a party but doesn't invite you, the Equality Act won't cover this, even if your neighbour deliberately omitted to invite you because of your religion. This is because the Equality Act doesn't apply to personal situations.

What if the Equality Act doesn't apply?

If the Equality Act doesn't apply to the situation, you may be able to take action under different civil and criminal laws if the treatment you have received can be classed as harassment.

What should I do before I take action?

Decide what you want

Before you take any action against the person or organisation that has discriminated against you, you need to decide what you want the outcome of your complaint to be. For example, you may want to:

  • get a service you were denied (for example, to rent a property you were initially refused)
  • receive compensation
  • get an apology
  • persuade or force the person or organisation to change their policies, so the same thing won't happen to someone else.

Gather evidence

Religious discrimination can be difficult to prove, so it's important that you gather as much evidence as you can. You should:

  • make detailed notes on when, where and how the discrimination took place,
  • keep any letters, emails or other communications sent to you by the person or organisation who discriminated against you and
  • if possible, find people who would be willing to act as witnesses to any acts of discrimination.

This will also help if you decide to take legal action.

Raising the issue with the service provider

Before you consider taking legal action, you'll need to try and resolve the issue by complaining in person and/or in writing to the person or organisation. Ask them to explain why they have treated you this way, and set out clearly what you want to happen to resolve the situation. Use the organisation's official complaints procedure, if there is one - all councils, for example, have a formal complaints procedure.

If the person who has discriminated against you is a member of a professional organisation, you can also make a complaint to that association. For example:

Before you make your complaint, it may help to talk to an adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau. If complaining doesn't work, you may want to consider taking legal action.

Getting advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your religion and your situation is covered by anti-discrimination laws you can get help and advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

What can the EHRC do to help?

The EHRC can:

  • offer you advice on your options
  • in some cases, help you take your case to court, if this will test or improve the law.

How do I contact the EHRC?

You can contact the EHRC by telephone, text phone, letter, email or fax - you can find contact details on their website.

Taking legal action

Taking your case to court can be time consuming, expensive and stressful, so think carefully before following this course of action and get legal advice before making any decisions.

Is there a deadline?

If you decide to take your case to court, you must apply within six months of the act of discrimination taking place. Sometimes this deadline can be extended if the court allows it.

Will I need a solictor?

If you want to take legal action it's best to get some advice and help from a solicitor. To find a solicitor who specialises in anti-discrimination law:

Unless you are entitled to legal aid, you will have usually have to pay for a solicitor's services, although you may be able to get a free initial interview at a law centre or by arrangement through your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

How will I prove I've been discriminated against?

Religious discrimination can be difficult to prove, so it's important that you put together as much evidence as you can. An adviser or solicitor will be able to help you with this.

You don't need to prove 'beyond all reasonable doubt' that religious discrimination has taken place. The court just needs to be convinced that it's likely to have taken place, and that the other person or organisation doesn't have a good explanation for the way they've treated you. You don't need to prove that the other person or organisation discriminated against you on purpose, only that you received less favourable treatment because of what they did.

What can the court decide?

If the sheriff decides that a person or organisation has discriminated against you on religious grounds, they may:

  • order the person or organisation to apologise to you
  • order them to change any discriminatory policies
  • award you compensation for loss or for hurt feelings
  • make any other order they think is appropriate.

If they decide that religious discrimination has not taken place, you will usually have to pay the legal costs of the other person or organisation.

Many cases are settled out of court, before they reach a hearing. If you can agree to a compromise (for example, a suitable amount of compensation and/or an apology), this will save you a lot of time, money and stress.

How much will it cost?

Taking a case to court isn't cheap - your solicitor should be able to give you an estimate of the costs. If you are on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to help with the costs.

Where can I get help and advice?

If you've experienced religious discrimination, you can get help and advice from:

What if I'm being discriminated against at work?

If you have experienced religious discrimination in at work or when applying for a job, you should take your case to an employment tribunal. The website has more information on religious discrimination at work.

What if I'm being harassed because of my religion?

There are laws to protect you against being bullied or harassed at work because of your religion.

However, there are no laws which specifically outlaw 'religious harassment' in other situations, for example, if your landlord or people in your neighbourhood are calling you names or insulting your beliefs. In these situations, you will be protected by other laws designed to keep you safe from harassment in general. The page on religious harassment explains more about these options.

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