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Discrimination against Gypsies/Travellers

Gypsies and Travellers may experience unfair treatment, or discrimination, from site owners, landlords, councils and other service providers. This section looks at what you can do if you believe you are being treated less favourably than other people because you are a Gypsy or Traveller.

For advice on housing options for these groups see our pages on finding a place to live for Gypsies and Travellers.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination takes place if you are treated less favourably than another person because of:

  • their race, colour, nationality or national or ethnic origins
  • their sex
  • their sexual orientation
  • their religion or belief
  • their disability.

Discrimination against Gypsies/Travellers can be a form of racial discrimination.

If someone discriminates against you because you are a Gypsy/Traveller you may be able to take action using anti discrimination law. For example, if a site owner refuses to let you rent a pitch on their site, or a council refuses to accept a homeless application from you or turns down an application for planning permission from you because you are a Gypsy/Traveller. This applies whether you are pursuing a travelling lifestyle on the road, or are living in settled accommodation but identify yourself as a Gypsy/Traveller.

Where do my rights come from?

The most important law that protects you from racial discrimination is the Equality Act 2010. This new law replaced the Race Relations Act 1976. The Equality Act make it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of race, colour, nationality or national or ethnic origins. It also outlines different kinds of discrimination, including:

  • direct discrimination (for example, if a site owner refuses to let you stay on their site because you are a Gypsy/Traveller)
  • indirect discrimination (for example, if a doctor refuses to let you sign on at their surgery because you don't have a fixed address)
  • harassment (for example, if you are verbally abused, attacked or made to feel uncomfortable because you are a Gypsy/Traveller - see 'what is racial harassment' below).

The pages on racial discrimination have more information on these different types of discrimination.

In what situations does the Equality Act protect me?

The Equality Act protects you:

  • at work, or when applying for a job
  • when you rent or buy a home
  • at school, college or university
  • when you're dealing with authorities such as the police, the council or a benefit agency
  • when you buy goods or use services provided by, for example:

    • shops
    • pubs, restaurants and nightclubs
    • banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions
    • cinemas, theatres and leisure centres
    • public transport, travel agents and airlines
    • builders, plumbers and other tradespeople
    • doctors, hospitals and other health providers.

Our pages on dealing with racial discrimination have more information on the situations covered by the Equality Act and what action you can take if you are being discriminated against.

Am I protected by the Equality Act?

Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies

The Equality Act doesn't specifically state that Gypsies/Travellers belong to a distinct racial or ethnic group. However, judges in England have decided that Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies are distinct ethnic groups. These decisions aren't legally binding in Scotland, because the Scottish court system is separate, but Scottish sheriffs are likely to agree with the English decision.

This means that if you are a Romany Gypsy or Irish Traveller and you feel that you have been treated unfavourably because of your travelling lifestyle, you may be able to take action against them using the Equality Act.

Scottish Gypsy/Travellers

An employment tribunal judgment in 2008 determined that Scottish Gypsies/Travellers are a distinct ethnic group, and therefore protected by the Equality Act. This means that if you are a Scottish Gypsy/Traveller and you feel that you have been treated unfavourably because of your travelling lifestyle, you may be able to take action against using the Equality Act. You can find out more about this below.

In addition:

  • the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) and Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland (ACPOS) have agreed that all public service providers (for example, councils, the health service and the police) should treat Scottish Travellers as a distinct group.
  • European courts have outlawed discrimination against all travelling people, not just Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies.

You can use these facts to back up your case when complaining to a service provider such as the council or a site owner about discrimination - the page on taking action against racial discrimination has advice on how to do this. Contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for further help and advice.

What is racial harassment?

Unfortunately, Gypsies/Travellers living on sites and in settled accommodation often experience racial harassment. Racial harassment takes place when a person from one racial or ethnic group offends, upsets or threatens someone from another racial or ethnic group.

Any behaviour that makes you feel distressed, alarmed or afraid, which violates your dignity or which creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment can be classed as harassment. This can include:

  • verbal abuse, such as name-calling, insults or racist jokes
  • vandalism and racist graffiti
  • nuisance phone calls, texts or emails
  • bullying, intimidation and threats
  • physical abuse or violence.

For example, you may experience racial harassment from:

  • your neighbours or other people in the community
  • staff at the council
  • site owners
  • the police.

What can I do if I'm being harassed?

Many Gypsies/Travellers are reluctant to take action against people who harass them, because they fear it may make the situation worse. Many choose to move on, or to abandon their travelling lifestyle altogether and move into settled accommodation. However, some Gypsies/Travellers find that, even in settled accommodation, the harassment can resurface once people in their new community find out that they have a travelling background.

Using the Equality Act

Harassment can be a form of discrimination so, depending on your situation, you may be able to take action using the Equality Act. If you are harassed in your workplace, or during the application process for a job, or if you are harassed by an employee of any public authority or other organisation from whom you are obtaining services, for example, then you may be able to make a complaint of racial harassment using the Equality Act.

Help from the council or the police

In addition, you can get help from the council or the police. If neighbours or other people in the community are harassing you, the council and police should have procedures in place for dealing with racist incidents and hate crime. It's important to keep a record for yourself of any racist incidents or harassment that you or your family or friends are suffering. This is so you can provide details of exactly when and where these incidents took place, including the date and time, together with details of any witnesses, when you report them.

If you are experiencing harassment or antisocial behaviour from members of the settled community, you should first contact the council's Gypsy/Traveller site manager or liaison officer. The police may also have a Gypsy/Traveller liaison officer you can talk to. Some councils have a scheme in place which allows 'remote reporting' of racist incidents. This means that you can report the incident to another organisation which you might already know, and they can pass on the details to the police.

You can find out more about what to do if you're facing racial harassment here.

Problems dealing with the council or the police

If you're concerned that the council or police aren't taking your complaint seriously or don't recognise Gypsies/Travellers as belonging to distinct ethnic groups, talk to an adviser at your local Citizens Advice Bureau or contact the EHRC or the Ethnic Minorities Law Centre. If your complaint is about the council or the police, you can find out more about complaining about the council and police complaints here.

What about my human rights?

Human rights are a set of values that establish everyone's basic rights. There are many laws that protect human rights, and these laws can be very important if you're having problems dealing with the council, the police or other authorities.

Public authorities must ensure that everyone's human rights are promoted and respected. This means that when authorities such as the council are making decisions about your situation, they have to take your human rights into account, and balance them against the rights of other people in the community. For example, they must consider your human rights when deciding whether to:

  • move you on from an unauthorised site
  • grant planning permission for a site on your land.

Our pages on discrimination and human rights have more information on how you can take action using human rights law.

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