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About racial discrimination

It is illegal for landlords, councils, mortgage lenders and other service providers to discriminate against you because of your race, colour, nationality or national or ethnic origins. This page looks at what racial discrimination is, how the law protects you, and how this affects your housing rights. If you believe a person or organisation has discriminated against you on racial grounds, you may be able to take action against them. Read dealing with racial discrimination.

What is racial discrimination?

Racial discrimination takes place when you are treated less favourably than someone else, because of your:

  • race
  • colour
  • nationality, or
  • national or ethnic origins.

Your nationality isn't necessarily the same as your racial or ethnic group. For example, you may have been born in Britain, but have Afro-Caribbean or Chinese origins. Other examples of racial groups include:

  • Jews
  • Sikhs
  • Romany gypsies
  • Irish travellers
  • English, Welsh or Scottish people.

It's against the law to be treated unfairly because of the colour of your skin, the country you come from, or the race or ethnic group you belong to. Whatever your racial group, if you believe you have been a victim of racial discrimination, you have the right to take legal action.

Where do my rights come from?

Race is one of the characteristics protected by the Equality Act 2010. This new Act replaces the Race Relations Act 1976 and any complaint of racial discrimination should be made under the 2010 Act rather than the 1976 Act.

In what situations does the law protect me?

The law protects you if you experience racial discrimination:

  • 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.

    What kinds of racial discrimination are there?

    Under the Equality Act, there are four kinds of racial discrimination:

    • direct discrimination
    • indirect discrimination
    • victimisation
    • harassment.

    What is direct racial discrimination?

    Direct racial discrimination takes place if someone treats you less favourably than they treat, or would treat, another person becuase of your race. For example, direct racial discrimination occurs if you are

    • refused a service because of your race (for example, if a landlord refuses to rent accommodation to you because you are Pakistani)
    • given a lower standard of service because of your race (for example, if a landlord charges you a higher deposit because you are black).

    What is indirect racial discrimination?

    Indirect racial discrimination takes place when a service provider, such as a landlord or a council, introduces a rule or policy that discriminates against people from a certain racial group, without being able to show that the rule or policy is justifiable.

    For example:

    • a council only produces information about its homeless applications procedure in English, this puts people whose first language is not English at an unfair disadvantage and could be seen as indirect discrimination.
    • a mortgage lender limits mortgage loans to a maximum of 80% of the value of the home for properties in areas with large ethnic minority populations, but offers loans of up to 95% in other areas, this would be indirect discrimination.

    If the service provider has a good reason for having a particular policy in place (for example, because it's necessary on health or safety grounds) then this won't be indirect racial discrimination.

    What is victimisation?

    Victimisation takes place if you are treated badly because:

    • you have complained, or have helped someone complain, about racial discrimination
    • you have given evidence, or information in connection with a complaint about racial discrimination
    • you have made an allegation of racial discrimination
    • or, you have done something else in connection with the Equality Act.

    For example, you may be in the process of taking someone to court for racial discrimination, or have given evidence in court to back up another person's case. The Equality Act also protects you if you are treated badly because someone believes, rightly or wrongly, that you have complained or helped someone complain about racial discrimination.

    What is racial harassment?

    If you are verbally abused, attacked or made to feel uncomfortable because of your race, this is racial harassment. There are different ways of dealing with racial harassment depending on the particular circumstances. You can find out more about dealing with racial harassment here.

    How does this affect my housing rights?

    It's illegal for a landlord, letting agent, estate agent, council or housing association to discriminate against you on racial grounds. This includes letting out or selling houses, flats, mobile homes, business premises and agricultural land. The law also applies to people subletting their homes or taking in lodgers.

    As the law covers services provided by financial institutions, it's also illegal for mortgage lenders to discriminate on the grounds of race.

    When you're renting a home

    If you're renting accommodation, discrimination may occur if:

    • A landlord or letting agency:
      • won't allow you to view a property for rent
      • refuses to let a property to you because of your race
      • gives you worse terms in your tenancy agreement than other tenants they let property to
      • charges you a higher rent or larger deposit than other tenants they let similar properties to
      • takes harsher action when you fall behind with your rent than they do when other tenants are in a similar position (for example, by evicting you without giving you a chance to pay the money back)
      • restricts your use of facilities that other tenants have full access to (such as parking or a communal garden)
      • won't let you assign (pass on) your tenancy or sublet your home to someone from a particular racial group
      • tries to evict you on racial grounds
    • A student accommodation service places ethnic minority students in halls of residence with fewer or poorer facilities.

    When you're dealing with a council or housing associaton

    • A council refuses to accept a homeless application from you (unless you aren't eligible to apply)
    • A council or housing association:
      • refuses to put your name down on their housing waiting list, or puts you lower down the list than other people in the same situation as you who are of a different race
      • allocates poorer properties to people from certain races
      • always houses people from certain races in the same areas, without offering them the chance of living anywhere else (this is known as 'segregation')
      • gives you a short Scottish secure tenancy instead of a Scottish secure tenancy

    When accessing supported accommodation

    If you're moving into supported accommodation, such as sheltered housing or a care home, discrimination may occur if:

    • you're refused a place in a care home or sheltered housing unit because of your race
    • you receive a worse standard of treatment from staff in the supported accommodation.

    When you're buying a home

    If you're buying a home, discrimination may occur if:

    • an estate agent or owner won't let you look round a property that's up for sale
    • an estate agent only shows you properties in certain areas, because these areas are mainly inhabited by people from the same ethnic background as you
    • an estate agent or owner refuses your offer on a property on racial grounds
    • a developer refuses to sell new build homes to people from certain racial backgrounds, or restricts the location of the homes they can buy
    • a mortgage lender refuses your application for a mortgage on racial grounds, or offers you a mortgage on more restrictive terms
    • a valuer or surveyor gives your property a lower value because it's in an area with a large ethnic minority population
    • an insurance agent charges you a higher premium on your buildings or contents insurance because your home is in an area with a large ethnic minority population.

    When applying for planning permission

    If you apply for planning permission and your application is turned down on racial grounds, this is also racial discrimination.

    Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
    This content applies to Scotland only.
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