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Dealing with racial discrimination

This page looks at steps you can take if you believe a person or organisation has discriminated against you on racial grounds. You may be able to resolve the situation by making a complaint, but if this fails, you can take your case to the sheriff court, provided that the laws against racial 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 racial discrimination, you need to be sure that:

  • you received less favourable treatment because of your race, and not for any other reason, and
  • a person from a different racial group 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 racial discrimination to find out what 'less favourable treatment' means and which situations the Equality 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 race. For example, if you are black and have been turned down for a mortgage, could this be due to your financial situation rather than your colour?

Would another person of a different race 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 from different racial groups are treated more favourably, you could have a case for racial discrimination.

Does the Equality Act cover the situation?

If you want to take legal action, you also need to make sure that anti-discrimination laws apply 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 from different racial groups, this could be racial 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 race. 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 racial harassment.

What should I do before I take action?

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.

Racial discrimination can be difficult to prove, so it's important that you gather as much evidence as you can:

  • 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.
  • 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 your case to court.

How can I raise the issue informally?

Before you consider taking legal action, you'll need to try and resolve the issue informally first, 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 in order 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 or your local racial equality council (see 'where can I get help and advice' below).

If complaining doesn't work, you can consider taking your case to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) or to the sheriff court. If the complaints procedure is moving very slowly, you may need to apply to the EHRC and/or the sheriff court before your complaint is resolved, as you must do this within six months of the date the discrimination took place.

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

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your race and your situation is covered by anti-discrimination laws (see 'can I take action?' above) you can get help and advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

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.

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

How do I take legal action?

Taking your legal action 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. In some circumstances, you may be able to get this deadline extended by up to three months if you've applied to the EHCR during the six month period.

Will I need a solictor?

If you decide on this course of action, you'll need 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 can I prove I have been discriminated against?

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

You don't need to prove 'beyond all reasonable doubt' that racial discrimination has taken place. You just need to show the court 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, you only have to show that you received less favourable treatment as a result of what they did.

What can the court decide?

If the court decides that a person or organisation has discriminated against you on racial 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 racial 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 their fees. 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 racial discrimination, you can get help and advice from:

Racial discrimination at work

If you have experienced racial discrimination in an employment situation (for example, when applying for a job or in the workplace), you should take your case to an employment tribunal instead of the sheriff court. The website has more information on racial discrimination at work.

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