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Dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination

This page explains what action you can take if you are lesbian, gay or bisexual and are being discriminated against by a landlord, letting agent, mortgage lender or other service provider.

Can I take action?

Before taking action against sexual orientation discrimination, you need to be sure that:

  • you were treated badly or received less favourable treatment because of your sexual orientation, and not for any other reason, and
  • a person of a different sexual orientation 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 on sexual orientation discrimination to find out what 'less favourable treatment' means and which situations the law covers.

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

You need to be sure that the reason you received poor or unfair service is connected to your sexual orientation. For example, if a landlord refuses to let a flat to you, could this be because you have a history of rent arrears, rather than the fact that you are gay?

Would another person of a different sexual orientation have received different treatment?

If a company or organisation has different rules for people of different sexual orientation, this is clear indicator of discrimination. For example, if a mortgage lender has a policy that same sex couples have to pay larger deposits than opposite sex couples, this is discrimination.

Do the law cover my situation?

If you want to take legal action, you also need to make sure that the law applies to your situation. For example:

  • if a landlord refuses to let a self-contained flat to you because you are a lesbian, this will be covered by the law
  • if a person you know is letting out a room in their home to a lodger, but doesn't want to rent to an LGBT person, this situation won't be covered by the law (provided the person isn't advertising the property or using a letting agency)
  • if your local residents' association won't let you become a member, this would be discrimination under the regulations
  • if a neighbour doesn't invite you to a party because you're gay, this won't be covered, as the law doesn't apply to personal situations.

What if the law doesn't cover my situation?

If the law doesn't apply to your situation, you may be able to take action under different civil and criminal laws if someone has been harassing you.

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.

Gathering evidence

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 later on if you decide to take your case to court.

Raising the issue with the service provider

Before you consider taking legal action, it's a good idea to try to 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.

Complaining to an umbrella organisation

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:

An adviser at a Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help you make a complaint.

What if complaining doesn't solve the problem?

If complaining doesn't work you can:

  • use the questionnaire procedure under the Equality Act, and/or
  • take your case to the sheriff court.

If the complaints procedure is moving very slowly you may need to send out the questionnaire or being legal action before your complaint is resolved. This because you have to send the questionnaire and/or apply to the sheriff court within six months of the discrimination taking place.

How do I send out a questionnaire?

If you don't get a satisfactory response from the person or organisation using their complaints procedure, you can send them a special questionnaire asking them to explain their treatment of you. The Home Office website has a guide to sending out this questionnaire. You don't need to use the official form if you would prefer not to, but it will probably make things easier if you do.

What do I need to do to send out the questionnaire?

You need to fill in details of the incident, explaining why you think you have been discriminated against. You can also ask the person or organisation questions about the way they treated you, or about their policies.

For example, if you have been turned down for a flat, you could ask the landlord to tell you why they turned you down, and who got the flat instead of you and why.

The form then leaves space for the person or organisation to respond with their side of the story. It may help to talk to an adviser before you fill the form in.

Why should I send out the questionnaire?

Sending out the questionnaire can help you decide whether or not to take your case to the sheriff court. If the person or organisation has a good explanation for the way they treated you, it may not be worth pursuing the case. However, if they don't have a good explanation, or they don't return the questionnaire within eight weeks, this will strengthen your case. Again, you can talk this through with an adviser or solicitor.

When should I send out the questionnaire?

You need to send the questionnaire out within six months of the discrimination taking place. Remember to keep a copy of the questionnaire in a safe place.

Can I get help from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)?

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity 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).

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.

Can I take my case to the sheriff court?

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.

Will I need a solicitor?

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're entitled to legal aid, you'll have to pay for a solicitor's services. However, 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?

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 sexual orientation discrimination has taken place. The sheriff just needs to believe 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.

What can the court decide?

If the sheriff decides that a person or organisation has discriminated against you because of your gender, 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 sexual orientation discrimination has not taken place, you will usually have to pay the legal costs of the other person or organisation.

If you can agree to a compromise (for example, a suitable amount of compensation and/or an apology), you may be able to settle your case out of court, before it reaches a hearing. 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're on a low income, you may be able to get legal aid to help with the costs.

Sexual orientation discrimination at work

There are different laws in place to tackle sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment situations (such as working conditions and applying for a job) or vocational training. If you have experienced sexual orientation discrimination in these situations, you should take your case to an employment tribunal instead of the sheriff court. To find out more about these laws, visit the Direct.gov website.

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