Services provided by a public authority - taking legal action about discrimination
The law which says you mustn’t be discriminated against is called the Equality Act 2010. Discrimination which is against the Equality Act is unlawful.
If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination by a public authority, like the police or local authority, you may be able to take legal action under the Equality Act.
Read this page to find out more about taking legal action against a public authority.
Before you take action
Taking court action can be a long and stressful process. It can also be expensive. It’s important to keep in mind that if you lose the case in court, you may have to pay the legal costs of the public authority which could be high.
If you’re thinking about taking court action, you should get advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Check whether discrimination has happened
If you want to take legal action about unlawful discrimination, you need to be reasonably sure that discrimination has taken place, according to the Equality Act. But if the treatment doesn’t count as unlawful discrimination under the law, you may still have been treated badly or unfairly and you may be able to do something about it. For example, you may still be able to make a complaint.
Can you get legal aid?
You may be able to get legal aid to help you pay for your court action. To get legal aid you need to meet the eligibility criteria. You can contact the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) who can help you find out if you can get legal aid.
You can also check if you’re eligible on the GOV.UK website, at www.gov.uk.
What court action can you take if you've been discriminated against?
If you've been discriminated against by a public authority and you want to take legal action you may be able to:
- make a discrimination claim
- make an application for judicial review.
Making a discrimination claim under the Equality Act
You can make a discrimination claim in the county court.
What are the time limits for making your claim?
You need to make your discrimination claim within six months of the act you’re complaining about. It’s important to keep this in mind if you want to try and resolve your problem informally first. The court can allow a claim outside the time limits, but only if it considers it just and equitable to do so.
What do you need to show the court?
To show unlawful discrimination, the Equality Act says you need to prove enough facts from which the judge can decide, without any other explanation, that discrimination has taken place. It's then up to the public authority to show it's not unlawful discrimination.
What can the court do?
The court can:
- make a declaration that the discrimination happened
- order the public authority to give you compensation
- make an order telling the public authority to do or not to do something. This is called and injunction.
How can you get information to support your claim?
It’s a good idea to keep all emails, letters or other documentary evidence if you have this to support your claim. In addition there are ways of getting more information for when you go to court.
You can ask for information about your treatment from the person you think has discriminated against you. You may also be able to make a Freedom of Information request.
You can find more information about making a freedom of information request on the Information Commissioner's website at
Making an application for judicial review
In some situations if you've been discriminated against by a public authority, you may be able to make an application for judicial review .
What’s judicial review?
Judicial review is a special procedure you can use to challenge certain decisions by public authorities. Judicial review applications must be made in the High Court. You must make your application as soon as possible and in any case within three months of the act you're complaining about.
When should you use judicial review?
You should use judicial review if you want the court to cancel or quash a decision by a public authority. The court will do this if it thinks the public authority has acted outside of it's legal powers. If a decision is cancelled the public authority will have to make the decision again making sure it follows the law this time.
You can only use judicial review if there are no better ways of challenging a decision - for example, if you don't have a separate right of appeal. If you want to make an application for judicial review you should get advice from an experienced adviser - for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau.
Using human rights law or the public sector equality duty
Most public authorities like the police, local authorities and government departments must comply with human rights law and the public sector equality duty. If you want to take action about discrimination you may be able to use human rights and the public sector equality duty to strengthen your claim.
- More about what you need to do if you want to take legal action about discrimination
- Sources of help with discrimination problems flowchart
Other useful information
For more information about how to make an application for judicial review see the Public Law project website at
Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)
If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at