A short guide to the role and services of
the Equality Commission
Key equality laws in Northern Ireland:
Northern Ireland’s equality laws cover discrimination in
The Equality Commission’s roles and responsibilities include:
employment and the workplace, but some also cover the provision
Giving advice and support to people with potential complaints
of goods, facilities and services.
under the anti-discrimination laws
Northern Ireland Act 1998
Giving guidance to employers and service providers about their
obligations under the law and good practice advice
Equal Pay Act (NI) 1970
Encouraging public authorities to promote equality of
Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976 *
opportunity and address inequalities in fulfilling their equality
Disability Discrimination Act 1995 **
and good relations duties
Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 *
Ensuring that equality considerations are central to decision-
Fair Employment & Treatment (NI) Order 1998 *
making by focusing particular attention in a number of key
Special Educational Needs & Disability (NI) Order 2005 ***
public policy areas.
Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003
Everyone who lives or works in Northern Ireland, regardless of
Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 *
whether or not they were born here, has rights under equality and
Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006
‘Goods, facilities and services’ include:
These equality laws provide protection for everyone in Northern
access to and use of any place which members of the public or a
Ireland against discrimination on the grounds of
section of the public are permitted to enter, for example, shops.
accommodation in hotel, boarding house or other
banking, insurance, grants, loans, credit, finance
facilities for entertainment, recreation or refreshment
Religious or similar philosophical belief/political opinion
facilities for transport or travel
services of any profession, trade, local government or other
* applies to the provision of goods, facilities, services, education
** applies to the provision of goods, facilities, services and premises
*** applies to the provision of education
with complaints of discrimination
Every year, around 3,500 people contact the Equality Commission
with complaints about discrimination.
People are protected against unlawful discrimination on the
ethnic or national origins
religious or similar philosophical belief or political opinion
married or civil partnership status
Not all complaints of unfair treatment may come within the
protective scope of the equality laws, as there are some exceptions
and gaps in coverage.
We give free and confidential advice and information to everyone
who asks for it. Most people are able to resolve their cases without
going to court or tribunal, by using our discrimination advice service.
Assistance by the Commission can range from simply giving advice
to, in some cases, arranging for legal representation.
We can also take legal action against individuals and organisations
in some circumstances, eg if they have published a discriminatory
We do not decide whether unlawful discrimination has taken place,
this is for a court or tribunal to decide.
Equality and public authorities
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 also imposes another important
Our work in this area includes
duty on designated public authorities - Section 75. Its main aim is
keeping under review the effectiveness of the duties imposed
to ensure that the need to promote equality of opportunity and
by Section 75
the desirability of promoting good relations are ‘mainstreamed’ by
public authorities into their policy making processes.
offering advice to public authorities and others in connection
with those duties
All designated public authorities are also required to have an
approving equality schemes
approved equality scheme which sets out their arrangements for
complying with the main Section 75 duty. An equality scheme
preparation of guidelines
provides the main mechanism for ensuring that a public authority
investigating complaints of failure to comply with an approved
complies with its Section 75 duties.
scheme. Under paragraph 10 and 11 of Schedule 9 of the
Northern Ireland Act, the Commission has the power to
A ‘public authority’ in carrying out its functions has a duty
investigate complaints that public authorities have failed to
to have due regard to the need to promote equality of
comply with their equality schemes from people who are
directly affected by such failure, and we can also initiate
persons of different religious belief, political opinion,
racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation
Designated public authorities include local councils, government
men and women generally
departments and the bodies they fund, the Education Authority
persons with disability and without
and Libraries NI, further education colleges, health boards
persons with dependants and without
More details about Section 75 are available on our website at
Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act also imposes on
designated public authorities a duty to have due regard
to the need to promote positive attitudes towards disabled
to encourage participation by disabled people in public life.
It is similar to the Section 75 duty and is enforced through the
Disability Action Plans that public authorities are also obliged
Our work in this area includes issuing guidance, such as guidance
on developing Action Plans.
Working with employers
More than 3,500 employers contact us every year for advice on
The Commission monitors the way the Northern Ireland’s equality
promoting equality of opportunity and avoiding discrimination.
laws are working, and makes recommendations to government on
We run a programme of training for employers and service
ways in which they can be improved.
providers to help them comply with equality law.
Under the Fair Employment legislation, certain employers must
International Equality Frameworks
register with the Commission and monitor and review the
We work on a number of international equality conventions to
composition of the community background of their workforces and
which the UK Government has signed up.
their employment practices. We offer help in complying with this
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons
duty and every year we publish an analysis and summary of the
with Disabilities, UNCRPD
The UN convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
A special section of the website offers tailored information
Discrimination against Women, CEDAW
for employers and service providers
The UN Convention on the elimination of Racial
Framework Convention for the Protection of National
We undertake research or pay for research to be carried out by
European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI
others to provide reliable information and inform the debate on
Can we help you?
There’s lots more information on our website:
You can also ask for advice or information from there.
If you need advice or information about discrimination,
call us and ask to speak to a discrimination advice officer,
or arrange an appointment to come in.
If you need a reasonable adjustment to enable to use this
service, please just ask – eg a BSL interpreter or a foreign
Tel: 028 90 500 600
The Equality Commission
for Northern Ireland
7-9 Shaftesbury Square