The Equality Act

Some carers, and the people they care for, experience discrimination or harassment because of their age, disability or caring role, or for other reasons such as race, sex or sexual orientation. Discrimination could affect your ability to work, get involved in leisure activities or use services that should be available for everyone.

Legislation exists to protect the rights of individuals and promote equality of opportunity for all. As a carer, being aware of your rights and those of the person you care for can help you both get fair access to things that most people take for granted. This could be public transport, paid employment, health services or going to the shops or cinema.

Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act is a law that came into effect in October 2010 and protects people from being discriminated against because of:

  • race
  • sex
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • age (in certain situations)
  • caring responsibilities (in certain situations)
  • religion or belief
  • being transsexual
  • being pregnant or just having had a baby
  • being married or in a civil partnership (in certain situations) 

Before the Equality Act, several different laws protected people from discrimination. The Equality Act replaces these, including most of the Disability Discrimination Act. It also strengthens the law in certain situations, including increased protection for disabled people, and new measures protecting the carers of elderly or disabled people.

Getting help and advice

Sources of advice about discrimination and harassment include ACAS, your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), law centres and voluntary organisations, such as carers centres and disability rights groups. Carers Direct helpline advisers can help you find useful local organisations.

Click on the bars below for more information.

Disabled people

The Equality Act introduced several changes in the law that relate to disabled people. It uses a broader definition of disability, which means that more people are protected than with previous legislation. A person is defined as being disabled under the Equality Act if:

  • they have a physical or mental impairment.
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

For an impairment to have a "substantial" effect, it must have more than a minor or trivial effect on someone’s ability to do everyday tasks such as preparing food, having a conversation, getting washed, walking or using transport. "Long-term" means that the impairment must last at least 12 months or be expected to last at least 12 months. There are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions. The Office for Disability has produced draft guidance about the Act’s definition of disability.

Someone who has cancer or multiple sclerosis (MS), or is living with HIV, will automatically be considered to be a disabled person under the Act. The Macmillan website has more information about discrimination against people with cancer.

Some conditions are excluded from the Equality Act’s definition of disability. This includes drug and alcohol misuse. However, someone with one of these conditions could still be classed as disabled if they have an impairment that meets the Act’s definition. The Act will look at the effects of their impairment, rather than its cause, so someone who has long-term depression due to alcohol misuse could be a disabled person under the Act.

In most cases, the Equality Act also protects people who met its conditions for disability in the past but are no longer disabled. This could include someone who was diagnosed with cancer but has now recovered. In turn, carers of people who were previously classed as disabled will also continue to be protected by the Act’s measures to help carers of disabled people.

Protection for disabled people

Disabled people are already protected against discrimination in educational settings, as well as employment-related discrimination and harassment. New measures in the Equality Act mean that employers won’t generally be able to ask potential employees about their health or disability before offering them a job. Employers will only be able to ask these sorts of questions if there’s a good reason.

The Equality Act also protects disabled people against direct discrimination and harassment when buying goods and using services. This could include shopping, going to a leisure centre, using public transport or eating at a restaurant. It also covers services such as health and social care.

Employers and service providers must make "reasonable adjustments" for a disabled person if they would be at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled people, if the adjustment wasn’t made. Reasonable adjustments in the workplace could include adapted equipment or adjusted hours to help a disabled person do their job. For a service provider or business, a reasonable adjustment could be a ramp to increase the accessibility of their premises, or disability awareness training for their staff.

What’s considered a reasonable adjustment will depend on the individual situation. If there’s a particular service or business that you visit often, it may be helpful to speak to them about ways they could meet your needs.

The Equality Act also introduces the principle of indirect discrimination by disability. Indirect discrimination can happen if something that applies equally to everyone has a particularly adverse effect on disabled people. However, it won’t apply if an employer or service provider can show they have a fair and balanced reason for their actions.

Older people

Older people are already protected against employment-related discrimination and harassment. The Equality Act also includes provisions that would protect older people against discrimination and harassment when buying goods or using services. However, these won’t come into effect immediately, as the government is considering the most appropriate way to introduce them.


The Equality Act includes new measures to protect carers of disabled or elderly people from discrimination and harassment. This is sometimes called "discrimination by association". See the Disabled people section, above, for more details of who is classed as being disabled.

You can read more about the Equality Act on GOV.UK.

The new measures to protect carers don’t apply to carers of people who aren’t disabled or elderly. For information about rights that apply to all carers, see our Guide to carers’ rights.

Protection for carers at work

If you’re caring for someone who is disabled or elderly, the Equality Act protects you from direct discrimination and harassment at work that could occur because of your caring responsibilities.

Direct discrimination could include an employer:

  • refusing to offer you a job because of your caring role
  • treating you less favourably because of your caring role

Harassment at work could include:

  • impractical or unfair work expectations
  • offensive language or jokes
  • pressurising or intimidating behaviour

If you have been discriminated against at work and you can’t resolve the problem with your employer, you can take your case to an employment tribunal. There are strict deadlines – usually three months. It’s a good idea to seek advice before doing this.

Protection for carers when buying goods or using services

If you’re caring for someone who’s disabled, you’re also protected against direct discrimination and harassment when buying goods or using services. Goods and services include:

  • entertainment venues, such as cinemas, pubs, cafes and football grounds
  • businesses, such as shops or banks
  • public service providers, such as schools, social services, GPs, hospitals or job centres

Direct discrimination when you’re buying goods or using services could include someone:

  • providing you with a worse service than someone who isn’t caring for a disabled person
  • discouraging you from using a service because of your caring role
  • making it impossible for you to use a service because of your caring role

Harassment in this situation could include:

  • offensive name-calling or jokes
  • unwanted or patronising assistance
  • pressurising or intimidating behaviour

If you’ve been discriminated against or harassed because you care for a disabled person, you can complain to the service provider or business using their complaints procedure, if they have one.

If you’re not satisfied, you can complain to a regulatory body that deals with that service, such as the Care Quality Commission, which regulates health and care services.

If the issue still isn’t resolved, the next step would be to take the service provider or business to court. It’s advisable to seek legal advice before doing this.

Carers of elderly people aren’t currently protected against direct discrimination or harassment outside work. They won’t be protected until new parts of the Equality Bill come into effect.

Protection against victimisation

The Equality Act also protects carers of disabled or elderly people from being treated unfavourably if they make a complaint about discrimination or harassment.