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Before you take action about discrimination

This advice applies to Scotland

If you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination, you can complain to the person or organisation who's discriminated against you. You can also make a discrimination claim in the civil courts.

Read this page to find out what you should do before you take action about unlawful discrimination. This page doesn't cover discrimination in the workplace.

Check that discrimination has taken place

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 think you’ve been discriminated against you should check whether the discrimination is unlawful under the Act.

You can follow the steps below to check whether unlawful discrimination has taken place.

Why are you being treated unfairly?

If you’re treated unfairly it’s only unlawful discrimination if the reason behind the treatment is that you, or someone else you know or you're with, belongs to a particular group. People who belong to these groups have what are called protected characteristics.

Who’s treating you unfairly?

Unfair treatment only counts as unlawful discrimination if it's carried out by certain people including:

  • service providers like a bank, energy provider or a shop
  • healthcare and care providers
  • education providers like a school, college or university
  • transport providers like buses, trains and taxis
  • government departments or local authorities
  • someone letting or selling a property like a private landlord or housing association.

If you've been treated unfairly by an employer it could also be unlawful discrimination but you would have to follow different steps if you want to take action about it. You should check if your problem at work is discrimination.

What’s the unfair treatment?

Only certain types of behaviour or unfair treatment can be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act. This depends on who's discriminating against you. For example, a healthcare provider mustn't discriminate against you by refusing you medical treatment or giving you worse treatment than someone else. An estate agent mustn't discriminate against you by ending your tenancy or refusing to show you a house for sale.

How is the treatment unfair?

You need to identify what kind of discrimination the unfair treatment could be - for example, direct discrimination or harassment.

What action is right for you?

When deciding what action to take about discrimination, you’ll need to think about what you're trying to achieve. For example, do you want financial compensation, an apology or things put right? You'll also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.

It’s often best to try to resolve your problem informally first. It may stop the problem getting worse and avoid the expense and stress of taking legal action. You should, however, be aware that there are strict time limits for taking legal action. It’s therefore best to act as early as possible.

You can do the following things if you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination:

  • make a complaint
  • try mediation or arbitration
  • take court action.

Make a complaint

If you make a complaint, this could be the fastest way to get an apology or an informal remedy. But it has no legal effect and you may not get any compensation.

Try mediation or arbitration

Mediation and arbitration is where an independent person helps both sides reach an agreement. Mediation is not legally binding which means you can still take court action if you’re unhappy with the outcome. Arbitration is generally legally binding, so even if you’re unhappy with the arbitrator’s decision you have to respect it and you can’t go to court.  

If you want to try to resolve your problem by mediation or arbitration you need the other side to agree to it.  It will take a bit longer than making a complaint, but it may help if you want to maintain a relationship with the person or organisation who discriminated against you. You could also get some compensation.

Take court action

Taking court action can help resolve your problem if you don’t get a response from the person or organisation who discriminated against you or if the problem isn’t resolved by other methods. You can also get compensation.

But it can be a long and stressful process. It can also be expensive.

Things you should think about before taking action

If you think you’ve experienced unlawful discrimination and you want to take action about it, you’ll need to establish the facts of your case. This will help you decide whether unlawful discrimination has happened and also support your case when you take action.

Thinking about the following things will help you establish the facts of your case:

  • who is the person or organisation who may have discriminated against you
  • what exactly happened
  • when and where did it happen
  • did anyone see it happen
  • what disadvantage or harm did you suffer - without a disadvantage, your discrimination claim would probably not succeed
  • do you have any specific examples of unfair treatment
  • why do you think you were treated unfairly in each of these situations
  • have you experienced or complained about discrimination before.

Keeping all your documents

If you have any emails, letters or other documentary evidence which relate to the unfair treatment, it’s a good idea to keep it safe. Make a list of all the relevant documents you have, including any you may have lost. These may be necessary as evidence if you go to court.

Check if there are any equality policies or codes of practice

The organisation who's discriminated against you may have equality policies or codes of practice. Sometimes these documents give you more protection than the Equality Act. You can use these documents if you want to make a complaint about discrimination.

Getting information to support your claim

You can ask the organisation who's discriminated against you for information about your treatment. This can help you understand what happened and if it's unlawful discrimination. It can also help you decide what action you want to take.

Next steps

Other useful information


You can find further information on mediation on the Advice Services Alliance website at

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

If you have experienced discrimination, you can get help from the EASS discrimination helpline.

EASS also has template letters you can use if you want to complain about discrimination at

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at

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