What the Act says about race discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 says you must not be discriminated against because of your race.

In the Equality Act race can mean your colour, or your nationality (including your citizenship). It can also mean your ethnic or national origins, which may not be the same as your current nationality. For example, you may have Chinese national origins and be living in Britain with a British passport.

Race also covers ethnic and racial groups. This means a group of people who all share the same protected characteristic of ethnicity or race.

A racial group can be made up of two or more distinct racial groups, for example black Britons, British Asians, British Sikhs, British Jews, Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers.

You may be discriminated against because of one or more aspects of your race, for example people born in Britain to Jamaican parents could be discriminated against because they are British citizens, or because of their Jamaican national origins.

What is race discrimination?

This is when you are treated differently because of your race in one of the situations that are covered by the Equality Act. The treatment could be a one-off action or as a result of a rule or policy based on race. It doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

There are some circumstances when being treated differently due to race is lawful, explained below.


Under the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) Race includes:-

  • colour
  • nationality
  • ethnic or national origins

The Act states that a person has the protected characteristic of race if they fall within a racial group. The Act defines a racial group as a group of persons defined by race (i.e. by their colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins).

Example: A Gypsy couple are refused service in a pub that displays on its door a ‘No Gypsies or Travellers’ sign’. It is obvious from the notice on the door and the treatment the Gypsy couple receive that their less favourable treatment is because of race.


This is the specific legal relationship between an individual and the state through birth or naturalisation (i.e. citizenship). Nationality is distinct from national origin.

Ethnic Origin

The Act protects people who belong to a racial group, which includes people who belong to an ethnic group. An ethnic group is a group which regards itself and is regarded by others as a distinct and separate community.

Case law holds that there are several defining characteristics of an ethnic group. For an ethnic group to be covered by the Act the group must have:-

  • a long shared history;
  • a cultural tradition of its own; and
  • one or more of the following characteristics; a common language, a common literature; a common religion; a common geographical origin; or be an oppressed group; or a minority group

The courts have held that the following groups are ethnic groups and therefore people who belong to these groups are protected by the Act:-

  • Sikhs
  • Jews
  • Romany Gypsies
  • Irish Travellers
  • Scottish Gypsies
  • Scottish Travellers

Example: A rule that employees or pupils must not wear headgear could exclude Sikh men and boys who wear a turban or Jewish men or boys who wear a yarmulke, in accordance with practice within their racial group (Equality and Human Rights Commission, Code of Practice)