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Public Sector Equality Duty

The public sector general duty applies to all colleges and universities in England, Scotland and Wales. Scotland and Wales have their own specific duties.

Other organisations not listed in the Act must also comply with the public sector equality duty if they carry out public functions. This can be a public sector organisation. It can also be a private organisation or charity.

This could include, for example:

  • privatised utilities like water companies, British Gas and Network Rail
  • some organisations who have been subcontracted to carry out a public function like a private security company running a prison
  • some housing associations when carrying out some of its functions as a social landlord
  • private care homes providing care on behalf of the local authority
  • private hospitals providing care on behalf of the NHS.

Generally speaking a public function is something that's normally provided to the public by the state like education, prisons or health services.

So if an organisation carries out one of these activities on behalf of the state they may be a public authority. The courts will look at a number of things to decide if a private organisation is carrying out a public function. It will look at whether the organisation is:

  • publicly funded
  • supervised by a state regulatory body
  • exercising powers given to it by the law
  • taking the place of central or local government
  • providing a public service
  • acting in the public interest
  • carrying out coercive powers devolved from the state.

The duty

The equality duty has three main aims. It requires public bodies to have 'due regard' to:

  • eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act
  • advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it, and
  • foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.

Demonstrating due regard means consciously thinking about the three aims of the equality duty as part of the process of decision making. This means that consideration of equality issues must influence the decisions reached by institutions such as how they act as employers, how they develop, evaluate and review policy or how they design services.

Undertaking equality impact assessments is still an excellent tool for demonstrating due regard. The Equality Challenge Unit and the Association of Colleges have produced guidance on undertaking equality impact assessments and support their use in analysing the equality implications of decisions and policies of employers.

Remember: the general duty is a positive duty and your employer should be moving beyond compliance to actively promoting and using the general duty.

The specific duties

The specific duties regulations are intended to support institutions to meet the requirements of the public sector equality duty. They are specific actions which public authorities need to do to comply. The specific duties are much stronger in Wales and Scotland.

Colleges are required to:

  1. gather and publish information on staff, students and services
  2. agree equality objectives
  3. publish the objectives.

Your employer should have published its objectives and now be in the process of delivering them.  UCU has produced a toolkit on the public sector equality duty which is available on the UCU website. There are also model letters which will also help branches in challenging employers who are not complying.

Equality impact assessments

An equality impact assessment (EIA) is a tool that helps public authorities make sure their policies, and the ways they carry out their functions, do what they are intended to do and for everybody. Carrying out an EIA involves systematically assessing the likely (or actual) effects of policies on people in respect of equality groups. This includes looking for opportunities to promote equality that may have previously been missed or could be better used, as well as negative or adverse impacts that can be removed or mitigated, where possible.  If any negative or adverse impacts amount to unlawful discrimination, they must be removed.

UCU public sector equality duty toolkit which includes the details on undertaking an equality impact assessment.


All employers should monitor the composition of their workforce to understand their recruitment, promotion and retention practice.

Under the Public Sector Equality Duty, employers need to publish data about the workforce. This should include:

  • race, disability, gender, age breakdown and distribution of the workforce
  • (grade, job type, contract type, full time or part time, occupation)
  • indication of likely representation on sexual orientation and religion or belief provided that no individual can be identified as a result
  • an indication of any issues for transsexual staff, based on consultation
  • gender pay gap information.
  • Other information should include: success rate of job applicants take up of training opportunities, applications for promotion and success rates; applications for flexible working and success rates
  • return to work rates after maternity leave
  • numbers taking maternity, paternity and adoption leave
  • grievance and dismissal
  • other reasons for termination of employment such as redundancy and retirement
  • length of service/time on pay grade
  • pay gap information for other protected groups
  • reported incidents of hate crime
  • application and selection for submission to the Research Excellence Framework (HE).

Your employer should cover all protected characteristics and can use the following ways to collect the information:

  • national statistics
  • staff satisfaction surveys
  • HR records
  • equal opportunities monitoring forms
  • evidence of involvement, engagement and consultation
  • equality impact assessments.

Sensitive information

If you work somewhere where employees are reluctant to disclose, your employer will not be able to properly analyse equality issues in your workplace.

So it is important to ask:

  • why the information is being collected
  • what it will be used for
  • how privacy will be protected.

Answers to these questions may encourage disclosure. Members who feel confident about disclosing a disability, sexual orientation or faith can help create a visibly diverse workforce and can help push employers to take a more proactive approach to equality. Disclosure can be a big decision. The UCU guide to disclosing a disability is an excellent reference tool.

Monitoring to gather data should be anonymous and confidential. No individual should be identifiable from the responses. If the data is not anonymous, then the protections afforded by the Data Protection Act must be respected. As well as anonymous data gathering there should also be regular opportunities offered to staff to update and amend their status in records held by the employer, should they wish to.

Last updated: 16 May 2016