How to Prove Race Discrimination

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Are you being racially discriminated against? We can help you.

What is race discrimination?

Race discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins. It occurs when you are treated unfairly because of your race, or because of the race of someone else you are connected to, for example, your partner (otherwise know as race discrimination by association)

An example of race discrimination by association would be:

A white British man performs well at interview for a sales job. The next day he runs into the interviewer while out with his wife, who is of African descent. The interviewer makes it clear he will not be hired because of his wife’s colour.

Race discrimination can be direct or indirect and may also take the form of harassment or victimisation.

Race discrimination does not need to be deliberate. Someone may be discriminating without knowing it or meaning to but this might still count as discrimination.

Even if you’re not part of one of these groups, it still counts as discrimination if someone discriminates against you because they think you are. This is known as perceived race discrimination.

Race discrimination, in any of the following situations, is illegal and you may therefore be able to take legal action about it:

  • Any of the activities carried out by public authorities, such as the NHS, government departments, local authorities, the police and prisons;
  • Education;
  • Housing;
  • When providing goods and services, for example, on transport, in banking and  entertainment;

To prove racial discrimination you will need:

1. To answer these four questions

  1. Who’s treating you unfairly?
  2. Why are they treating you unfairly?
  3. What’s the unfair treatment?
  4. How is it unfair and what type of discrimination is it?

If you can answer these questions to meet the requirements described below, it is likely to be unlawful discrimination.

2. To keep records in order to have evidence

You need to collect evidence if you are going to prove racial discrimination. If it’s a single event, that’s simple. If it’s a pattern of behaviour over time, then each event needs to be recorded. Always record repeat events as this helps illustrate the problem and it’s impact. One single minor event may be easily dismissed as unimportant but numerous similar events can become very wearing and impactful and a clear record of them become convincing evidence of discrimination.

Record the date and time, what happened, where it happened, who was involved and the outcome, including an indication of how it felt for you. Add to the written records any other evidence you have, such as screenshots of emails, texts, social media posts, letters.

Examples of Race Discrimination:

If you treat someone, because of their race, less favourably than someone else would be treated in the same circumstances, this is direct discrimination.

Racist abuse and harassment are forms of direct discrimination. Harassment occurs when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded.

To prove direct race discrimination, it helps if you can show that someone from a different racial group has been, or would have been, treated better than you in similar circumstances.

Examples of direct discrimination might include:

  • An Asian man keeps being called a racist name by work colleagues. They say it is just banter, but the employee is insulted and offended by it;
  • A manager at work repeatedly tells racist jokes which are found to be offensive.
  • An employer refuses to appoint you because, the employer says, you ‘wouldn’t fit in’ or ‘the customers might not like it’;
  • An individual refuses to do business with, socialise with, or share resources with you because you’re Jewish or because of some other personal feature;
  • An employer turns you down for a job because your partner is Afro Caribbean;
  • A black employee with the same skills and qualifications as white colleagues is passed over for promotion on several occasions. The post is filled a white employee;
  • A letting agency won’t let a flat to you because of your race.

Race discrimination in employment and training

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of race. This includes all employers, no matter how few people they employ. Most workers, including employees, agency workers, trainees and those who are self-employed have protection from race discrimination at work.

This includes:

  • Recruitment and selection;
  • Terms and conditions of work;
  • Training, pay and benefits;
  • Promotion;
  • Redundancy and dismissal.

Trade unions also have a duty not to discriminate against their members or those wanting to become members.

An ‘occupational requirement’ is permitted

If an employer can show that you need to be a particular race in order to do a certain job, then they can insist on employing someone of that race.  This is known as an occupational requirement and does not count as discrimination. For example in a refuge for Asian women. They may be able to insist that they only want to employ Asian women workers because the women residents would find it easier to relate to and communicate with people of the same racial group and sex.

Race discrimination in education

It is illegal for any school or college to discriminate against someone because of race. This applies to both state and private schools and colleges.

A school or college must not discriminate in any of its policies and practices.

This includes its:

  • Admissions policies;
  • Treatment of pupils;
  • Exclusions;
  • Decisions about a pupil’s Special Educational Needs or Disability (also known as SEND).

Schools and colleges also have a duty to protect pupils against racial abuse and violence from other pupils, both on school premises or on the way to or from school.

Examples of direct discrimination in education would include:

  • A school refusing to admit a child because of their race;
  • Three Roma young people turn up to an open day at a further education college and try to enrol for the theatre course. They are told there are no more places. A few hours later they find out that some of their non-Roma friends went to the open day after them and were accepted on the theatre course.

Examples of indirect discrimination in education would include:

  • A school requires all male pupils to wear a cap as part of the school uniform. Although this requirement is applied equally to all pupils, it has the effect of excluding Sikh boys whose religion requires them to wear a turban;
  • A university requires applicants from the UK to have three A levels but requires overseas applicants to have four A levels.

What can you do about race discrimination in education?

You can make a complaint about discrimination by a school, college or university to the County Court. However, there may be several other options that you should try first.


All state schools should have a clear policy to get rid of racism and to advance race equality;

  • If your child is being discriminated against or suffering racist abuse by other pupils in school, you should bring this to the attention of the head;
  • If the local education authority has an adviser with special responsibility for race issues, you should also report racist incidents to them;
  • If you are still unhappy, you can then take your complaint to the school’s governing body;
  • If a school or college does not have an anti-racist policy or is unwilling to take steps to prevent race discrimination or racist attacks, you should get advice from a specialist organisation about how to take further action.
  • You may want to tell the police if a criminal offence is involved, for example, if your child is being assaulted.  If you’ve suffered racist abuse at school, you can also report it to the police as a hate incident or hate crime.

Colleges and universities

  • If your complaint is about a college or university, you should first use the institution’s own complaints procedure.
  • If you are complaining about a further education college funded by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, you could also complain to the agency. Find out how to complain here:
  • If your complaint is about a university in England or Wales, you could take your complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (the OIA).

Race discrimination when providing goods, facilities and services

It is illegal for anyone providing goods, facilities or services in the UK to discriminate because of race, regardless of how the goods and services are provided or whether you have to pay for them or not..

Some examples:

  • Refusal to provide you with goods, facilities or services because of your race;
  • Providing any of these things on less favourable terms or conditions because of your race;
  • Discriminating against you when you’re buying something in a shop or over the internet; Discriminating against you when you’re making a telephone enquiry or when someone gives you written information.

Clubs, associations and charities set up especially for people of a particular ethnic or national group are allowed to discriminate because of your nationality or ethnic or national origin but not because of your colour.

Race discrimination and public authorities

It is illegal for a public authority to discriminate against you because of your race while carrying out any of its functions. Public authorities include government departments, local authorities, NHS trusts, courts and tribunals, police officers and prisons.

In addition public authorities have a legal duty to take action against discrimination and to actively promote equality.

Race discrimination and advertising

With a few limited exceptions, it’s illegal to publish or broadcast an advert which discriminates because of race, or which advertises discriminatory services.

If an advertisement like this is published, the Equality and Human Rights Commission can take court action against the publisher, if the case is referred to them.

Race discrimination in housing

Examples of direct discrimination in housing would be:

  • An estate agent refuses to give details of a rental property to an Asian family because the landlord will not let to an Asian family;
  • A letting agent insists that a Polish couple provide guarantors and a double deposit for a property but does not require either from British applicants;
  • A landlord tries to evict his tenant when he finds out that the tenant is Jewish.

Direct race discrimination in housing can also include discrimination based on a false perception of a person’s race/nationality/ethnic or national origins. An example would be if a landlord refuses to consider an application from a British Asian woman because they think she looks ‘foreign’, wrongly believing that she is a recent migrant from India who may not be allowed to stay in the UK.

Examples of indirect discrimination in housing would be:

  • A housing authority has a policy that all applicants must attend an interview but refuses to interview a Nigerian applicant because he does not speak English;
  • A landlord who decides he will only let his property to a family could be guilty of indirect discrimination if the landlord knows that there are large numbers of single migrant workers in the community who may otherwise apply to rent the property. If the landlord can reasonably justify his decision it will not be viewed as discrimination;
  • If a housing provider only accepts people on their waiting list who were able to work without work permits.

Direct discrimination in housing is allowed if:

  • A housing charity’s lawful aims are to accommodate or help people of a particular race or ethnic or national origin or nationality;
  • A housing association wants to make provision for a specific group who have a defined housing need, such as for housing with wardens who speak a particular language or hostel accommodation for refugees who have had traumatic experiences, or people who have specific dietary or religious requirements. There must be a demonstrable need and the special provision must be ‘proportionate’;
  • A housing provider restricts access based on nationality in accordance with a statutory requirement.

What can you do about race discrimination

When deciding what action to take, you will need to think about what you are trying to achieve. For example, do you want financial compensation, justice or publicity? You will also need to think about how quickly you need to get a result.

The options include:

  • Talking to the person or organisation that discriminated against you and trying to resolve it informally;
  • Using a grievance procedure or making a claim to an employment tribunal if it is an employment problem;
  • Taking legal action through the courts;
  • Giving details of the problem to an advice agency who may able to refer it to the Equality and Human Rights Commission if you believe the problem is widespread;
  • Publicising your case through the media.

Taking legal action

If you want to take legal action about race discrimination, you may be able to get some help with your case. You can get advice from your local Citizens Advice or from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

If you qualify for legal aid, you may get free legal advice and assistance from a solicitor.

Other types of discrimination

As well as race discrimination, you could be discriminated against for other reasons. For example, because of:

  • Your sex;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Disability;
  • Religion.

You can claim for more than one form of discrimination at a time.  For example, if you were a black woman who is pregnant and you’re sacked and you think you’ve been sacked because you’re black and because you’re pregnant, you can make two claims, one for race discrimination and one for pregnancy discrimination.