A new Equality Bill was a flagship manifesto commitment and it was finally published at the end of April. The Bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons today. While the Bill is primarily consolidating and tidying up existing law there are four important parts that may affect housing law:
- Disability discrimination in the wake of Malcolm
- Age discrimination
- Socio-economic disadvantage duty
- Extension of Public Sector Equality Duty
Taking them in the order that they appear in the Bill, clause 1 introduces a new duty on specified public authorities who must:
when making decisions of a strategic nature about how to exercise its functions, have due regard to the desirability of exercising them in a way that is designed to reduce the inequalities of outcome which result from socio-economic disadvantage.
This was first mooted in the ‘New Opportunities: Fair Chances for the Future’ White Paper earlier this year. Without much consultation it has now found its way into the Bill and, highly symbolically, it is right at the start of the Bill. It will apply to local authorities, but not to other housing providers. The explanatory notes make clear that this duty will only apply to strategic decisions, such as deciding priorities and setting objectives.
Clause 14 is the replacement for Disability related discrimination, which is now called “Discrimination arising from disability”. This follows on from Malcolm and the subsequent ODI consultation. So disability is now covered by direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and discrimination arising from disability. The new clause states that:
(1) A person (A) discriminates against a disabled person (B) if
(a) A treats B in a particular way,
(b) because of B’s disability, the treatment amounts to a detriment, and
(c) A cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply if A shows that A did not know, and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that B had the disability.
(3) It does not matter whether A has complied with a duty to make reasonable adjustments in relation to B.
Clause 143 extends the existing public sector equality duties to cover age, religion or belief, and sexual orientation. This will apply to named public authorities and by virtue of 143(2) and 144(5) to other bodies carrying out HRA “public functions”. Depending on the outcome of the appeal in Weaver, RSLs might be affected.
The Bill will extend protection from age discrimination to goods, facilities and services, bringing this ‘strand’ into line with the others. Clause 190 introduces the mechanism by which exemptions to this will be introduced. The Government has said that the age discrimination provisions will not come into force until there are carefully crafted exemptions in place. However, note that Part 4, which covers premises, does not include age (see clause 30). Religion/belief and sexual orientation are also exempted from the harassment provisions in respect of premises (see clauses 31(6), 32(4) and 33(4)).
The timing of the Bill is tricky. It would look likely that it would just finishing the parliamentary process in Spring next year, so if an early General Election gets called it could all end up out the window. You can, if you so desire, download the 542 pages of the Bill and its accompanying explanatory notes here.