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This briefing provides an overview of disability discrimination law and explains legal duties to consider the needs of disabled people.

The relevant law (in England & Wales, and Scotland) is contained in the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), which replaced and consolidated earlier equality legislation, including the Disability Discrimination Acts. Equality law is devolved to Northern Ireland, which maintains a separate system of disability discrimination law, not considered in this briefing.

The EA 2010 prohibits disability discrimination in various areas of life, including services, employment, education and the disposal and management of premises.

Definition of disability

Disability is a ‘protected characteristic’, which means it is within the scope of equality law. A person has this protected characteristic if

  • they have a physical or mental impairment, and
  • the impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

This definition covers a variety of conditions, including impairments that are not visibility obvious and ones that recur sporadically.

Types of discrimination

It is unlawful to discriminate against any person “because of” the protected characteristic of disability. This can extend to protect people associated with disabled people (e.g. carers).

It is also unlawful indirectly to discriminate against disabled people. Indirect discrimination occurs when, for example, a policy is applied generally but it unjustifiably puts disabled people at a particular disadvantage.

Additionally, if a disabled person is treated unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of their disability (rather than their disability itself) and this cannot be justified, it will be unlawful.

Duty to make reasonable adjustments

Alongside the prohibition of discrimination, the EA 2010 creates a positive, anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. The duty requires employers, service providers and others to whom the EA 2010 applies to anticipate the needs of disabled people, and, to the extent that it is reasonable to have to, take steps to ensure those needs are met. This includes ensuring that information is provided in an accessible format.

The Public Sector Equality Duty

The Public Sector Equality Duty replaced the disability equality duty contained in section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It requires public authorities, when exercising their functions, to have due regard to various equality considerations, including advancing equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people.


There is currently no duty under the EA 2010 on a landlord to make structural changes to a rented property. There is a duty on a landlord or manager of premises to make reasonable adjustments where a provision, criterion or practice puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage compared to a non-disabled person.

The EA 2010 also provides the basis for a requirement to make disability-related alterations to the common parts of let residential premises, or premises owned on a commonhold basis. At the time of writing these provisions have not been brought into force.

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