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Race Relations Act

The Race Relations Act 1976, as amended by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, makes it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on grounds of race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origin. The amended Act also imposes genral duties on many public authorities to promote racial equality.

It applies to:

  • jobs

  • training

  • housing

  • education

  • the provision of goods, facilities and services

It is also unlawful for public bodies to discriminate while carrying out any of their functions.

The amended Act imposes a general duty on all major public bodies to promote equality of opportunity and good race relations.

This section provides a summary of some of the main provisions of the amended Act. It is not a definitive guide to the law.

Racist incidents ranging from harassment and abuse to physical violence are offences under the criminal law. Inciting racial hatred is also a criminal offence. Publishing and disseminating materials such as leaflets and newspapers that are likely to incite racial hatred is also a criminal offence. If anyone has a complaint with respect to any of these criminal matters they should be reported to the police.

Racially offensive material in the media contravenes media codes of practice. Complaints can be made to the Press Complaints Commission or the Broadcasting Standards Authority. Complaints about racially offensive advertisements should be made to the Advertising Standards Authority.

The Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 are available as publications from The Stationery Office Bookshop, not from the CRE.

What is discrimination?

The Race Relations Act is concerned with people's actions and the effects of their actions, not their opinions or beliefs. Racial discrimination is not the same as racial prejudice or 'racism'.

Prejudice literally means 'pre-judging' someone - knowing next to nothing about them but jumping to conclusions because of some characteristic, like their appearance.

Racism is the belief that some 'races' are superior to others - based on the false idea that different physical characteristics (like skin colour) or ethnic background make some people better than others.

Discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably on grounds of their colour, race, nationality or national or ethnic origin. It is not necessary to prove that someone intended to discriminate against you: it is sufficient only to show that the outcome of their action was that you received less favourable treatment.

The Race Relations Act identifies three main types of racial discrimination:

  • Direct racial discrimination

  • Indirect racial discrimination

  • Victimisation

Direct racial discrimination

This occurs when you are able to show that you have been treated less favourably on racial grounds than others in similar circumstances. To prove this, it will help if you can give an example of someone from a different racial group who, in similar circumstances, has been treated more favourably than you. Racist abuse and harassment are forms of direct discrimination.

Indirect racial discrimination

This occurs when you or people from your racial group are less likely to be able to comply with a requirement or condition which applies to everyone but which cannot be justified other than on racial grounds.

For example, a requirement that all employees or pupils must not wear headgear could exclude Sikh men and boys who wear a turban, Jewish men or boys who wear a yarmulka or Pakistani women and girls who wear a hijaab (headscarf), in accordance with cultural and religious practice.


This has a special legal meaning in the Race Relations Act. It occurs if you are treated less favourably because you have complained about racial discrimination or supported someone else who has.


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