After a year-long inquiry into the way the Equality Act is enforced, the Women and Equalities Select Committee has concluded that it is no longer fit for purpose.

The Committee’s report “Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission” found that the current individual approach to enforcement, dating back to the 1960s and 1970s, needs to be fundamentally reviewed.

Although the Committee accepts that individuals must still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, it argues that a new system of enforcement should ensure that this approach is only rarely needed. It is therefore calling for a model to achieve system-wide change that tackles institutional and systemic discrimination.

In order to achieve this shift in focus, the Committee says it is necessary to:

  • Develop a “critical mass” of cases to inform employers and organisations about their legal duties and make adherence to existing equality law a priority for all organisations
  • Move away from relying so heavily on the current model of using individual litigation to create precedents
  • Make obligations on employers, public authorities, and service providers explicit and enforceable
  • Ensure that all who have powers to change the way in which employers, public bodies and service providers operate, actually use those powers to eliminate discrimination and to advance equality
  • Refocus the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission so that it can be bolder in using its unique enforcement powers.

The Committee has also recommended that the government’s Labour Market Enforcement Director should play a fundamental role in enforcing the law, alongside the proposed new single labour market enforcement body.

Finally, the Committee recommended that the government itself must act to embed compliance and enforcement of the Equality Act into its own strategies and action plans.

Jo Seery, of Thompsons Solicitors, commented: "Finally a report which calls for more effective enforcement of rights under the Equality Act 2010 that doesn’t just rely on individuals bringing claims.

"What is disappointing is the reports failure to recognise the important role trade unions play enforcing equality in the workplace through collective bargaining. Providing a statutory right to paid time off for trade union equality reps could more effectively change the landscape of enforcement the Women and Equality Committee’s report seeks."

The full report can be read on the Committee's webpage.