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For Public Authorities

What you need to know


What is Consultation?

Section 75 is about mainstreaming equality through the building of relationships between those who make and deliver public policy and those affected by it. Consultation plays a vital role in assessing the views of those who will be affected by policy decisions, helping to raise awareness of issues and problems which may not otherwise be discovered.


As a public authority you will want to provide the best possible services with public money. By developing relationships, through consultation and participation, you can help ensure better service delivery and accessibility to your services.


What are public authorities required to do?

  • Consult on matters to which statutory duties are likely to be relevant. Equality schemes must include the public authority’s arrangements for this consultation, including details of the persons to be consulted.
  • Consult on the equality scheme itself. Once a draft equality scheme has been prepared, and before submitting it to the Equality Commission, a public authority is required to consult with representatives of persons likely to be affected by the scheme regarding its contents.
  • Consult on the impact of policies. The public authority must engage in consultation about the likely impact (on the promotion of equality of opportunity) of its existing and proposed policies, and in making decisions about such policies, it must take the consultation into account.

Consultation underpins and is an integral part of the Section 75 process. It must be both meaningful and inclusive. It is not adequate to exclusively consult with large umbrella organisations, credible efforts must be made to actively engage a wide range of representative groups.

How should public authorities prepare?

  • All consultees must be aware of upcoming consultation exercises, on any revision of a scheme, on screening or on equality impact assessment of existing or new policies. This information can be provided annually, with an opportunity for a consultee to request involvement in a particular consultation exercise.
  • Communication should inform consultees about upcoming consultation exercises and how/when consultees can engage in them.
  • Public authorities may also wish to ensure that a response is received from a particular group, and follow up where this group has not responded to a consultation exercise.
  • Public authorities should continue to ensure public notification of consultation exercises (including documents and public meetings) - individual members of the public may also wish to engage directly in a consultation exercise.

What makes consultation effective?

  • Early engagement with representative groups works best. This is particularly relevant to the formal consultation phases on equality schemes and equality impact assessments (EQIAs). For example, it enables adverse impacts to be identified and meaningful ways of addressing these can be discussed in the formal consultation document.
  • Targeting consultation is also beneficial. The Commission provides general advice to public authorities on an ongoing basis to enable them to focus consultation on those likely to be most affected by a policy, whilst also ensuring that all consultees on a public authority’s list can be aware of consultation exercises and take part if they wish.
  • Circulating an executive summary of the consultation document is recommended rather than mass mailing the full version. Using language which avoids technical terms as far as possible is also helpful. Consultees can decide whether or not they would like to obtain the full document or respond to the consultation.

What other factors are important?

The method by which the public authority chooses to conduct consultation at this stage must ensure a fair opportunity to present pertinent information and to provide the public authority with a sound basis for decision, without rendering decision making by the public authority unmanageable. It will be important to ensure that necessary time and resources are dedicated to the consultation process to encourage and maximise participation particularly by marginalized groups.


Wide awareness raising of the consultation exercise is essential to inform the public and relevant groups about the policy being assessed, and to invite comments on it. This may include press releases, prominent advertisements in the general press and specialist press of affected groups, the Internet and direct invitations to groups which are likely to be interested in and able to represent interests and views which would otherwise be inadequately represented.


The information used by the public authority in assessing the impact of the policy must be made available on request to those consulted. In making information available it will not be sufficient or appropriate for a public authority to state that no data are available and therefore no impact or adverse impact has been identified.


Public authorities should ensure that they have a system in place to effectively manage consultation processes. This system should include information on past, present and planned consultations. This is invaluable in order to obtain information from previous consultation exercises, which may be relevant to an upcoming consultation exercise and which may help to avoid asking the same questions again.

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