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Want to stay on the right side of the law? We support businesses and public authorities and help them to promote good practice.
 
 

Screening

For Public Authorities

What you need to know

 

What is ‘Screening’?


Screening identifies policies that are likely to have an impact on equality of opportunity and helps to draw considerations of equality of opportunity into the policy making process.

Screening is one of the key tools to enable public authorities to fulfil their statutory obligations and mainstream the Section 75 equality and good relations duties into policy development. It provides an opportunity to improve decision-making, support ‘evidence based’ policy making and can help improve a public authority’s service provision through a systematic review of all services, policies, procedures, practices and/or decisions.

What is the purpose of screening?

 

  • It identifies those policies likely to have an impact on equality of opportunity
  • When used appropriately, screening is an analytical tool which helps to draw considerations of equality of opportunity into the policy making process
  • Screening is the first of the two methods by which the necessary level “regard” is demonstrated as being paid to the statutory equality goal
  • Screening provides evidence that the decision-maker has paid some regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity, though not necessarily the appropriate level of ‘regard’. 

    The four screening questions that should be applied to policies are:

 

  1. What is the likely impact on equality of opportunity for those affected by this policy, for each of the Section 75 equality categories? (minor/major/none)
  2. Are there opportunities to better promote equality of opportunity for people within the Section 75 equality categories?
  3. To what extent is the policy likely to impact on good relations between people of a different religious belief, political opinion or racial group? (minor/major/none)
  4. Are there opportunities to better promote good relations between people of a different religious belief, political opinion or racial group?”

When should screening be carried out?

Screening must be taken into account by policy makers before and at the time that a particular decision or policy is being considered, and not afterwards. This principle is established in case law and is contained in equality scheme commitments.

To ensure compliance with this principle, equality schemes typically specify that screening will be completed at the earliest opportunity in the policy development or review process. This helps to ensure that the policy itself and alternative options are still under active consideration and is at a time when mitigating measures or alternative policy proposals can be given realistic consideration.

When a policy is being consulted on as part of the policy development process, it is important that the screening exercise is issued alongside any policy documentation as part of the consultation process, to ensure the equality assessment is clear.
 

How is a policy defined for the purposes of Section 75?

Public authorities have adopted the Equality Commission’s definition of a ‘policy’ as, ‘denoting any strategy, policy (proposed / amended / existing) or practice and/or decision, whether written or unwritten’.

A policy is therefore wide ranging and may include such matters as planning decisions, corporate strategies, ‘temporary’ policies and service charges.
 

What policies should be screened?

Where a decision or activity, proposed or existing, comes within the definition of ‘policy’, then in accordance with equality scheme commitments, it should be subject to equality screening and/or EQIA before it is adopted or implemented.

In the context of equality schemes, a “policy” is a trigger for the screening process. Policies are therefore wide ranging and may include such matters as planning decisions, corporate strategies, ‘temporary’ policies and service charges. Public authorities are required to have the appropriate level of regard to the ‘statutory goals’ when they are carrying out any relevant function in Northern Ireland. Where a decision or activity, proposed or existing, comes within the definition of a ‘policy’, then in accordance with equality scheme commitments, it should be subject to equality screening and/or EQIA before it is adopted or implemented.

Strategic and high level policies
Screening and/or EQIA should be applied to strategic and high level policies. Such policies are likely to have several stages of development, review and/or implementation and screening should be conducted at each of these stages. Public authorities should take care not to ‘screen out’ policies that have an employment or procurement aspect if there is the potential to promote equality of opportunity. Likewise, budgetary decisions which may impact on the delivery of services, for example, reducing services for some people, should be subject to screening.

It is good practice to consider policies and practices with similar aims and objectives within a strategic framework for screening and/or EQIAs. This enables a public authority to adopt a consistent and coherent approach to policy development.


Do policies that aim to promote equality need to be screened?
Yes, public authorities should screen policies that aim to promote equality. Equality scheme commitments require public authorities to determine if there are any impacts on equality of opportunity and if there are opportunities to better promote equality of opportunity between people within the Section 75 equality categories. As such, even where a policy’s aim is to (directly or indirectly) promote equality for one or more of the equality groups and no adverse impacts are identified on any of the equality grounds, it may still be proportionate to further examine the policy (by conducting an EQIA) to consider if there are opportunities to better promote equality of opportunity.

 

Do existing policies need to be screened or just new policies?

In the context of equality schemes, a “policy” is a trigger for the screening process. Public authorities have adopted the Commission’s definition of a ‘policy’ as, ‘denoting any strategy, policy (proposed / amended / existing) or practice and/or decision, whether written or unwritten’. A policy is therefore wide ranging and may include such matters as planning decisions, corporate strategies, ‘temporary’ policies and service charges.

Public authorities are required to have the appropriate level of regard to the ‘statutory goals’ when they are carrying out any relevant function in Northern Ireland. Where a decision or activity, proposed or existing, comes within the definition of a ‘policy’, then in accordance with equality scheme commitments, it should be subject to equality screening and/or EQIA before it is adopted or implemented.
 

Are Projects and Programmes policies?

Public authorities have adopted the Commission’s definition of a ‘policy’ as, ‘denoting any strategy, policy (proposed / amended / existing) or practice and/or decision, whether written or unwritten’. A policy is therefore wide ranging and may include such matters as planning decisions, corporate strategies, ‘temporary’ policies and service charges.

In the context of equality schemes, a “policy” is a trigger for the screening process. Public authorities have adopted the Commission’s definition of a ‘policy’ as, ‘denoting any strategy, policy (proposed / amended / existing) or practice and/or decision, whether written or unwritten’. A policy is therefore wide ranging and may include such matters as planning decisions, corporate strategies, ‘temporary’  policies and service charges. Where a decision or activity, proposed or existing, comes within the definition of a ‘policy’, then in accordance with equality scheme commitments, it should be subject to equality screening and/or EQIA before it is adopted or implemented.

Screening and/or EQIA should be applied to strategic and high level policies. Such policies are likely to have several stages of development, review and/or implementation and screening should be conducted at each of these stages. Likewise, budgetary decisions which may impact on the delivery of services, for example, reducing services for some people, should be subject to screening. It is good practice to consider policies and practices with similar aims and objectives within a strategic framework for screening and/or EQIAs. This enables a public authority to adopt a consistent and coherent approach to policy development.
 

Who should screen a policy?

The main decision maker in relation to the policy under consideration i.e. a manager with the authority to make changes to the policy should have a lead role in the screening process. It is ultimately for each public authority to decide who conducts the relevant data gathering and analysis to support the screening exercise in the knowledge that the screening may provide the main source of information to ensure that the appropriate level of regard is paid when developing the policy.

Each stage of the screening process should be authorised by the appropriate senior manager, with other senior managers, including, for example, the Senior  Management Team and Board being made aware of screening exercises undertaken and their outcomes. The screening of a policy may also involve other relevant team members, those who implement the policy and staff members from other relevant work areas. It may be helpful to include key stakeholders in the screening process.
 

What if more than one public authority has responsibility for a policy being developed/reviewed?

Each public authority should satisfy itself that it has paid the appropriate level of regard to the equality of opportunity goal that is necessary to comply with the equality duty and that it has complied with its own scheme commitments.

Where more than one public authority has some responsibilities for developing a policy, each public authority should satisfy itself that it has paid the appropriate level of regard to the equality of opportunity goal that is necessary to comply with the equality duty, and that it has complied with its own scheme commitments. The level of regard required may differ for each public authority depending on, for example, respective functional responsibilities.

Public authorities should share information and work collaboratively with other public authorities who may have some responsibility or interest with regard the policy being developed. It would be permissible for a public authority to delegate certain tasks to another public authority (or to a consultant), such as data analysis, consultation, or even screening. The delegating authority must be satisfied that the delegated work is conducted to an adequate standard, i.e. a standard that adequately addresses, gathers and analyses the information that is needed by the ultimate decision-maker. The authority must also ensure that the ultimate decision-maker of the policy appropriately considers the data, with rigour and an open-mind, before and at the time that it makes the relevant decision and not after.
 

What information should be collected during screening?

Evidence may be quantitative, qualitative, or both. This may indicate that there are equality impacts associated with a policy, or not. The absence of evidence or indicators does not mean that there is no impact on equality. Arrangements must be made to obtain relevant information so that an authority can clearly demonstrate why a policy requires an equality impact assessment, or does not.

Evidence may include information from the public authority’s own information management systems, including service monitoring and complaints handling systems, or from engagement in research, surveys or consultation exercises (eg. in relation to service provision and customer satisfaction). Consultation exercises on previous equality impact assessments, or those undertaken by other public authorities within the same sector may also be useful.

Information to help assess the equality impact of a policy may also be sourced from research produced by other public authorities, representative groups, umbrella groups, and trades unions or universities. In the absence of researched information there may be anecdotal evidence, feedback from service users and affected groups or ongoing experience within the authority, which may indicate equality impacts.

 

How do I know when I have enough data to screen a policy?

Public authorities should ensure that screening decisions are based on relevant information, which may be qualitative and/or quantitative. Examples of the sources information/data include:

Information obtained from consultation (qualitative and/or quantitative).

 
  • Statistical data held in respect of the policy, (eg NISRA equality information).
  • Information from authorities’ audits of inequalities.
  • Relevant policy positions available from a number of sources e.g. Equality Commission policy positions.
  • Information that those who have experience of the operation of the same or similar policies – this would include information from other authorities.

It is important that the information is relevant to the policy being screened and not generic data on that Section 75 group. Relevant information will enable a public authority to clearly demonstrate the reasons for a policy being ‘screened in’ for equality impact assessment, ‘screened out’ from an equality impact assessment and the identification (or not) of appropriate mitigation measures or alternative policy proposals.

The absence of information does not necessarily indicate that there are no impacts or no opportunities to better promote equality of opportunity. A public authority should make arrangements to obtain relevant information, whether quantitative or qualitative. In the event of data not being available the Commission recommends that the public authority considers impact assessing the policy as a way of further investigating its impact. Any appropriate action required to address data gaps should also be identified and be recorded in the monitoring section of the screening template.
 

How detailed does a policy screening need to be?

It is important that the information is relevant to the policy being screened and not generic data on that Section 75 group. Relevant information will enable a public authority to clearly demonstrate the reasons for a policy being ‘screened in’ for equality impact assessment, ‘screened out’ from an equality impact assessment and the identification (or not) of appropriate mitigation measures or alternative policy proposals.

Screening practices must follow the arrangements contained in equality schemes and should be proportionate to enable public authorities to assess the level of relevance that a proposed policy has to the statutory goal (i.e. the need to promote equality of opportunity). Screening should consider equality impacts, mitigation measures and/or opportunities to further promote equality of opportunity.

The higher the level of relevance of a policy to the promotion of equality of opportunity, then the more detailed the consideration of those matters will be required. When screening, the public authority will need to consider whether it would be proportionate to conduct an EQIA in order to adequately consider the equality impacts, mitigation and/or opportunities to further promote equality of opportunity.
 

In what circumstances do I need to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA)?

When making a screening decision and considering whether to conduct an EQIA, public authorities should follow their equality scheme arrangements.

An EQIA is likely to be necessary:

 
  • where the policy is highly relevant to the promotion of equality of opportunity
  • where it affects a large number of people
  • where it affects fewer people but where its impact on them is likely to be significant
  • where it is a strategic policy or has a significant budget attached and
  • where further assessment provides a valuable opportunity to examine evidence and develop recommendations

Where the screening process has internally identified any potential adverse impact, it would be appropriate to consult with affected groups immediately. When there is ambiguity, the public authority should consult on whether a new or proposed policy should be subject to equality impact assessment.

New policies identified for equality impact assessment (and existing policies newly identified for EQIA) must be incorporated into the public authority´s EQIA timetable as appropriate to their priority.
 
 
 
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