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Unsure of your equality rights or the law? We can provide advice and assistance for people who feel they have been discriminated against.


Service related problem: Race discrimination

Have I been discriminated against because of my race?

If you have been treated unfairly on grounds of your race, this may be unlawful discrimination.

‘Racial grounds’ includes your colour, race, nationality, ethnic or national origins or being a member of the Irish Traveller community.

If as a result of these grounds you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, you can challenge the treatment under the race relations law.

Is all race discrimination the same?

No, there are different types of race discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful. The main forms are:


  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse than others, on grounds of your race, when a service provider:

- Refuses or deliberately fails to provide a service;
- Provides a service of a lower quality, in a worse manner or on worse terms than is normally the case.

For example: A landlord refuses to let a house to a prospective tenant because they are from Poland.  However he lets the house to local students.

  • Indirect discrimination is where a service provider unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect disadvantages people from your racial group.
For example:  A bank writes its mortgage and loan agreements in the English language only.  Whilst this policy is applied equally to everyone it disadvantages people from non English speaking countries.  
  • Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, on racial grounds, which violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
For example:  Management at a nightclub watches as their doormen racially abuses a black Portuguese customer and denies him access to the club.


  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of race discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint about a service provider under the race law.

For example:  A woman who provides a witness statement to support an Irish Traveller who has been racially abused in a shop is subsequently barred from that shop because she helped the Traveller.


How am I protected against race discrimination?

You are protected from race discrimination in the provision of a wide range of services whether they are paid for or free.

They include:


  • Access to public places
  • Facilities for education 
  • Housing / Accommodation
  • Health
  • Getting or using services such as:

– Financial services – Banking / Insurance
– Government departments
– Entertainment
– Transport

  • Professional or trade services

However, there are limited circumstances where race discrimination is allowed. Clubs, associations and charities set up for people of a particular ethnic or racial group may be allowed to discriminate in some circumstances.


What are my options?

1. Contact our Discrimination Advice Officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and guidance to help you resolve your issue.

2. Raise your complaint directly with the service provider and seek a resolution.

3. If a resolution is not reached and you wish to take your case further we may be able to provide you with legal representation. You must lodge your complaint of discrimination with the County Court.

NB: Only a County Court decides whether the treatment you have complained of is unlawful discrimination. It is separate to, and independent from, the Equality Commission.


Contact us
If you require assistance or would like to make a discrimination complaint, complete our online form or telephone 028 90 500 600.


Useful publications

Publications (in pdf format) relevant to race discrimination:
Translated publications on migrant workers rights (in pdf format):

You can also visit our publications database


Have I been the victim of a race hate crime?

A race hate crime is any incident perceived to have been committed against you or your property on the grounds of your ethnicity.

Racist incidents can take many different forms, for example, personal assaults, damage to your home or property as well as verbal abuse, hate mail, or the circulation of racist leaflets and materials.

You can find out more on racist hate crime on the Police Service for NI's website

What should I do if I have been a victim of race hate crime?
If you have been the victim of a racist incident you can call the Police on 101 (and select option 2: reporting a hate crime). In an emergency always call 999.

If you would like the police to know about a hate crime but you really do not want to report the crime yourself, someone else can report it for you – this is called third party reporting.

If your home has been attacked because of your race you may be eligible for personal and home protection measures under the Hate Incidents Practical Actions (HIPA) Scheme.

What is the Equality Commission's role in relation to racist hate crime?
Although the Commission does not deal directly with hate crime it seeks through its policy work to influence the NI Executive and others to implement measures to tackle racism and hate crime. For more on this see the Commission’s priorities and recommendations on racial equality.

Time limits apply

Remember there are strict time limits for taking a case of race discrimination. Complaints relating to services must be made to the court within six months of the discriminatory act.

Even if you are attempting to resolve problems, the statutory time limits still apply.  You may wish to issue proceedings to protect your legal interests if the matter has not resolved close to the expiry of the time limit.

If your time limit has expired the tribunal has discretion to extend the time for you to lodge your claim; this is used sparingly and it is unwise to assume that an extension will be granted.

< Problem with a service

Ask for advice
If you require information or advice please complete our online form. All information you submit is confidential – and if you wish to be contacted by us, please let us know the best way for you. You don’t have to share any personal information with us – we will not be able to identify you if that is your preference.

Make a discrimination complaint
We may be able to provide you with legal assistance. If you want to find out more, please use our discrimination complaint form to tell us the nature of your discrimination complaint and whether it is related to your age, disability, gender, race, religious belief/political opinion or sexual orientation.

Tell us what happened and we will contact you to talk through your complaint further.

Equality Commission NI
Alternatively, contact us:

Telephone: 028 90 500 600

Equality House
7-9 Shaftesbury Square
Belfast  BT2 7DP

We have listed below current legislation relevant to race discrimination.  You should note that equality and anti-discrimination law may be changed or updated.  The law is also complex and can require interpretation.  Please feel free to contact our discrimination advice team if you need clarification or guidance on what the law means. Email: or tel:  028 90 500 600.

Main law:


  • Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 (this link is to the revised version of the statute that incorporates all of the several amendments that were made over the years up to and including 2009)

Amending law:

European Union law:

Joanne & Domingos Story
Two friends, Joanne and Domingos had their night out at the Bambu Beach club end abruptly in September 2008 when a doorman denied them access and subjected them to a torrent of racist and sexist abuse. The doorman made sexually obscene and insulting remarks to Joanne and a series of obscene, crude and demeaning racist remarks to Domingos Lopes who is Portuguese. Both individuals, supported by the Commission were awarded £7,500 each along with their costs by the Belfast Recorders Court.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements
Julius's Story

When Julius Anakaa, originally from Nigeria, went for a drink in the Empire's beer garden he was falsely accused of drinking a carryout. He complained later in writing, but received a letter threatening court action if he repeated his allegations. His complaint was sent to the bar's owner, Wine Inns Ltd, alleging that his treatment had been racially motivated. When he received their solicitor’s response he decided to approach the Equality Commission for advice.

A district judge upholding Julius complaint of race discrimination awarded him £4,000 and described the reply he received from the company as "a stentorian tirade of bald denial and threats".

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


Frank's Story

Frank Kakopa, originally from Zimbabwe, was on a short break with his wife and young children in 2005, when he was stopped at Belfast City Airport.

He had proof that he lived and worked in England but was still strip-searched and held in Maghaberry Prison for two days. His family was left at the airport and advised to return to Liverpool.

Supported by the Commission he brought a complaint alleging false imprisonment and race discrimination. In an out of court settlement the Immigration Service admitted to wrongly imprisoning Frank, unreservedly apologised to him and paid him £7,500 in compensation.

Read more of our case decisions and settlements


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