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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.


Education service

What you need to know

How we can help

The Legislation


Have I been discriminated against because of my age?

If you have been treated unfairly because of your age, this may be unlawful discrimination.


Age discrimination applies regardless of age and only in employment and occupation; further and higher education and vocational training.


If you are treated worse than another person in a similar situation, on grounds of age, you can challenge that treatment under the law.

What is covered?

The law applies to educational establishments such as institutes of further and higher education, including universities, vocational training providers (which can be public, private and voluntary sector training bodies) and those that provide career guidance services.

The law does not apply to education at schools.


Is all age discrimination the same?

No. There are different types of age discrimination, and it doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

The main forms are:

  • Direct discrimination is where you are treated worse that others because of your age. For example:  A 50 year-old applies for a course at his local university and is informed that, despite having all the relevant entry qualifications and skills, he would not ‘fit in’ as most people on the course were aged 18 to 25.


  • Indirect discrimination is where an organisation unjustifiably operates a rule or policy that looks the same for everyone but in effect places people from a particular age group at a disadvantage. For example: A 42 year-old shop worker who left school at 16 with no qualifications applied to his local regional college to take a course that would lead to a proper qualification. He was refused entry as he did not comply with one of the entry requirements – to have a satisfactory secondary school profile. At the time when he left school there was little opportunity to gain additional qualification after leaving school.


  • Harassment is where a person behaves in a way, on grounds of age, that violates your dignity or creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. For example: A 50-year old drama student is subjected to jokes about older people.


  • Victimisation is where you have made a complaint of age discrimination, in good faith, or helped someone else with a complaint under the age law, and suffered as a result. For example: A student who provided evidence at a fellow students age discrimination industrial tribunal applies to a higher course with her college.  Her application is rejected and she believes this is a result of her giving evidence at the tribunal.

How am I protected against age discrimination?

You are protected from discrimination in age in education under the following circumstances:

  • Admission to (arrangements), the terms and refusal or deliberately not affording access to vocational training courses
  • Admission to, the terms and deliberately not accepting an application to institutes of further and higher education
  • Being denied benefits, being excluded, training terminated  or suffering any other detriment
  • In the provision of references

However, there are limited circumstances when age discrimination is allowed:

  • In direct and indirect discrimination if the training or education provider can demonstrate that their actions or provisions, criteria or practices are objectively justified. For example: the professional requirements of a particular profession at which a course is aimed.
  • Positive action measures for training to be established for a particular age groups to help them for particular work. For example: A regional college runs ‘access to university’ courses for those over the age of 21 who would liked to study but do not hold the qualifications to enter university.
  • Genuine occupational requirements (GOR) belonging to a particular age group. For example: The grants and loans for tuition fees and maintenance paid to students.

What are my options?

What can I do myself?

1. Contact our discrimination advice officers who will provide you with free and confidential information and 
    guidance. Should you decide to take your case to court, you can ask for us to provide legal representation

2. Raise your complaint directly with the education body or vocational training provider and seek a resolution.

3. Go directly to court or tribunal with your own legal representative to lodge a complaint of discrimination.


How can the Equality Commission help me?

1. We provide advice and assistance.

2. We provide legal representation in a limited number of cases.

Only a 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


Time limits apply

Complaints against institutions of further and higher education must be made to the county court and lodged in writing within six months of the act in question.

Your complaint of unlawful discrimination against a vocational training provider must be made within three months of the act in question.

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.

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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 age 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.

Age Discrimination Law

Main law:


• Employment Equality (Age) Regulations (NI) 2006

Amending laws:

• Employment Equality (Age) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2006

• Employment Equality (Age) (Amendment No.2) Regulations (NI) 2006

• Employment Equality (Age) (Amendment) Regulations (NI) 2009

• Employment Equality (Age) (Repeal of Retirement Age Provisions) Regulations (NI) 2011

European Union law:

  • Directive 2000/78/EC - equal treatment in employment on grounds of religion and belief, disability, sexual orientation, age

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