The Disability Discrimination Act, Equality Act and cancer

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was originally written in 1995. This Act was made to stop discrimination against disabled people. It aimed to make sure people were not treated differently or less well because they have a disability. 

England, Scotland and Wales

In 2010, the Equality Act replaced previous anti discrimination laws, bringing them together under one piece of legislation. This includes the Disability Discrimination Act. The Equality Act applies to people with cancer or those who have had cancer in the past. All cancers are included. And you are protected from the time you're diagnosed with cancer.

Northern Ireland

The Disability Discrimination Act still applies people with cancer in Northern Ireland.

What does the Equality Act mean for people with cancer?

The Equality Act considers a diagnosis of cancer as a disability. You don’t have to have symptoms or consider yourself disabled by your cancer to be covered. But the Act gives you important rights.

Your work

These rights mean that you can negotiate for reasonable changes in your work or workplace. The term reasonable means that any changes or adaptations must be practical for your employer, in terms of cost and effects on other workers.

For example, if you need time off work for treatment and recovery your employer might allow you a period of leave and your job will still be there when you want to go back. Or it might be reasonable to have more flexible working hours so you can carry on working. And the Act also gives you legal protection if you feel your employer has treated you unfairly.

You don’t have to tell your employer you have cancer. But if you don’t tell them, they can’t make any changes to your job or workplace. You can ask your employer to keep the information confidential so only people you agree to have this information are told.

Your education

People involved in your education should not treat you less well because you have cancer. An example of this is your college making sure you get notes from lectures you miss due to having treatment.

How you use places and services

Providers of any services you might use have to make sure you can use them in the same way as people without a disability. Examples of this are:

  • supermarkets giving you help when you're shopping
  • shops making changes to their buildings, so it’s easier for you to get around them if you have problems walking


There are special rules about insurance in the Equality Act. For example, life insurance, health insurance or car insurance companies have to use reliable medical information and look at all the relevant factors when you apply for insurance.

If you have a type of cancer that statistics show is either curable or manageable, it might be against the law for the life insurance company to refuse you insurance or charge you a higher premium. This might mean that insurers need to ask your doctor for more detailed information about your condition.

Your housing needs

One example of the rights you have under the Equality Act is that landlords can’t refuse to let a property to you because you have a disability.

What to do if you feel you have been discriminated against

You have some options if you feel you have been discriminated against because you have cancer. It's always best to start by talking to the person involved about your concerns. This might be your employer, tutor or landlord. It helps to keep a record of what happened and when.

You could speak with your union or human resources officer if the problem is with your employer. There is a scheme called Access to Work that can help with making changes at your place of work. This is for people in England, Scotland and Wales.

You can also get advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau if you can't resolve the problem by discussion.

Some people who can’t resolve the problem might want to go further and take legal action. Before you do this, take advice and get as much information as you can. You'll need to think about the cost, because taking legal action can be very expensive. Most people are able to resolve problems without taking any legal action.

Further help and information

You might need emotional, practical or financial support when you have cancer. 

We have more information about coping practically when you have cancer.

Related links