Something is stirring. Something is definitely stirring! After some weeks .. months of plugging away at this name change issue all on my own with the odd hint of support here and there (maybe the EHRC would be interested, maybe one or two backbench MP’s), I am starting to get mail.
A trickle for now. But still, a trickle is more than nothing and it underscores how this is not just a trans issue, but a full-on gender one.
Several people have also asked for a quick check guidance list: so here it is. If you are having probs with an organisation, it is worth making some or all of the following points.
But please: don’t pussyfoot. If you threaten an organisation with a referral to the EHRC or Information Commissioner, DO IT, Because all those who threaten and don’t follow thru, make organisations believe they can get away with continuing to patronise us.
What’ in a name?
First up, when it comes to name, there is no such thing as a “legal name” in the UK. There just isn’t. I have that on as good an authority as the Home Office’s in-house lawyers, who agreed to amend guidance on the direct.gov site in respect of getting a passport to remove this phrase.
Any organisation that tells you different needs to talk to its own lawyers.
Second, you are allowed to call yourself anything you want provided that you aren’t doing it for purposes of fraud or “pecuniary advantage”. Change your name and try to access someone else’s bank account – and that’s a crime. Change your name and that’s fine.
In fact, your “name” is what you are known as. Take a look around you. How many Ted’s and Bob’s and Liz’s and Trish’s do you know? Chances are that most of them were not registered under that name (as most parents prefer more trad versions like Edward, Robert, Elizabeth or Patricia). People are changing their names every day and in many many cases, organisations don’t give a damn about it – particularly when its their own staff doing it.
Discrimination – direct and indirect
Third, and most important, organisations insisting on you presenting documents before they will “allow” a name change on their system are almost certainly breaking the law. In two ways.
To begin with, this is almost certainly indirect discrimination as defined by the Equality Act 2010. Why so? Well, direct discrimination is easy: its where someone treats you differently in respect of a “protected characteristic” (like race, gender, orientation, etc.). “No blacks”, “no women” or “no poofs” are all direct discrimination and should be reported as such straight away to the EHRC.
Their site is here, and their helpline is 0845 604 6610 (England), 0845 604 5510 (Scotland) or 0845 604 8810 (Wales).
But name change is not “direct” discrimination. As many organisations argue: they apply the same condition to all, male female, trans or cis. So surely no prob?
Not quite. There is also a thing called indirect discrimination, which happens whenever a service gets offered on terms that will differentially affect an individual on grounds of protected characteristic. A height bar. A “no trousers” rule. A “no turbans” rule. All these are indirect discrimination.
And name change is indirect discrimination. Because in general, it is women and the transgendered who are more likely to hit this as an issue. It differentially affects women/trans by comparison to men/cis persons. Explain this politely to the organisation.
Security no excuse
The only get-out, organisationally, for such discrimination is where the discrimination is required by law (demand they specify the exact statute) or where it meets some operational need that cannot be met by some other means. Many will now start muttering “security” at you.
This is bollocks. Bear in mind that almost every such organisation will do almost everything else with you on the basis of a limited number of security questions (like date of birth and mother’s maiden name). Either they believe you are who you are, in which case, what’s the prob? Or they don’t – in which case, why are they even talking to you?
Most organisational security arrangements aren’t. They are there to backcover in case something goes wrong, but do very little to achieve real security.
Then refer the matter to the EHRC. Please refer the matter. At present the EHRC are wobbling on this issue: so if pressure builds up from more than a few complaints, I think they will eventually take action and firm up their guidance.
Oh. And be prepared to take the organisation to court. More details on how to do that in a later post. But its very simple, will cost you just £30: and will help focus the mind of the organisation concerned.
Data Protection to the rescue?
The other legal avenue is to use the Data Protection Act. Under the DPA, it is possible for an individual to lodge an “objection to processing” where such processing is causing unwarranted damage or distress, which organisations must respond to within 21 days.
This is not an avenue I have used directly, and feels like a weaker option than the Discrimination route, because according to the Information Commissioner’s site, the organisation has the get-out that they can continue the processing if it is “necessary”. Which takes us right back to the discrimination argument.
Those organisations interested in treating their customers sensitively will have stopped and thought about matters the moment you raised the issue. The rest will just dig their heels in and claim their processing and systems are necessary for…”legal” reasons, “security” reasons…or any one of half a dozen other reasons.
If anyone wants any help in changing their name (and I am perfectly happy to help anyone, cis or trans), or dealing with a recalcitrant organisation, please just drop me a line.