Transgender recognition and the law

The government consultation on reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 recently finished. Kevin Mantle from the Government Equalities Office explains that while there was considerable media coverage about the review, there was also a lot of misinformation about the Act and what the government intends.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004 allows trans people to legally change their sex. Trans is a general term for people whose gender is different from the sex recorded on their birth certificate. Trans people do not feel comfortable living as the sex that they were born with; and many take life-changing steps to change their gender permanently.

Trans people aged 18 or over can change their legal sex by applying to the Gender Recognition Panel with evidence that they meet the requirements set out in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA). If they satisfy the Panel, they then receive a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) and a new birth certificate with an updated sex marker. In most cases, the requirements for gaining a GRC are as follows.

  • Applicant must be 18 or over
  • A statutory declaration that the trans person intends to live permanently in their acquired gender until death
  • Application fee of up to £140
  • Two medical reports – confirming that the applicant has, or has had, gender dysphoria and including details of any treatment the applicant has had to modify their body, e.g. hormone treatment or surgery
  • Evidence that the applicant has lived full time in their acquired gender for at least two years. This might include, for example, documentation displaying the individual’s name and gender marker
  • If married, the spouse must issue a statutory declaration of consent
  • The applicant cannot be in a civil partnership unless both they and their partner get legal recognition on the same day

When it was first introduced, the GRA was a world-leading piece of legislation. For the first time in the UK, it allowed trans people to have their acquired gender recognised in law, and uniquely in the world at that time, to be legally recognised without having first had surgical treatment. However, for many trans people the legal recognition process is no longer delivering. Since the GRA came into force, 5,000 people have successfully acquired a GRC – this is fewer than the number of trans men and trans women who responded to the government’s LGBT survey (around 6,900), and is far fewer than the estimated size of the trans population in the UK.

Respondents to the LGBT survey were clear: they wanted legal recognition but they had not applied for it because they found the current process too bureaucratic, too expensive and too intrusive. The consultation over the summer fulfilled a promise that government made in July 2017 to consult on GRA. The government wants to make the legal recognition process less intrusive and bureaucratic for trans people and the consultation sought views on how they might achieve that.

The government is now examining the responses to the consultation in detail, to consider what, if any, changes should be made. In considering future policy, the government is mindful that this is a sensitive issue and they are listening very carefully to all those who have an interest.

To support organisations and employers with employing and providing services to trans people, the government has issued guidance:


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