Rethink’s black and minority ethnic initiatives manager, Claire Felix, said she hoped the decision would help tackle widespread racial inequalities in the sector.
The CRE said it had evidence that the DH was not meeting its obligations to assess new policies by carrying out race impact assessments, as demanded by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.
Felix, who is also chair of race equality coalition the BME Mental Health Network, said: “The Department of Health’s efforts to ensure that it complies with the Act have not succeeded in mental health.”
Last August, the CRE accused the DH of having “probably the worst” race equality record in Whitehall, and threatened to use its investigatory powers.
Last week, the CRE’s director of legal services and enforcement, Anthony Robinson, said: “We have reason to believe they have not been meeting their obligations. This is worrying as they influence and shape local health services.”
The CRE has the right to order the DH to produce relevant documents, and can issue a non-discrimination notice if it feels there has been discrimination, with which it can enforce compliance.
A DH spokesperson said: “Delivering on race equality in relation to patients, the public and staff is central to the work of the department.
“We are committed to developing and further improving our response to these commitments and we will work closely with the CRE on this agenda.”