Large public employers are being encouraged to find out how represented lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people are in their organisations.

As part of the Equality Act, all public bodies will be required to publish information about the diversity of their staff from April but the government will not set diversity targets.

Instead, the public will be expected to hold bodies to account if they feel certain sections of society are not represented well enough.

Employers are likely to hold information about race and gender of staff, but not about more “sensitive” characteristics such as sexual orientation or trans status.

They will be given the freedom to collect the information as they see fit, with the expectation that the public will challenge bodies who are not addressing the issue.

A government spokesman said public bodies would not be forced to question staff if they are gay or transgender. Instead they will be encouraged to asses how LGBT-friendly they are.

According to Home Office guidance, such questions can result in a low response rate and public bodies should take care that publishing small numbers does not allow individuals to be identified.

Only bodies with more than 150 staff will be required to produce information about the diversity of their staff and the government says that giving them the freedom to collect it as they wish will cut “red tape”.

Yesterday, equality minister Lynne Featherstone said in a written ministerial statement: “The Equality Duty brings to an end the era of government-inspired bureaucratic targets and shifts power to local people. The community, not Whitehall, will be in the front line for holding public bodies to account.”

Guidance published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission says: “The commission would normally expect to see the following, for bodies with 150 staff or more: the race, disability, gender and age distribution of your workforce; an indication of likely representation on sexual orientation and religion and belief, provided that no one can be identified as a result; an indication of any issues for transsexual staff, based on your engagement with transsexual staff or voluntary groups; gender pay gap information; grievance and dismissal.”

It adds: “Monitoring in relation to sexual orientation is often a new and sensitive issue for staff and for service users, so you should not say, or imply, that the sexual orientation questions are compulsory.”