Who does the Human Rights Act apply to?

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Employees

Which countries is it relevant to?

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If you are being treated unfairly and think it may be a human rights issue, it is important to understand whether the Human Rights Act applies to the individual or organisation causing the problem.

The Act applies to:

  • all public authorities, and
  • all other bodies, whether public or private, performing public functions

Public authorities include:

  • government departments
  • courts and tribunals
  • local authorities
  • police, prison and immigration officers
  • schools (or in Scotland, education authorities) if publicly funded.
  • ombudsmen
  • public prosecutors
  • NHS trusts, health boards and hospitals, and
  • many other organisations which have been set up by the law, like the Information Commissioner’s Office and the General Medical Council.

Public authorities like NHS hospitals or the police must follow the Human Rights Act in everything they do. This also includes the private aspects of their business, like making employment contracts.

Private organisations or charities that carry out public functions could include, for example:

  • privatised utilities like water companies, British Gas and Network Rail
  • a security company running a private prison
  • housing associations that act as social landlords
  • private care homes providing care on behalf of a local authority, and
  • private hospitals providing care on behalf of the NHS.

Private organisations or charities only have to follow the Human Rights Act when they carry out their public functions.

Guidance for public authorities

If you work in a public authority, you need to know your responsibilities under the Human Rights Act. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has produced Human Rights: Human Lives, a guide to help you understand how the Act relates to the services you provide. The guide includes:

  • information on the origins, aims and scope of the Human Rights Act
  • explanations of each right and the relevance to different public authorities
  • real-life examples and case studies showing human rights work in practice
  • a ‘jargon buster’ and answers to frequently asked questions, and
  • signposting to further information and useful contacts.

Last updated: 21 Feb 2020

Further information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service.

Phone: 0808 800 0082

You can email using the contact form on the EASS website.

Also available through the website are BSL interpretation, web chat services and a contact us form.


Opening hours:

9am to 7pm Monday to Friday
10am to 2pm Saturday
closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.