Who’s breaching your human rights?

In the UK, human rights are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. Only public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act.

This means you can take action under the Human Rights Act if a public authority has breached your human rights. But you can’t take action against a private individual as they’re not covered by the Act.

Read this page to find out more about public authorities.

What’s a public authority under the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act says a public authority is an organisation which provides public functions.

Here are examples of public authorities:

  • government departments
  • courts and tribunals
  • local authorities
  • police, prison and immigration officers
  • schools
  • ombudsmen
  • public prosecutors
  • NHS trusts and hospitals
  • other organisations which have been set up by the law like the Information Commissioner’s Office and the General Medical Council.

Private organisations and charities

Private organisations or charities are also public authorities if they carry out public functions. They must respect your human rights when they carry out their public functions.

This could include – for example:

  • privatised utilities like water companies, British Gas and Network Rail
  • some companies who have been subcontracted to carry out a public function like a security company running a private prison
  • some housing associations when carrying out some of its functions as a social landlord
  • private care homes providing care on behalf of the local authority
  • private hospitals providing care on behalf of the NHS.

How do you know if an organisation is carrying out a public function?

It’s the courts who decide if something is a public function as there’s no definition in the Human Rights Act.

Generally speaking a public function is something that’s normally provided to the public by the state like education, prisons or health services.

So if an organisation carries out one of these activities on behalf of the state they may be a public authority. But it’s not enough for a private organisation to carry out a public service for it to count as a public authority.

The courts will look at a number of things to decide if a private organisation is a public authority. It will look at whether the organisation is:

  • publicly funded
  • supervised by a state regulatory body
  • exercising powers given to it by the law
  • taking the place of central or local government
  • providing a public service
  • acting in the public interest
  • carrying out coercive powers devolved from the state.

When must a public authority follow the Human Rights Act?

Public authorities which are also public sector organisations like NHS hospitals, the police or schools must follow the Human Rights Act in everything they do, even if it’s not a public function. This means they must also follow the Act when they do things of a private nature, like making employment contracts.

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


A private security company runs a prison for the government. It also provides security guards to a supermarket. It would only be covered by the Human Rights Act in its public function of running the prison, not in providing the security guards to the supermarket as this is of a private nature.

What if your Convention rights have been breached by a private organisation or individual who’s not a public authority?

The Human Rights Act says courts should consider human rights in all cases they hear. This is because they’re also public authorities and so must follow the Human Rights Act.

All courts in the UK must apply the law in a way which is compatible with human rights. This means they must interpret and give effect to the law in a way which is as close to the Human Rights Act as possible. They must do this in all cases they hear even if they don’t involve a public authority.

Next steps

Other useful information

Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS)

The EASS helpline can provide advice and information on human rights and discrimination issues.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

You can find useful information about discrimination on the EHRC website at


For more information and advice on the different rights protected under the Human Rights Act, go to Liberty’s website at

British Institute of Human Rights

You can also find more information about human rights in Your human rights guides from the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) at