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The right to be free from discrimination

The right to be free from discrimination is protected by Article 14 of the Human Rights Act.

Key information

Last updated: 09th November 2022


This right often comes up in:
Anti-discrimination, disability rights including SEND, drug and alcohol recovery, ending violence against women, learning disability and/or autism, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health and capacity and migration and refugee rights


Non-absolute right

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How might this right be relevant to my life?

Discrimination might involve you being treated less favourably than other people in the same situation based on something about yourself, such as a characteristic or status you have.

It could also involve a public official failing to treat you differently when you are in a very different situation to others, or applying rules to you that have a worse impact on you.

Some examples of where your right to be free from discrimination might be at risk include:

  • A public official deciding not to treat your physical health problem because you have mental health issues or you lack capacity to make certain decisions.

  • Making assumptions about where you should live based on discriminatory attitudes about physical or mental health conditions you may have.

  • If you are treated worse by a local authority because you are a family carer, as opposed to a non-family carer.

  • A school uniform policy which does not respect students’ religious beliefs.

  • Policies on benefits which disadvantage survivors of domestic abuse.

  • Being denied the right to marry and have a family with someone purely because you have a learning disability.

  • Bullying or harassment.

This is not a stand-alone right to be free from discrimination. It’s a right not to be discriminated against when you are relying on your other rights in the Human Rights Act.  The right to be free from discrimination is sometimes called a ‘piggy-back’ right. This means that when one of your other rights is at risk, you can also raise your right to non-discrimination if you think that is an issue.

The Human Rights Act, unlike other discrimination laws such as the Equality Act, is open-ended (the Equality Act prohibits discrimination on 9 grounds, called protected characteristics, which are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage & civil partnership, pregnancy & maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation). The Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against you, setting out a list of reasons which includes sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth. It is open-ended because it then says “or other status”, which courts have so far decided includes age, gender identity, sexual orientation, health and disability, parental and marital status, immigration status. This can also include experiencing discrimination for combined reasons – such as being a young, black, disabled person. The Human Rights Act puts a legal duty on public bodies to respect and protect this right, whereas the Equality Act applies to public and private bodies, including shops and restaurants.



Can my right to be free from discrimination be restricted by a public official?

While discrimination is always unlawful, not all differential treatment (or failure to treat people differently when they’re in different situations) will be classed as discrimination. If a public official is treating you differently (or failing to treat you differently) for some reason, they must be able to show that it can be objectively and reasonably justified. 

You can talk to a public official about their decision or action where you think that treating or not treating you differently is an issue, and you can ask them to tell you how this is objectively and reasonably justified.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right:

This means public officials should not discriminate against you. They must show that treating (or not treating) you differently is objectively and reasonably justified.

To protect your right:

This means that people working in public bodies have to protect your right to be free from discrimination. If they are aware, or they should be aware, that you are being wrongly discriminated against, they should take action to address this to protect your right.

To fulfil your right:

This means that when things go wrong, they should be investigated and steps should be taken to try and stop the same thing happening again.