The right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions is protected by Protocol 1, Article 1 of the Human Rights Act.

How might this right be relevant to my life?

This protects our right to enjoy our possessions without interference, deprivation, or control of these possessions by a government or public body.

‘Possessions’ means things like land, property and objects you own, as well as shares, pensions, money, and certain types of welfare benefits.

Some examples of when your right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions might be at risk include:

  • Blanket policies banning people from using their mobile phones while they are admitted to a mental health unit.
  • If staff in a health or care service confiscate personal objects as a form of punishment. This might also affect the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3) and the right to private and family life (Article 8).
  • Policies on welfare benefits which have a worse impact on certain groups of people, such as carers, people with care and support needs, or survivors of domestic abuse.
  • Social housing providers failing to adequately maintain property which could result in serious harm to tenants.
  • If a public authority purchases property from an individual and does not pay them a fair amount for it.

Can my right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions be restricted by a public official?

Yes – our right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions is a non-absolute right. If a public official is deciding to restrict your right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, they must go through a test. They must be able to show that their decision is:

Lawful:

There must be a law which allows public officials to interfere with your possessions.

Legitimate:

The restriction has to be for a good reason. This could be to protect you or others from harm, to protect your other rights, or to protect other people’s rights.

Proportionate:

They have thought about other things they could do, but there is no other way to protect you or other people. It must be the least restrictive option.

You can ask the public official about their decision or action and ask them to tell you how it was lawful, legitimate and proportionate.

If you can think of a way to deal with this situation or decision that is less restrictive to you then you can raise it with the public official as the decision may not be proportionate.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right: 

This means public officials should not interfere with your right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions, unless it is necessary and they can show that this is the case.

To protect your right: 

This means people working in public bodies should protect your right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions if they know, or they should know, that this right is at risk.



To fulfil your right: 

This means that when decisions are made about your right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions you must be treated fairly. When things go wrong they should be investigated and steps should be taken to try and stop the same thing happening again.

Josh’s story

Josh was an inpatient in a mental health hospital for children and young people. One Friday afternoon, Josh was told he must hand over his notebook, a new ward policy as there had been an incident on another ward that day. Josh was distraught. His notebook was where he wrote down how he felt, a way of managing day to day feelings. It was also where he liked to draw, something which contributed hugely to his health and wellbeing.

Josh’s mum arrived to visit Josh later that day and found him in tears. She had been involved in a BIHR training course and asked ward staff whether there was a legitimate aim for taking away Josh’s journal. Staff explained it was a new ward policy. Josh’s mum told staff this was not the least restrictive response and it must be reviewed immediately.

The following day Josh’s journal was returned and a less restrictive process was put in place. Staff should from now on manage and review possessions on an individual basis and only when the person or others is at risk of harm.

Amanda’s story

Amanda and her son lived in a three-bedroom house which they rented through a social housing scheme. Amanda was a survivor of violent sexual crime, harassment and stalking by a former partner. To keep her and her son safe, the police referred them to a scheme which protects people at risk from severe forms of domestic abuse. The scheme adapted Amanda’s home by changing one of the bedrooms into a panic room.

Amanda received Housing Benefit to rent her home. Following the change in legislation in 2012, often referred to as the “bedroom tax”, Amanda’s Housing Benefit was reduced by 14% as she was considered to have one more bedroom than she is entitled to. Because of the reduction, Amanda’s Housing Benefit no longer meets the cost of her rent.

Amanda claimed that she had been discriminated against based on her gender as a victim of gender-based violence in conjunction with her right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. The Court agreed that treating Amanda, or others in a similar situation, the same as others subject to the “bedroom tax” was a disproportionate interference with her right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions. The Court also said that governments and public bodies have a duty to protect people from threats from others, including in situations where an individual’s right to the enjoyment of his or her home free of violent disturbance was at stake.

(J.D. and A v. the United Kingdom [2019] ECHR 753)

These stories are real but people’s names have been changed.