Right Of Entry

More than 150 local officers have power to enter homes

Hammersmith and Fulham council has more than 150 officers who can enter private property without requiring a warrant or police officer escort, according to a report.

The research, carried out by Big Brother Watch, shows H&F has 169 officers who have powers to enter people's homes and workplaces – the 7th highest figure in the country.

Nationwide, there are at least 14,793 officers in local councils who have entry powers, the research shows. The figure only covers council officers and those given the powers by the council’s constitution; it does not include police officers, firemen and paramedics employed by local authorities.

The report states: “Many of the laws that permit power of entry are crucial for reasons of public safety and law enforcement. However the steady rise in the number of council officers able to wield these powers points to a wider failing within local authorities. Councils are granting powers of entry to increasing numbers of their officers for administrative ease. Entering private property is a difficult, sensitive and sometimes dangerous exercise. As the numbers rise, the potential for abuse and the lasting damage that a poorly executed operation can do to its victims become of greater concern.

“Big Brother Watch contends that the increase in the number of people able to enter private property, without the checks and balances provided by the necessity of a court warrant, makes the chances of abuse more likely and threatens the privacy of our homes and workplaces.”

In July 2008 the Home Office published a full list of the powers of entry that were now in force , showing there were 1,043 such powers. According to the Big Brother Watch report, these include: safeguarding the welfare of adopted children, obtaining maintenance payments from a parent not living with a child, powers of entry and seizure to control noise (e.g. from alarms), powers to seize illicit recordings under copyright laws. They also include powers of entry: to see if pot plants have plant pests or do not have a ‘plant passport’ (Plant Health Order 2005), to check the energy ratings on refrigerators (Energy Information Household Refrigerators and Freezers Regulations 2004), surveying the home and garden to see if hedges are too high (Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003), inspecting a property to ensure illegal or unregulated hypnotism is not taking place (Hypnotism Act 1952).

Alex Deane, Director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Once, a man’s home was his castle. Today the Big Brother state wants to inspect, regulate and standardise the inside of our homes. Councils are dishing out powers of entry to officers within their council for their own ease, without giving due thought to the public’s right to privacy and the potential for abuse. There needs to be a much closer eye kept on the number of officers granted the right to barge into private premises without a warrant.”

A Hammersmith and Fulham council spokesman said: "The council has no hesitation in using every legal tool available to ensure that people living and working in the borough do so in a safe and secure manner.

“The majority of these officers work to ensure that our most vulnerable people are protected, housing is up to a good standard and animals are treated humanely."

January 8, 2010