Privacy in your own home

Who can enter your home?

Law enforcement and other officials have the right to enter your home in certain circumstances. However, few are allowed to execute a forced entry to someone’s property. Any official seeking entry must have a legitimate reason for entry, produce evidence of identity and leave your property secure after forcible entry.

In most cases, officials must give you notice that they will visit at a reasonable hour.

The police

The police can enter your home (by force if required) if they have a search warrant. A warrant is a court document authorising the police, or other law enforcement officials, to carry out certain actions, such as the search of a property, seizure of documents or items, or to take samples. If they have no warrant and ask for your permission to enter your property, such permission must be given in writing for the search to be lawful.

Police can force entry to your home without a warrant if a serious or dangerous incident has taken place. They can also enter your property if they have just arrested you, for the purposes of searching evidence.

The fire service

The fire service can force entry into a property where there is (or where they believe to be) a fire. Firefighters can also enter neighbouring premises. Where access is refused, the fire service must summon the police to assist in a forced entry.

Local authority housing officers

Local authority housing officers can enter for various reasons, such as to enforce a compulsory purchase order, enforce notices to repair or demolish, or to inspect housing conditions. Housing officers need written authority and must give 24 hours’ notice. It is a criminal offence to get in their way.

Private landlords

Private landlords cannot usually enter a rented property without prior agreement with the tenant, except in an emergency.

Gas and electricity companies

Gas and electricity companies can enter your premises with your consent. Otherwise, they can enter with a warrant; for example, to disconnect your supply because of non-payment of bills or to fit a prepayment meter.

Water companies

Water companies can enter your house with your permission, or with a warrant for the purposes of exercising its powers, or to decide how to exercise its powers – for instance, to inspect water meters, investigate illegal use of water or in the case of emergencies.

Planning officers

A planning officer has the right, without warrant, to enter the land at a reasonable hour to see if there has been a breach of planning control if there are reasonable grounds. It is a criminal offence to obstruct their entry.

Rating officers

Rating officers can enter your house to inspect it, but only after giving at least 72 hours’ notice. It is a criminal offence to obstruct their entry. Most inspections are, however, carried out with the owner’s consent.

Tax/HMRC officers

Under their civil powers, tax officers or inspectors from HMRC can get a warrant to enter a property for the purposes of an inspection if fraud is suspected. However, they cannot force entry into your premises without a court order. Using their criminal powers, HMRC officials can enter premises without a warrant to investigate suspected VAT offences, and similar. They can enter by force, seize documents and search individuals and make arrests. Their criminal powers are greater than their civil powers.

TV licensing officers

Television licensing officers can only enter your premises if they have a search warrant. If you have no television it may be in your interests to let them see for themselves, but they may make repeated visits to re-check.

Bailiffs

Bailiffs are under restrictions as to when they can act. They cannot gain entry by force except to collect unpaid criminal fines, income tax or stamp duty – but this must be a last resort. Bailiffs cannot enter your home between the hours of 9pm and 6am. They cannot enter your home if there are only children under 16 (or other vulnerable individuals) present.

However, where they are allowed to enter, they must only use peaceable means. In practice, this means they can gain entry through something like an open door or window. Once they are inside, they can force entry into any other part of the property.

If you cannot pay the bailiffs, or you don’t let them in, they are legally entitled to remove items from outside of your property (eg. your car or other vehicles) to be used to discharge your debt/s.

Discrimination

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against or harass any person on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity in the discharge of an authorised person’s powers.

This applies to the exercise of powers of entry. If powers of entry are executed in a way that are discriminatory under the 2010 Act, a compensation claim could follow.

If you have any concerns about an official’s exercise of their power of entry, or attempts to gain entry, take specialist legal advice from expert solicitors.