Privacy in Your Own Home

Who can enter your home?

A number of bodies have the right to enter your home in certain circumstances. But very few are allowed to force entry. All of them must have a legitimate reason for entry, produce evidence of identity and leave your property secure after forcible entry.  In some cases they give you a notice and are then permitted to visit at a reasonable hour.

The Police

The police can enter (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 an action, such as a search or seizure. If they have no warrant and ask permission to enter, the permission has to given in writing for the search to be lawful.

The Fire Service

The fire service can force entry into a property where there is or is believed to be a fire. Firefighters can also enter neighbouring premises.

Local Authority Housing Officers

These officers can enter for various reasons, such as to enforce a compulsory purchase order or notices to repair or demolish. They need written authority and must give 24 hours’ notice. It is an offence to get in their way. Private landlords cannot usually enter a rented property without prior agreement with the tenant, except in an emergency.

Gas and Electricity Companies

They can enter in an emergency, or for other purposes with a warrant, for example, to disconnect your supply because of non-payment of bills.

Water Companies

These companies can enter your house to inspect water meters, illegal use of water or in emergencies.

Planning and Rating Officers

These officers can enter your house to inspect it, but only after giving notice. It is an offence to get into their way.

Tax Officers

They can get a warrant to enter a property if fraud is suspected.

Custom and Excise Officers

They can enter premises without a warrant to investigate suspected VAT offences. They can enter by force, seize documents and search individuals.

TV Licensing Officers

Television licensing officers can enter if they have a search warrant. If you have no television it may be in your interest to let them see that this is true, but they may make repeated visits to re-check. 

Bailiffs

They may enter a house through an open door or window. They can force enter, once inside the house, into any other part of the property. They can break into non-domestic premises, such as a shed. They can make a force entry if the debtor defaults on a ‘walking possession agreement’, which postpones seizure of property while the debtor pays on agreed regular amount.  Bailiffs make a charge for their services, which is added to the amount owned by the debtor.

Examples

Intruding Landlord

You recently moved into a self-contained rented flat. The landlord keeps coming into the flat while you are out. He says he wants to check and confirm that you are looking after the place. You find this very intrusive. You have right to privacy in your rented accommodation, just as you would if you owned the property. Your landlord could be guilty of harassment which is a criminal offence.

Your landlord does have a right of access in order to carry out repairs he is responsible for, but he should ask your permission and give reasonable notice. Except with your permission, he should not come in for any other reasons. The only exceptions are in an emergency or if you have an arrangement with the landlord according to which he supplies services such as cleaning.

Check your tenancy agreement to see if it states the notice which the landlord must give before visiting. Speak to your landlord and ask him to visit only with proper notice. Remind him that you have a legal right to live undisturbed in the rented property.  

Visit from the bailiffs

You received a letter from a firm of bailiffs saying that they will be calling to take goods to pay your husband’s debts. They cannot just walk into the house and help themselves. You do not have to let the bailiffs into your home and they cannot force their way in on a first visit. They can enter the house by non-violent means, for example, if you let them in, or they find an open window or an unlocked door.  They can force their way into premises with no living accommodation such as detached garage or workshop, and can climb over a wall or fence to do so.

If the bailiffs call and harass you, for example, by calling repeatedly or in the night let them know that you will complain. Bailiffs must abide by the code of conduct of the Enforcement Services Association (ESA), which requires members to comply with regulations, maintain client confidentiality and respond to complaints. The ESA has a complaints procedure through which you can ask for an apology and repair of any damage. You could also phone the head of the firm they work for or the clerk of the court or council that employed them. If they commit an illegal act, call the police.

However, the first step should be to contact your lenders to try to make an arrangement with them. If this fails, lock all doors and windows. If you know when the bailiffs are coming, ask someone to be with you as a witness. Make written notes of what happens and what the bailiffs tell you. Phone the bailiffs’ office to try to agree a ‘walking possession agreement’, by which you keep the goods they want to seize and pay the debt in installments. If you so not then pay regularly, the bailiffs can break into your home to take the goods.