Is it legal to hire a private investigator in the UK?

One of the most commonly asked questions for private investigators and private investigative firms is if it is legal to hire an investigator in the UK. In short, it is perfectly legal to hire an investigator, however, a private investigator or private detective as they are sometimes known, have to abide by all current UK laws and regulations, so it is important to be aware of the legal limitations on what private investigators are allowed to do, such as not engaging in activities that breach someone’s privacy or break any laws.

Although private investigators are bound by the same rules as the general public, they have the resources and the expertise needed to carry out surveillance, protection, tracing, and fraud investigations. 

However, the industry is currently unregulated by the government so it is important to make sure when hiring a private investigator that you choose one that is held accountable not only to the law, but also has a strong code of ethics. Many reputable investigators and investigative firms belong to one of the trade organisations such as the Association of British Investigators (ABI), who hold their members to a code of ethics, which can help protect you against firms acting unlawfully and against your best interests. 

Although not legally bound, having an ethics code can reassure clients that they take their role and responsibilities seriously, and if at any point a private investigator offers to break the law during the course of an investigation then it needs to be reported to both the police and any organisation they are associated with.

There are also other organisations that can help you recognise a lawful private investigator, such as the UK Professional Investigators Network (UKPIN), The Institute of Professional Investigators (IPI) and the World Association of Professional Investigators (WAPI). By looking for a private detective that is associated with one of the above bodies, you are ensuring any actionable evidence you need has been obtained by entirely legal means.


So what are private investigators allowed to do legally? 

  • GPS Vehicle Tracking: Private investigators are legally allowed to track vehicles using GPS if the owner of a vehicle, or fleet of vehicles, has consented to the tracking of those vehicles using state-of-the-art GPS technology. This allows Private Investigators to gather evidence in cases of suspected vehicle misuse, moonlighting, and corporate sabotage.
  • Surveillance: Private investigators can covertly monitor and follow a person of interest or vehicle if they do so from public property. They are also allowed to take photographic evidence of any wrongdoing. 
  • Background Checks: With social media ever more prevalent, history and background checks are often key sources of information for private investigators. They can access public and business records as well as private databases they have permission for. 
  • Counter Surveillance: If you believe you are being targeted, either personally or professionally, private investigators are allowed to use counter surveillance techniques and technologies such as blockers and electronic sweeps. 
  • Monitoring: Private investigators can monitor activity on a workplace computer network or work phone system when authorised by the owner/company. 
  • Technological forensics: Under certain circumstances, private investigators can carry out mobile phone and computer forensics to recover deleted information. 

It is perhaps more important to understand what a private investigator is not allowed to do during an investigation on your behalf, as unlike the police, they do not have any specific legal powers. Protecting yourself and the matter you want investigation should always be a priority when hiring a private investigator in the UK. 

So what are private investigators not legally allowed to do?

  • Mishandle Data: Private Investigators are bound by the rules of the Data Protection Act, as enforced by the Information Commissioner’s Office. This ensures that confidential information gathered by Private Investigators – the processing of personal data – happens in accordance with law that provides a reasonable expectation of privacy. 
  • Trespass: Private investigators cannot trespass on private property during the course of an investigation, nor carry out surveillance whilst on private property without the owner’s permission.
  • Carry a firearm: Due to UK firearms laws, the carrying of guns is illegal and carries heavy penalties. Private investigators are also not allowed to carry weapons such as tasers, batons or pepper spray. This also applies to any overseas close protection officers that are here on business.  
  • Access someone’s mail: This includes both physical post and e-mails. Private investigators are not allowed to open your letters nor hack into your email account as this is an invasion of privacy. 
  • Arrest someone: Private investigators have no power to arrest someone for wrongdoing. 
  • Recording: Private investigators are not allowed to record phone calls from other people without notification nor record anywhere people have an expectation of privacy, such as bathrooms or changing rooms. 

This also includes activities such as hacking into someone’s email or social media accounts, bugging someone’s home or car, or engaging in any form of harassment. It is important to note that private investigators are not law enforcement officers, and they do not have any special powers or authority to detain or arrest individuals. They are also not permitted to impersonate police officers or to use illegal or unethical tactics to obtain information.

There are many legitimate reasons why someone might choose to hire a private investigator in the UK. Some common reasons include:

  • Investigating infidelity or cheating
  • Conducting a background check on a potential employee or business partner
  • Locating a missing person
  • Investigating insurance fraud or other types of fraud
  • Conducting surveillance for legal purposes, such as in a divorce case or child custody battle

If you are looking to hire a private investigator within the UK for any of the above reasons, or even for something else, then please remember to look for accreditations from leading industry and trade bodies, ask for an action plan before the start of the investigation and ask the investigator or firm what measures they intend to put in place. Any good private investigator should be able to use their experience and resources to ensure a positive outcome and collect any actionable evidence you may require – without breaking the law.

Hiring OpSec Solutions 

With over 10 years of experience, OpSec Solutions have earned full accreditations from the Association of British Investigators, the Institute of Professional Investigators, and the U.K Professional Investigators Network. This means that, when employing any of the services provided by OpSec Solutions, you have peace of mind that these experts will find the truth and any private investigative services, methods and techniques are carried out ethically, legally and with full confidentiality. 

As private investigators must collect information regarding the identification of a person, they are required to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure adherence with data protection laws. The team at OpSec Solutions consistently meet the highest standard for registration and take the guidelines around obtaining and the subsequent storage extremely seriously, this helps protect the business, the client and any evidence collected. 

Adhering to these standards allows OpSec solutions to remain highly regarded within the industry and ensures that you, the client, gets any evidence you may need for further action, and you do not get involved with any illegalities or wrongdoing that may cause financial, legal, and reputational damage. 

So, if you are looking to hire a great private investigator for any reasons, then please contact us here at OpSec Solutions, we are just a phone call or email away. Contact our team using our contact form on the website or call us on 0844-664-1125

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