Powers of entry

A power of entry is a right for a person (usually a state official such as a police officer, local authority trading standards officer or a member of enforcement staff of a regulatory body) to legally enter defined premises, such as businesses, vehicles or land for specific purposes.

This power of entry might include undertaking an inspection, dealing with an emergency or searching for evidence during an investigation. Often, the power to enter is accompanied by what are known as 'associated powers', which set out what the official is allowed to do once they have entered the premises. This might, for instance, include conducting a search, seizing relevant items or collecting samples. Currently, there are around 1,400 separate powers of entry contained under primary and secondary legislation.

Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

On 11 February 2011, the Prime Minister announced the introduction of the Protection of Freedoms Bill as part of the government's civil liberties and freedoms agenda. The bill received royal assent and became law on 1 May 2012. The act includes reforms to rationalise powers of entry relating to domestic, commercial and other types of premises. For more information, see a list of all identified powers of entry.

The provisions contained in the act provide the 'tools' needed to:

  • repeal unnecessary powers of entry
  • add safeguards to powers where they are weak or missing
  • consolidate groups of similar powers to improve transparency, heighten safeguards and remove unnecessary duplication

Code of practice

There are a number of powers of entry that exist beyond the traditional enforcement used by state officials or members of private organisations who undertake administrative, public or regulatory functions.

To standardise approaches to powers of entry, and help drive transparency and accountability, the government intends to create a new statutory code of practice for all powers where none currently exists. This will provide a framework for the use of such powers across government.

The government is now consulting on the draft code of practice.

Review of all powers of entry

The act also places a duty on secretaries of state to review the powers of entry they are responsible for and report back to Parliament, following the necessary detailed analysis, within two years following royal assent. Updates on progress must be sent to Parliament every six months.

The purpose of the review is to examine each individual power to determine whether or not it is still required or should be repealed, should have further safeguards added to it or can be consolidated with other similar powers, so reducing the overall number. The Home Office is coordinating the government-wide review and has issued detailed guidance to undertake the reviews. The review of powers of entry will not cover Local Acts.

The first progress report comprises information that has been submitted by departments and has now been presented to Parliament.

Introduction of new or amended powers of entry

The Home Office 'gateway' has been set up to consider proposals for new powers of entry been created and to prevent the creation of needless powers and reduce unnecessary intrusion into people's homes. All new, amended or re-enacted powers of entry must now be submitted to the Home Office for ministerial approval. If approved, the power still needs to undergo parliamentary scrutiny. 

The guidance is primarily aimed at people working in central government departments and agencies, who are thinking about creating, amending or re-enacting powers of entry. 

Government departments and agencies need to complete a new Home Office template form setting out the background, necessity, proportionality and safeguards attached to the powers and submit it to the powers of entry gateway team email.

The Home Office will then consider the application and may ask you for further clarification before recommending to ministers whether or not to approve the creation of the new power.

For any queries about the powers of entry gateway process, please email the powers of entry gateway team.

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