The news came as ministers backtracked on plans to scrap existing up to 1,400 powers of entry without a warrant and said they would wait until a fresh Home Office review has finished in 2014.
The right of officials, such as bailiffs and envirionmental health officers, to be able to enter people’s homes without a warrant has been a bone of contention for years for civil liberties campaigners.
An estimated 20,000 officials – mainly working for councils across the country – now have the right to enter the homes of Britons without a warrant, after a big expansion in their powers under the Labour Government.
Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had proposed to limit these powers of entry without a warrant when they came into Government.
Peers had proposed a change to the Protection of Freedoms Bill last month which would have seen many of these officials losing the right to gain entry to people’s homes without a warrant. The only exemption was to be police, fire and ambulance crew, and trading standards officers.
However, Home Office minister James Brokenshire told MPs during a debate on Monday night that the Government was opposed to the Lords’ amendments and would instead conduct a review which would not report back until 2014.
Mr Brokenshire also admitted that in the past two years 19 new powers of entry had been “created or amended” by the Coalition.
He insisted that these new powers created by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government had only been granted as long as officials obtained either “the consent of the occupier or on the authority of a warrant”.
He said the Government “remained committed to protecting home owners’ rights and freedoms”. The two year review was necessary “in order to allow proper consideration of all the relevant 1,300 to 1,400 powers of entry”.
He added: “We are sympathetic to the objective underpinning the amendments. We all agree that powers of entry, particularly as they relate to people’s home, should be subject to proper safeguards.
“But we believe that the blanket approach taken by the amendments is misconceived, and as such could hamper legitimate enforcement activities and put lives at risk.”
There were no exemptions in the amendments for gas officials, officers from the Serious Organised Crime Agency or vets tackling a foot and mouth outbreak to enter a property without a warrant, he said.
MPs and civil liberties campaigners were critical.
Home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz MP: “I am surprised that the Government have sought to add 19 further powers of entry, despite conducting a review on previous powers and claiming that there was an unacceptable proliferation during the previous Government.
“They should refrain from introducing any further powers until the review has been concluded.”
Labour’s shadow home office minister David Hanson accused the Government of kicking the matter “into the long grass” and of “ducking the issue”.
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested the Government was doing “what is convenient rather than what is right”, pointing out that a “flea inspector” had a right to enter a home if he was worried there were “fleas hopping about”.
He said: “The bureaucrat always feels that it is easier to enter somebody’s home or office than to go through a complex procedure – or to get a warrant to obtain a Justice of the Peace’s authorisation – to go into somebody’s property”.
Mr Rees-Mogg urged ministers to “uphold and fight for” the principles set out by Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder in the 18th Century: “The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown.
“It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter, the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”
Another Tory MP Ben Gummer called on ministers for “some sort of restatement of our fundamental liberty with regard to private property, which is one of the underpinning foundations of English law”.
Big Brother Watch said that “it is beyond belief that a Conservative Home Office minister so blatantly trying to launch this issue into the long grass”.
Nick Pickles, a spokesman for Big Brother Watch, added that Tories risked breaking a manifesto commitment “to cut back the intrusive powers of entry into homes”.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The Protection of Freedoms Bill is striking the right balance between protecting the public and defending personal freedoms. We are clear that powers of entry to a home should require the consent of a magistrate or owner in most cases.
“Our review will ensure that powers of entry are used in a proportionate way. It will identify whether each power is needed, and if not then it will be repealed. We will report back every six months, and the review will be completed within two years.”
Source The Telegraph
So who can enter your home without a warrant?
The Fire Service
They are permitted to enter a property – and neighbouring properties – if there is or there is believed to be a fire.
Where they have a search warrant, the Police can gain immediate access to a property. They can therefore force entry into a home. Search warrants are issued by the court and can be given for a variety of reasons such as to carry out a search or seizure. Where the Police have a suspicion and want to search a home but have no search warrant, they cannot enter the home lawfully unless given permission in writing by the homeowner.
Private bailiffs can only enter a property through an open door or window. Once they have gained lawful access into the property, they are permitted by law to force entry to any other part of the property. Where seizure of property is postponed by the debtor agreeing to make regular payments, and the debtor defaults, then the bailiffs can force entry to the home. Court bailiffs can enter a property and remove a tenant, if the tenant is in breach of a court order to leave the property. All bailiffs must abide by the code of conduct of the Enforcement Services Association (ESA), and any complaint against them should be made with the ESA, if not the head of their employer.
Tax and Customs & Excise Officers
Tax officers will only enter a home if they have a suspicion, but they must have a search warrant before doing so.
Custom & Excise officers can enter by force, seize documents and search individuals, without a warrant to investigate suspected Vat offences.
TV Licensing Officers
They can only enter a home if they have a search warrant. They may make repeated visits to re-check if they suspect there is a television but do not find it during previous visits.
Various Local Authority Officers
Planning and rating officers can only enter a home to inspect it, having given prior notice. It is an offence to get into their way.
Local Housing Officers can enter for a variety of reasons, such as to enforce a notice to repair or demolish or a compulsory purchase order. They must have written authority and must give at least 24 hours notice. It can be an offence to get in their way. It must be noted that private landlords cannot enter a rented property without prior agreement with the tenant, except where it’s an emergency.
Officers of Utility Companies
Gas and electricity officers can enter in an emergency, or by warrant for other purposes such to disconnect the supply because of non-payment of bills or illegal use.
Water company officers can enter your house to inspect water meters, illegal use of water or in emergencies.