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Do UK Private Investigators Need a Licence?

Sep 5, 2008
Until recently, private investigators in the United Kingdom have not required any special licence. That situation looks likely to change soon, however.

In May 2001 the Private Security Industry Act was passed by the British Parliament. This paved the way for a system of licensing for the private security industry. The Act separated the industry into four key segments: door minders/bouncers, wheel-clampers, manned security and private investigators.

The licensing system is being implemented by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Everything so far is running fairly smoothly, with the entire security industry in England and Wales being regulated as from 2005 on a sector by sector basis. The PI sector is last on the list, and at the time of writing (August 2008) there is still no definite date for the introduction of licensing for PIs.

At present it is too early to say exactly how the new licensing system for private investigators will operate. However, the SIA say that operators will need an SIA licence "if they are engaged in surveillance, inquiries or investigations for the purpose of obtaining information about a person or person(s) activities or whereabouts, or the circumstances by which property has been lost or damaged."

The SIA say that the following activities will NOT require a licence:

* activities exclusively for the purposes of market research;

* activities exclusively concerned with a credit check;

* professional activities of practising solicitors and Barristers;

* professional activities of practising accountants;

* professional activities of journalists and broadcasters;

* activities exclusively relating to reference to registers which are open to the public; registers or records to which a person has a right of access; and published works; and

* activities carried out with the knowledge or consent of the subject of the investigation.

Once licensing is introduced, anyone involved in providing contracted private investigation services will need a licence. This includes employees, employers, managers, supervisors and directors or partners of private investigation companies.

According to the SIA website (see below), a partial Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) has been carried out on the licensing of private investigators. This was a wide-ranging review, which looked at a range of options, and all interested parties were invited to submit their comments. The next stage is that the Home Office will publish a full Implementation Impact Assessment (IIA) that will give details of the approach to be taken. As yet there is no indication on when the IIA will be published.

The above sums up the information available about the proposed licensing of private investigators in England and Wales (and, by extension, Scotland and Northern Ireland) at the present time. For the very latest information, you may wish to check the SIA website at www.the-sia.org.uk. You can also phone the SIA on 08702 430 100, or write to them at Security Industry Authority, PO Box 9, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE82 6YX, UK.

If you are currently considering becoming a private investigator, there is every incentive to proceed now before licensing is introduced. At present, there is no requirement for investigators to be licensed (although if, for example, your work involves collecting money on a client's behalf, you may have to apply for a consumer credit licence). Once licensing comes in, however, would-be entrants to the profession may be required to obtain specific job-related qualifications, while those already working in the sector may qualify for full or partial exemption from this requirement.
About the Author
Mark Gustaffson is the author of the Professional Private Investigator Course from Maple Academy (UK), a leading correspondence course in this field. For more information, see the Maple Academy website at http://www.mapleacademy.com.
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