What Can a Private Investigator Do Legally in the UK?

Whether a loved one has gone missing or you suspect an employee of faking sickness, there’s an abundance of reasons why a person would want to hire a private investigator (PI). But with new privacy laws and a strict legal system, how can you be sure everything they do is above board and could potentially hold up in a court of law?

In this post, we’ll take a look at the UK regulations, what methods PIs can legally use and why you would want to hire a PI in the first place…

What does the law say in the UK?

In the UK, personal security and privacy are rightly protected by a number of laws and regulations, including the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 and the older Regulation in Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

These laws protect your safety and prevent people infringing on your human rights. With plenty of speculation surrounding the private security industry, however, it’s key that when choosing a PI, you opt for a company that places the law above all else.

Trained professionals

So how you can ensure that you’re getting the best of the best?

Being a member of security bodies like the ICO – the UK’s independent authority – means PIs operate discreetly, with your strictest confidentially. This body is set up to uphold information rights and data privacy for individuals.

Although PIs don’t require experience in the police or military, it does offer more peace of mind for clients they have this background. You can rest assured that investigators with a background in law enforcement will work hard to deliver expert results that are 100 percent above board.

Unlike the police, however, PIs don’t hold the same legal rights over members of the public. For example, PIs can’t make arrests or trespass on private property. It is also illegal for anyone to impersonate a member of the police force to obtain any information for their private investigation.

By following this strict set of regulations and procedures alongside personal discretion, PIs can ensure all their work is completed to the highest standard and is admissible in court of law.

Investigative methods

So, exactly what investigative methods can PIs utilise? The first rule of any PI investigation is that everyone remains safe and that they do not intentionally cause any damage or injury. PIs will then use whatever legal means necessary to acquire the relevant information.

Here’s a rundown of what exactly PIs can and can’t legally use in their investigations:

Official records

PIs have finely tuned skills to carry out research and background checks on a person. To do so, they can legally access all public records, including criminal records and court documents.

However, PIs can’t legally obtain any private documents such as phone, financial, medical or court sealed records. They are also not allowed to open mail or order a credit report without the consent of the individual in question.

Computers and phones

Similarly, PIs are legally not allowed to hack or wiretap a computer, phone or tablet. They only have access to these documents if they have the express permission of the owner.


The most common form of investigation is surveillance, which includes following people on foot or tracking vehicles using a GPS device. Of course, PIs can’t trespass on private property and can’t violate any stalking laws.

When GPS tracking employees’ vehicles, it’s important that the employees in question are informed of the possibility of tracking. To avoid any complications, companies should let all employees know beforehand that their vehicles may be tracked.


Word of mouth is another great way to gather relevant information, whether it’s from a co-worker or relative. This can be used to help find a missing person or monitor someone’s behaviour.

What can PIs legally investigate?

Investigative methods vary from company to company. But most organisations will use a range of techniques to obtain certain information, whether it’s for a private individual or for corporate purposes.

Here are a few possible examples of what exactly a PI can investigate:

Missing people

In the UK, PI companies are allowed to legally search for missing people, using surveillance methods. This could either be a missing loved one, someone avoiding paying their debts or even a cowboy contractor who has left you in the lurch.

Matrimonial surveillance

Do you suspect your spouse is cheating? Do you need confirmation they are having affair? PIs are legally allowed to follow people and report back their activities to an individual.

Assets & property

Whether you need to uncover assets for a divorce hearing or a business liquidation, PIs can help. This service is relevant for people or businesses who need professional help to conduct searches through public records.

Corporate investigations

Do you have an employee constantly feigning sickness? Or are you worried about workplace theft? PIs in the UK can offer a range of corporate investigation services. They can use the appropriate legal surveillance methods to provide valid evidence to the employer.

Insurance fraud

Insurance fraud is on the rise, with a whopping £90m fraud claims detected by insurance group Aviva in 2017. This is where PIs step in, helping corporate firms and individuals build up a case. They do this by providing reports and footage with dates and time stamps.

From false workplace injuries to ‘crash for cash’ incidents, a professional PI can help you gain high-quality evidence.

We are here to help

Hunter Surveillance Services provides a collection of expert private investigation services for individuals and corporate clients across the UK. Based in Lancashire, our discreet, highly skilled operatives work quickly to the letter of the law to help you uncover the truth and get the evidence you deserve.

To find out more and discuss your options, get in touch today on [email protected] or call our friendly team on 07555 712919.

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