RESEARCH published today shows there are more than 60 Wirral Council officials who have the power to enter homes and businesses without a court order or police escort.
Civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, which carried out the probe, said: “The general public have been left high and dry at the mercy of an army of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please.”
The research highlights that despite the Coalition Government agreement to reduce the number of “Powers of Entry”, there are still almost 20,000 local authority officials with these powers.
In Wirral, 68 council employees have “Power of Entry” – some way above the average number of 45.
Across the country there are more than 19,375 town hall officials with such powers in a total of 429 authorities.
And shockingly, two authorities have more than 500 officials with the powers: Northumberland with 541 and Leeds 527.
Big Brother Watch believes that unless life or property is in imminent danger or a crime is taking place, council officials should always require a warrant before attempting to enter our homes and businesses.
At the very least, they should be under the supervision of a police officer if these criteria are not satisfied, they say.
Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Few people would expect that public officials would have the power to enter your home or business, often without a warrant or police escort.
"The general public have been left high and dry, at the mercy of an army of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please.
“There have been a number of missed opportunities to rectify this, including the Protection of Freedoms Act and the Home Office’s review of the powers, yet both have failed to tackle the number of officials with these powers.
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“The Coalition has had almost five years to rectify this and all we have seen is hand-wringing and bureaucracy.”
But Surjit Tour, Wirral Council’s head of legal and member services, said: "Any powers of entry are used sparingly and responsibly, and are contained within legislation for many statutory services and functions.
"These include safeguarding, health and safety, environmental health/protection, noise nuisance, trading standards, anti-social behaviour, building control, licensing, power to survey land, public health, and planning enforcement.
"These powers are used appropriately and proportionally to protect the vulnerable, tackle malpractice, rogue traders, loan sharks and benefit fraudsters operating in our area.
"Without these powers it would be much harder, and in some cases impossible, to bring offenders to justice."
Big Brother Watch said despite some Powers of Entry being "sensible", allowing for the welfare of the public, there are a huge number that are regarded as meaningless regulation.
They cite: The Plant Health Order (2005), permitting the investigation into whether pot plants have plant pests or a “plant passport.”
The Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), permitting the surveying of a home and garden to see if hedges are too high.
And even the Hypnotism Act (1952), permitting the inspection of a property to ensure illegal or unregulated hypnotism is not taking place.
Ms Carr pointed out that prior to the election, Conservatives pledged to curb the number of these powers: "In their manifesto they promised to cut back “intrusive powers of entry," she said.
"However, almost five years later, there remain more than 1,000 powers that allow public officials to enter private property.