‘Public at mercy of council pen-pushers’ says civil rights group

The number of council officials with the power to enter homes in South Tyneside is too high, say civil rights campaigners.

South Tyneside Council employs 61 officers who have powers of entry which enable them to barge into homes and businesses across the borough.

This covers regulatory roles such environmental health and trading standards officers.

However, campaigners at Big Brother Watch (BBW) – a civil liberties and privacy group which obtained the figures – believe the public has been left ‘at the mercy of pen-pushers who can enter our homes as they please’.

But council bosses say that it’s very rare for an officer to gain entry to a property by force, with the normal procedure being to notify occupiers first.

A South Tyneside Council spokesman said:

“Powers of entry are set out by Parliament when enacting legislation and are essential to enable councils to carry out their statutory functions.

“They are available to staff across our regulatory services, which cover things like seizing illicit goods from business premises and enforcing building regulations, to carrying out environmental health inspections and food safety checks where there is a risk to public health.

“It is rare that officers have to exercise this power as a right, as most property owners and businesses premises permit entry.

“The council has robust policies and procedures in place to ensure that these powers are only used where necessary and that they are used properly and in accordance with the law.

“Without these powers the council would not be able to provide the same level of reassurance and protection local people demand and deserve.”

South Tyneside Council has 11 building control officers with powers, 14 planning officials, 13 trading standards and licensing officers and 23 environmental health workers.

Newcastle City Council employes 107 officers with powers of entry.

North Tyneside Council told the BBW it has zero officers.

Northumberland County has 541.

Sunderland City Council refused to provide their figures due time and cost restraints.

Emma Carr, director of BBW, 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.”

Source – Shields Gazette,  16 Jan 2015

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