What Can a Private Investigator Do Legally UK?

Private Investigators can help you with most of the cases that the police would not put on a priority. Additionally, there are several cases that only evolve into something credible, after you present some evidence to prove your claim.

With that said, a private detective in the UK is bound by some legal restrictions. If you hire a Private Investigator who overlooks the law, the evidence gathered would not be deemed reliable in a court of law. Therefore, it is imperative to collaborate with a private investigation firm that takes the legal jurisdictions into account, while being on the job. If you are curious about the legal limitations of a Private Investigator, you can educate yourself on the following areas.

In the United Kingdom, a multitude of laws and regulations, including the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, and the earlier Regulation in the Investigatory Powers Act 2000, safeguard personal security and privacy. These laws safeguard your protection and prohibit others from violating your human rights. A lot of conjecture surrounds the private security sector.

Things Private Investigators Can Legally Do During Their Investigation

Access To Records:

Private Investigators only have access to public records. They are legally within the jurisdiction to carry out a background check on the person they are investigating. However, they are restricted to only researching publicly available records. With that said, Private Investigators conduct their searches by comprehensively studying criminal records, court documents, and other publicly-share information. Their dedication and acumen enable them to uncover mysteries with limited information.


Another fantastic approach to collecting pertinent information is by word of mouth, whether from a coworker or a family member. This can be used to assist in finding people in the UK that can be missing or keep track of someone’s activities.

Surveillance Techniques:

Private Investigators have the legal right to follow or track the person in question. They can follow an individual in their car or on foot. Taking this initiative provides in-depth information regarding the case, which is typically missed out in the limited public records. Although, if a corporate company hires a PI to investigate an employee, GPS vehicle tracking would only be legal if the said employee was made aware of this in their contract with the firm.

Direct And Indirect Interaction:

The most common way of collecting information for a Private Investigator is by conducting interviews and directly interacting with the individual they are investigating. A Private Investigator has the authority to go undercover to gather raw data using the interview approach.

Search License Plate Number:

Yes, private investigators have access to and may run license plate numbers for specific investigations. However, there are limitations on when and how far this power can be used. A professional private investigator, for example, cannot run a plate number just because you’re inquisitive about a certain person. Before they may do so, they must have legal reasons.

Things That Private Investigators Cannot Do Legally

Hollywood often gets it wrong about what private investigators can do legally. To demonstrate our point, let’s examine how these portrayals have translated into real-life misunderstandings about PIs and some responsible alternatives that good detectives should offer.


Surpassing Private Property:

Private Investigators are not allowed to step foot onto private properties without the owner’s consent. It is illegal for a PI to break-into a house to gather data about a case. However, if the PI is invited in by the person being investigated, there are no legal restrictions that prevent that interaction.

Making Arrests:

Private investigators are not usually allowed to make arrests. Some circumstances would allow ordinary civilians to make an arrest, called a ‘citizen’s arrest’, but the legalities of this are complicated. Conducting a citizen’s arrest is dangerous. Therefore, if we witness a crime being committed, it’s almost always a better, safer idea to call the police.

Track Someone With GPS:

Depending on the conditions, licensed private investigators can use GPS to monitor a subject’s car. If the PI obtains the authorisation of the owner of the vehicle that the subject is driving, GPS tracking can be used to locate and monitor the vehicle legally. This is especially useful in situations of infidelity, where the car owner accuses their partner of cheating.

Retrieve Phone Records:

Private investigators cannot lawfully access another person’s phone records, just as they cannot obtain credit or financial information. Telecommunications firms, as well as provincial and federal legislation, safeguard these sorts of documents. A private investigator may discover the subject’s phone number and carrier via investigative tactics, and they are well within their legal rights to do so.

Hack Electronic Devices:

Contrary to popular belief, private detectives cannot hack any type of technological equipment, including phones, laptops, email, or social media accounts. This misunderstanding originates from popular television programs that portray lies and deviations from reality. Even if a private investigator understands how to hack into someone’s computer or account, they risk being prosecuted if caught and convicted. According to the law, you can only hack into someone’s gadget if they give you their consent, and who in their right mind would do that?

Acquire Medical Records:

Other people’s medical records are not accessible to private investigators. They can, however, interview the subject’s acquaintances, colleagues, and relatives to learn about their medical history. In other words, a qualified private investigator will obtain this information if people are ready to disclose it.

Obtain Credit Information:

Private investigators do not have access to a person’s personal credit information. They will be breaking the law and may be prosecuted if they do so. A professional private investigator can only get credit information if they have a legal reason to do so. Then, when criminal and judicial records become public record, they may be accessed.

How Can You Know You’re Receiving The Best Of The Best?

Being a member of security organisations such as the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – the UK’s independent body – ensures that private investigators function quietly and with the strictest confidentiality. This body protects individuals’ information rights and data privacy.

Although private investigators are not required to have police or military experience, having this background gives customers extra peace of mind. You can trust that investigators with law enforcement experience will work hard to offer excellent results that are entirely legal. Unlike police officers, however, private investigators do not have the same legal authority over members of the public.

So Why Hire A Private Investigator?

private-investigator-UK-wearing-black-hat-with black-glasses

Private Investigators can help you find answers to complex problems that fail to make any sense. A PI can collaborate with you to make sure that you find credible evidence to support or deny any claim. Once you discover this proof, you can forward your case to the destined authority.

Here are some reasons you might want to hire a private investigator:

Investigation Of Missing Persons:

A private investigator can be hired to find a missing person’s case or trace a phone number. These cases are usually in better hands with a PI, as they can easily identify if there is a risk factor involved. With the preliminary data gathered by a Private Investigations firm, the employer can go to the police to get their case approved and further investigated.

Investigation Of Infidelity:

The case of a cheating partner cannot be investigated by anyone other than Private Investigator. A Private Investigator can follow your partner, track their questionable behaviour and report back to you. At any point during the investigation, the Private Investigator refrains from breaking the confidentiality clause of your agreement. Hence, if you are hiring a PI to check if your partner is cheating, your secret will remain safe.

Carry Out Background Checks:

Private Investigators can collaborate with corporations to ensure that they hire candidates with no criminal record. Private Detectives have access to all public records, which enables them to conduct a thorough background check investigation on a particular individual.

Investigate Fraudulent Activity:

Most corporate firms hire a private investigator, so they can discreetly examine any fraudulent activity that may be going on within the organisation. The evidence gathered from surveillance services allows the client to form a case and take legal action against the guilty party.

Gather Intelligence on Competition:

Private investigators are often hired by political firms, as well as by law firms or personal injury solicitors, to unravel any fraud or unethical practices that are carried out by the opposing party. This way, they can make a relevant and credible case against their opposition.

Help You Find Your Biological Family:

If you were adopted, or are just curious about your roots, you can hire a Private Investigator to help you uncover the line of your ancestry. A Private Detective typically uses public records and other investigative skills to find detailed information to help you answer your curiosities.

Assist You In Divorce/ Child Custody Cases:

In the case of a complex divorce or child custody agreement, having a Private Investigator can come in handy. A PI can discover all the hidden properties, problematic behaviours, and other factors that could help you get a fair divorce/ child custody.

Discover Hidden Assets:

The private investigation industry also offers services in helping clients find hidden assets or any properties. If your partner or a family member has kept any asset hidden from you, you can take the help of a PI to uncover their secrets.

Find Locations and Addresses:

Private Investigators can also work with debt collection agencies to find the addresses and locations of individuals who refuse to pay back their debt. However, the service of finding locations is not only limited to debt collection agencies, rather you can request a location search, or ask to track a mobile number in the UK, for any individual.

Assist with Missing Person Cases:

Missing person cases are one of the fortes of a Private Investigator. You can hire a PI to determine whether the missing person case should or shouldn’t be forwarded to the law enforcement authority.

Reveal Fake Insurance Cases:

Fake insurance cases have increased over recent years. Private Investigation firms work with insurance companies to discover if the case filed is valid, reliable, and authentic. This saves insurance firms from having to make large amounts of payouts to people participating in insurance fraud.

Investigate Suspicious Employee Behaviour:

Corporate companies that are suspicious of their employee’s behaviours often hire Private Investigators to make sure that they are not being taken advantage of. For instance, Private Investigators can carry out a comprehensive investigation to assess if the employee benefits from a paid sick leave are actually sick. If the illness is being faked, companies would have legal grounds for termination.

Work With The Police:

Private investigators are sometimes hired on retainer to provide a second view of a police investigation. For example, if police officers examine a possible burglary and find no forced entry, private residents can employ a qualified private investigator for a second perspective. In the circumstances like this, private investigators collaborate with law enforcement since both parties are looking for the same outcome.

Private Investigations UK operates a network of professional investigators. If you need safe, legal service from a qualified detective, give us a call on 0800 002 9858. You’ll get friendly advice and a free 30-minute consultation. Alternatively, please send us a message, and one of our agents will get back to you today.

Members of: WAPI | CII | ICO

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