Revealed: The council officers who can access your premises

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The number of council officers with the power to enter private and business premises in South Ayrshire can be revealed by the Carrick Gazette.

In conjunction with civil liberties campaigning group Big Brother watch, the Gazette can confirm that 45 officers have powers of entry to enter private and business premises with a further 24 officers having power of access to enter commercial businesses only.

A report was released by Big Brother Watch earlier this month which revealed almost 20,000 council officials across the UK have the power of entry to enter a private home or business.

Big Brother Watch surveyed 433 councils across the UK to find out the number of council officials who have the powers of entry.

Out of those surveyed 411 replied with the figures in the report suggesting that 58 officers in South Ayrshire had powers of entry to a private home or business.

However, the council has confirmed to the Gazette that Big Brother Watch made its Freedom of Information request on this matter over two years ago and at that time 58 officers within the council had powers of entry which has now been reduced by 13 in the intervening years.

The 45 officers who have powers of entry over private and business premises are 24 planning officers, 15 building services officers and six from the neighbourhood services team.

As for the 24 with powers of access over commercial premises only 15 of them are from the environmental health team with the remaining nine from the trading standards department.

And South Ayrshire Council insist that these powers are only used sparingly.

Ralph Riddiough, South Ayrshire Council’s Head of Legal and Democratic Services said: “We have a duty of care to our residents, businesses and visitors which we take very seriously indeed, especially when it comes to public safety and protection.

“We have a total of 45 officers with Powers of Entry to private premises and a further 24 with authority to enter business premises.

“The powers are used sparingly and, almost without exception, are used in connection with issues such as trading standards, environmental health and planning.”

The report by Big Brother Watch revealed some of the bizarre pieces of legislation that give council officials the power to access private homes.

These include the Plant Health Order (2005) which permits an investigation to find out if plant pots have plant pests or a ‘plant passport’.

The 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act permits the surveying of a home and garden to see if a hedge is too high whilst the Hypnotism Act which has been in place since 1952 permits the inspection of a property to ensure illegal or unregulated hypnotism is not taking place.

Big Brother Watch is calling on the coalition government at Westminster to reduce the number of powers of entry across the country after the Conservative manifesto at the 2010 general election promised to cut back on “the intrusive powers of entry”.

Big Brother say that nearly five years on reform has been too slow despite the Protection of Freedoms Act being passed in 2012. 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.

“The Coalition has had almost five years to rectify this and all we have seen is handwringing and bureaucracy.”

The report showed that Northumberland Council has the highest number of officials with powers of entry with Big Brother Watch saying the council in the north east of England has 541 officials with those powers.

They were closely followed by Leeds with 527 officials and Hertfordshire with 411.

Glasgow City Council was the only Scottish city to feature in the top ten of the report with 226 officials in the city revealed to have powers of entry over private premises and businesses in the city.