Is it legal to hire an investigator in the UK

People often ask the question – is it legal to hire a private investigator in the UK? And the simple answer is yes.

However, what services a private investigator can offer legally is where confusion can often arise.

Unfortunately, when we hear the words private investigator many people think of Magnum PI, Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street, or even Strike, Vincent, Shakespeare & Hathaway, but these lovable characters are huge misrepresentations of what a private investigator can do within the parameters of UK law.

Taking a photo from a public place 
 as this is legal to hire an investigator to do so to get data on your target

The services we see on TV such as trespassing, phone tapping, computer hacking or obtaining personal records are highly illegal. However, there is a huge array of tactics and methods a private investigator can adopt to obtain the information needed without breaking any laws and ensuring no breach of human rights or data protection. It should be reminded here that there are those who actually ‘haven’t been caught yet’ and therefore have no adverse Criminal record, yet a discreet but thorough investigation can unearth any amount of anti-social or illegal behaviour.

There are roughly 10,000 private investigators operating in the UK yet only 2,000 have voluntarily signed up to be part of an industry body such as WAPI, ABI or IPI. Therefore, it’s vital that if you do find yourself hiring a private investigator, you find an agency that knows the intricacies of UK law, operates within those laws and has the skill set to legally and responsibly obtain the information that’s needed.

A reputable private investigator that has voluntarily signed up to be part of a peer-to peer trade body (WAPI, ABI, IPI) will also operate under a strict ethical code.

When dealing in such personal and private matters which involve people’s lives, it’s essential to have a strong moral compass and only take on jobs where there has been a clear wrongdoing.

Misuse of private investigator services is something that we at Insight Investigations are highly aware of and all of our investigators are trained to assess each case thoroughly and make the call as to whether it should be taken on and progressed.

So what is and isn’t legal? We asked our senior investigator Tony to break down the do’s and don’ts both legally and ethically of obtaining information for a case.

Official records

Accessing someone’s criminal, medical, banking or financial history is strictly illegal and highly unethical. Instead, to try and build up a picture of someone’s history and their previous actions, our dedicated researchers are trained to review and unpick publicly available records, online searches and social media. Using a wide variety of public records enables us to piece together a full picture of a person to alleviate any fears or concerns.

We might be working for someone who is concerned about a new love interest of a family member and would just like to know a little more to protect the person they love. Building a fully rounded picture of that person is often more helpful than simply knowing whether they have any previous convictions.

Clients can sometimes think this is something that’s easily done themselves, but we’ve spent years building relationships with local court houses, registry offices and libraries where these documents are often held. We also subscribe and pay membership fees to online legal aggregators of public records which grants us access to things not readily available to the general public. There’s also a huge amount of public information available it’s just knowing where to look and how to analyse the information in front of us.

Phone and computer hacking

It is both illegal and unethical to hack someone’s phone or computer and this is not a service that any reputable private investigator would offer. Be wary of any private investigator who offers products such as apps and programmes for electronic equipment designed to hack information. Not only are they breaking the law selling you this type of equipment, you are also breaking the law when using it. Often this type of software is in fact a scam and we find ourselves regularly helping clients who have been ripped off by rogue investigators selling software that simply doesn’t work.

At Insight Investigations we take a different approach. There are several tactics which we adopt to get to the truth of a situation such as highly skilled surveillance teams carrying out public monitoring of a suspect or legally placed GPS car tracking of that suspect. Both of which can ascertain the same sort of information completely within the law.


Under no circumstances should a private investigator enter into a private home or workplace without permission. No matter how important the case, this is trespassing in the eyes of UK law and also completely unethical. All of our investigations are done in public places or using public records and information.

After all, Clients must be advised that evidence obtained illegally, irrespective of its value, will likely be challenged at Court and disallowed and could harm your case irreparably.

Every case is unique and every situation needs a tailored approach from a trained, experienced investigator. For a free consultation with one of our team about your own personal situation, you can contact us 24 hours a day seven days a week on the number below, or fill out our contact form here.

24/7 Help & Advice

0800 540 4740

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