Regulation of Private Investigations

In 2013 the Home Secretary announced the Government's intention for the SIA to regulate private investigation activities.

In December 2014, the Home Office said the Government expects the introduction of the statutory licensing of private Investigation activities to come into force as soon as possible during the next Parliamentary session, which started in May 2015.

The SIA will continue to work with the Home Office, which has responsibility for introducing the regulation of the private investigation sector. In advance of the regulation date, we will engage with the security industry to update our 'Get Licensed' criteria, and we will continue to publicise widely further information about the proposed regulation of private investigations.

We will also provide information on likely timings once these are agreed with the Home Office.

Who Will Need a Licence?

The Private Security Industry Act 2001 defines the licensable activities of private investigations. The Home Office intends to review this definition to ensure that it remains fit for purpose. Questions relating to whether specific activities will be licensable in future should therefore be directed to the Home Office.

According to the Act you will need an SIA licence if you are involved in any surveillance, inquiries or investigations that are carried out for the purposes of:

  • obtaining information about a particular person or about the activities or whereabouts of a particular person; or
  • obtaining information about the circumstances in which, or means by which, property has been lost or damaged.

Anyone involved in providing contracted private investigation services will require a licence. This includes employees, employers, managers, supervisors and directors* or partners of private investigation companies. It is unclear if the Home Office will also wish us to regulate 'in-house' private investigations.

*For the purposes of the Private Security Industry Act 2001, "director" means executive and non-executive directors, shadow directors, parent company directors and corporate entities holding a directorship.

According to the Act, the following activities will not require a licence:

  • activities exclusively for the purposes of market research;
  • activities exclusively concerned with a credit check;
  • professional activities of practising solicitors and Barristers;
  • professional activities of practising accountants;
  • professional activities of journalists and broadcasters, and activities exclusively relating to obtaining information for journalists and broadcasters;
  • activities exclusively relating to reference to registers which are open to the public; registers or records to which a person has a right of access; and published works;
  • activities carried out with the knowledge or consent of the subject of the investigation.


The penalty for working as an unlicensed private investigator will be:

  • upon summary conviction at a Magistrate's Court, Sheriff Court or District Court, a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

The penalty for supplying unlicensed staff will be:

  • upon summary conviction at a Magistrate's Court, Sheriff Court or District Court, a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.
  • upon conviction on indictment at Crown Court, High Court of Justiciary or Sheriff and jury trial, an unlimited fine and/or up to five years imprisonment.