The power to enter and search homes is governed by the Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The law is complex and the following represents a guide to the main provisions which are relevant where the police have broken down your door in order to gain entry.
Are the police allowed to enter my property?
Police officers can enter your property without your permission, but ONLY IF:
they are entering to arrest someone for more serious offences, or to recapture someone who has escaped from custody; or
they are entering to search your property, having arrested and detained someone who lives there; or
they are entering to save life and limb or prevent serious property damage; or
they are executing a search or arrest warrant issued by a magistrates’ court.
Otherwise, you do not have to give them permission to enter. Any entry in the absence of such powers, without your permission, will be unlawful.
Are the police allowed to break down my door?
If the police do have a lawful reason to enter your property, they should usually try to seek your permission first.
However, they are allowed to use “reasonable and proportionate force” to enter, IF:
they have reason to believe that contacting you would defeat the purpose of the search or put any person in danger; or
they are unable to contact you; or
you refuse permission to enter.
Reasonable and proportionate force is likely to include breaking down your door.
Before they leave, if you are not there, the police must take steps to secure the property.
Who will pay for any repairs?
If you own your home or rent from a private landlord, you should check whether you or your landlord has insurance which will cover the repairs.
If you are a tenant of a local authority or housing association, you should contact them to ask them to arrange the repairs.
Can I get compensation from the police?
Each police force has a scheme in place for making compensation payments.
If the police search your property, they must give or leave you a notice explaining your rights and explaining that compensation may be payable and how to apply for it.
There is no automatic entitlement to compensation, with payments being made on a voluntary basis, depending upon all the circumstances of the individual case.
If the search was lawful, and the police consider that the force used was reasonable, proportionate and necessary in order to gain entry, compensation is very unlikely to be paid, unless there are exceptional circumstances. As a result, firms like ours are rarely able to assist.
If you feel that you should be paid compensation, you should submit a claim in writing, together with any relevant documentation (e.g. repair receipts) to the address given on the police notice or contact them for the address.
If you live in London
If you live in London, the address to submit claims for compensation from the Metropolitan Police is:
Directorate of Legal Services - Accident Claims
First Floor (V)
New Scotland Yard
The Metropolitan Police’s policy is that compensation payments, of up to a maximum of £5,000, may be considered where:
In the opinion of the Commissioner, the claimant and his or her family is entirely innocent of involvement in any criminal act or other wrongdoing that gave rise to the police action;
The cost of repairing any damage or rectifying other loss is not covered by any insurance;
No other person or body should be held responsible for the loss, e.g. call out of MPS to support London Ambulance Service or a local authority;
The damage or loss was caused by police, and not by the actions of another e.g. a criminal being pursued by police;
The claimant is an individual (and not a company or other commercial organisation);
The claimant is willing to sign a disclaimer and discharge form in terms acceptable to the Commissioner.
Compensation will not be payable where police necessarily cause damage in executing a lawful search, in the absence of special circumstances e.g. search warrant properly obtained but informant submitted information maliciously; special vulnerability of claimant.
Can I sue the police?
Even if the search was unlawful, or the level of force used was unreasonable the police may decide not to pay compensation.
In this case, or if there are other elements involved – e.g. you were wrongly detained, arrested, or assaulted – you may be able to bring a legal claim against them for the damage. However, as this area of is complex, you should seek legal advice before doing so.
If you feel you might have a claim, you should think carefully before signing any disclaimer in order to get compensation from the police.
Hickman and Rose are leading criminal justice and human rights specialists, with particular expertise in civil claims against the police.
If you feel that you have a claim, and would like to discuss it with us, please contact us.
Phone: 020 7702 5331