by Lauren Sturgess, Trainee Solicitor
At the beginning of August 2022, I attended Leicester Magistrates’ Court to apply for a warrant to enter premises on behalf of North West Leicestershire District Council (NWLDC). The application was made under s.22 of the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 by virtue of s.25 of the Leicestershire Act 1985.
Under the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act (the Act) it is the duty of every local authority to take such steps as may be necessary to secure so far as practicable that their district is kept free from rats and mice. Section 22 of the Act allows any person duly authorised in writing by a local authority to enter upon land for any of the following purposes:
(a)for the purpose of carrying out any inspection required by the Act
(b)for the purpose of ascertaining whether there is or has been, on or in connection with the land, any failure to comply with any requirement of the Act or of any notice served thereunder;
(c)for the purpose of taking any steps authorised by section five or section six of this Act to be taken by the local authority on or in relation to the land.
In this particular case, the application to enter onto premises under the Act was being made for the purposes of taking steps authorised by section 5 or 6 of the Act, specifically section 5. Section 5 applies where any person, on whom a notice is served by the local authority, is required by the notice to take certain steps within the period prescribed in the notice, and the person has failed to do so. In these circumstances, the local authority may themselves take those steps and recover from the person on whom the notice was served any expenses reasonably incurred in doing so.
In September 2021 a notice under the Act was served on the owner of premises by NWLDC’s environmental protection team. This followed a complaint that was received in regards to an accumulation of waste in the front and rear gardens of the premises and attempts to get in contact with the owner to discuss with issue had been unsuccessful.
The notice required the owner to remove, and properly dispose of all waste, including but not limited to wood, from the land, as this was providing harbourage for vermin. The notice further required the owner to check for the presence of vermin, and treat if found, the land including the premises.
Following several letters, phone calls, and visits, no contact had been made with the owner of the premises in regards to the issue at the property, nor had any of the required steps been carried out as set out in the notice.
A final letter was sent to the owner notifying them of the intention to apply for a warrant. This letter gave the owner the opportunity to contact the Council to allow access without the need for a warrant, however no contact was made.
As no contact was successfully made with the owner, this was considered refusal of entry onto the land, and so it was at this stage that legal were instructed to make the application to the Court to issue a warrant, to allow entry onto the premises, to carry out the steps in the notice as the waste was providing harbourage for vermin.
The application was successful and the Court issued the Council with a warrant to enter premises for the purposes of carrying out the steps identified in the notice.
Although the course of action has the potential to interfere with the human rights of the owner of the premises, the Court deemed it necessary and a proportionate interference with these rights, as entry was required in the interests of public health.
Section 25 of the Leicestershire Act 1985 allows for other persons to be taken when the warrant is executed. This allowed for a locksmith to attend when the warrant was executed for the purpose of facilitating access to the property and to replace any locks when leaving the premises.
The warrant continues in force until the purpose for which the entry was required is satisfied. The Council have now been able to enter onto the premises and remove, and properly dispose of all waste, including but not limited to wood, from the land and check for the presence of vermin, and carry out any treatment. The Act also allows the Council to recover the costs of carrying out these steps.