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We all have an idea of what a private investigator does from films and TV. Days filled with long camera lenses, car chases, and hidden microphones. And while that makes up part of the job, the reality is quite different.
It’s an important career that provides a valuable service to people that need support. But what does a private investigator really do? And what does it take to become one? Read on to understand how to become a private investigator.
A private investigator (PI) is hired by clients to investigate something and come back to them with evidence. While lots of the techniques and tasks a PI will do are the same as police detectives, private investigators are not legal officers.
And private investigators can look into anything, it doesn’t have to be a criminal offence. It can be research into a person's background or to find out if somebody is lying – the role is to investigate and provide evidence to a client.
The way a PI conducts this research depends on what they're trying to find out. But it’s common for investigators to use surveillance techniques on people of interest as well as doing interviews and reading through record books.
And there’s a variety of ways you can work as a private investigator. Many PIs work through agencies and are assigned cases while others work freelance or set up their own business.
Lots of private investigators come from backgrounds in law enforcement because there are transferable skills. But that doesn’t mean it’s required – if you have some of the following skills, you may be suited to a career as a self-employed private investigator:
Working as a private investigator can be a unique opportunity – but isn't without sacrifice. Here are some things to consider if you're thinking of becoming a self-employed PI:
Depending on your interests and experience, you could specialise in different types of private investigation work.
Here are some areas where you could offer your services:
There are many areas you can focus on as a private investigator and many choose to work in all of them. But specialising in one area can help establish you as an expert and attract new clients.
There aren't any official qualifications that you need to become a private investigator. But there are associations where you can demonstrate your expertise.
The Association of British Investigators (ABI) is considered the most reputable governing body of private investigators. They’re the only association that has the power to punish its members for not following their code of standards.
To get a membership with the ABI you’ll need to pass screening and DBS checks, have private investigator insurance, and register with the Information Commissioner's Office. You’ll also need to pass a Level 3 Award for Professional Investigators.
You could also look into private investigator training, for example:
A private investigator salary when you’re self-employed varies depending on experience and location. PI agency Investigateuk charges their clients £50 to £55 an hour on average but the full range is between £30 to £85 per hour depending on experience and the type of job.
Many self-employed PIs charge by the hour because of the unpredictable nature of the work. You can spend many hours on a case, so a flat rate payment might not reflect your efforts.
Private investigators must follow the same laws as civilians – you’re not granted any special rights in the way a police detective would. But there aren't currently any specific regulations relating to private detectives.
But in 2013, the government shared their plans to regulate private investigators by making it a criminal offence to work without a licence.
The intention is to give The Security Industry Authority (SIA) the authority to issue a private investigator licence. To become certified, applicants would need to:
The plans are yet to come into effect but they could be introduced in the future.
If you decide to start a limited company, you’ll need to register with Companies House and complete a company tax return.
You can find all the information you’ll need around tax responsibilities for the self employed on our tax hub.
As you’ll be working closely with people, in potentially dangerous scenarios, private investigator insurance is an important consideration
From mistakes and negligence to defamation and data loss, the consequences of a claim against you can damage your business and livelihood. Having the right insurance can cover you for the unique set of risks that come with being a private investigator.
It’s also necessary for you to have insurance if you want to become a certified private investigator under ABI.
Are you planning on becoming a private investigator? Let us know in the comments below.
Zach Hayward-Jones is a Copywriter at Simply Business, with six years of writing experience across entertainment, insurance, and financial services. Zach specialises in covering small business and landlord insurance. He has a particular interest in issues impacting the hospitality industry after spending a number of years working as a pastry chef.
We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer
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