Ofcom has found that two episodes of Channel 5’s Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! did not breach the Code because there was an overriding public interest in making and broadcasting the programmes.

The first complaint came from Mr S who was filmed at his workplace as he spoke with two High Court Enforcement Agents (“HCEAs”) who were enforcing a Writ of Control against a company called Residential Freeholds Limited.

The majority of the footage of Mr S in the programme was recorded by body cameras worn by the HCEAs but owned by the programme makers.

Mr S claimed his privacy was unwarrantably infringed by the making and broadcast of the programme because he was shown without his consent and had been unaware the cameras were present.

Ofcom found that the body camera footage had been obtained surreptitiously even though the cameras had been worn openly. However,this did not automatically mean there had been an unwarranted infringement of privacy.

Ofcom acknowledged that the public interest was engaged in this case because the programme showed the HCEAs executing their official duties, including the interactions they routinely engage in, and the difficulties they face.

Ofcom also said it did not consider the level of the intrusion was significant. Although footage of Mr S was obtained within a workplace that was not otherwise accessible to the public, it did not reveal anything private or sensitive about Mr S. As a result, although Mr S did have a legitimate expectation of privacy both in connection with the obtaining of the footage and in the subsequent broadcast of it, that did not outweigh the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression and the public interest.

In another episode, albeit with a different set of facts, Ofcom sided again with the broadcaster rather than the complainant.

In that case, the complainant, Mr O, claimed his privacy had been infringed because he was filmed without his consent while being evicted from his home.

Ofcom considered that the existence of a High Court Writ is a matter of public record and was not, therefore, information about which Mr O had a legitimate expectation of privacy. However, Ofcom said that information captured by the filming of Mr O and his wife while in their home went beyond information which might otherwise have been in the public domain as a consequence of the court enforcement process.

Ofcom concluded, on balance, that there was an overriding public interest in the broadcaster being able to show Mr O in the circumstances because his interactions with the HCEAs were intrinsic to the public interest in showing the activities of the HCEAs. Accordingly, Ofcom found that there was no unwarranted infringement of Mr O’s privacy in connection with the obtaining of material included in the programme or as broadcast.

These decisions are a welcome reminder that even when a person’s privacy rights are engaged and they do not consent to being filmed, there is still scope to collect and use footage in such cases in programmes that feature the work of HCEAs.