The use of covert surveillance by Bradford Council to gather evidence against people it suspects of fly-tipping, benefit fraud and planning breaches is being scaled back.

The powers have been used more than 650 times since 2002, but in the last three years the figures have been steadily falling.

Instead Council officers are finding overt rather than covert ways to obtain any evidence needed for their investigations.

Legislation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) was expanded and made available to all local authorities.

It allows councils to use covert surveillance, such as CCTV, audio and video monitoring equipment, cameras, binoculars and staff going under cover.

A report to the Council’s safer and stronger communities improvement committee states that a sharp rise in RIPA cases in 2006/07 was due to a cautious approach in the investigation of noise nuisances.

“Since April 2007 a more robust approach has been adopted, ie notifying by letter persons against whom noise complaints are registered that they will be monitored by tape recording equipment installed in their next-door neighbours’ house or by officers listening. This changes what was covert surveillance into overt surveillance and therefore outside the scope of RIPA.”

Over the last eight years the majority of surveillance operations have taken place through the Council’s environmental protection department, which covers videoing of the misuse of unlicensed premises as a slaughterhouse, video monitoring of fly-tipping hotspots, and tape recordings of noise nuisance.

There were also more than 160 instances, with seven cases this financial year, within the Council’s internal audit department. This involves mainly covert physical observation of staff thought to be defrauding the Council, such as undertaking other paid work while on sick leave or not working their contracted hours.

The committee meeting will be held on Thursday at 5.15pm in City Hall, Bradford.

Councillors are being asked to approve a new protocol for using the powers which saw the strategic director of corporate services, Becky Hellard, take responsibility for the Council’s compliance with RIPA.