Police powers / Stop and account

Stop and Account

‘Stop and account’ is the power allowing police officers to ask questions about who you are and what you’re doing in the area in which you’re stopped.

It is NOT the same as ‘stop and search’ and is not as widely known.

With ‘stop and account’, you can be stopped in the street or other public place by a police officer or police community support officer (PCSO). If the police officer is not in uniform, they have to show their warrant card to prove their identity.

When you are stopped, they can ask you:

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you in the area?
  • Where are you going?
  • What are you carrying?

You might not want to tell them any of this. And you might be in a hurry to get somewhere. Or you might not want anyone to see you stopped by the police, because it looks like you’ve done something wrong.

So, can you refuse to answer the questions?

Your rights, and the law

Most of the time, you have the legal right to refuse to answer and just walk away.

Usually, under ‘stop and account’, the police officer or PCSO doesn’t have the power to force you to stay. You can’t be searched or arrested just because you refuse to answer their questions.

But there is one situation when you must answer if the police ask you for your name and address. This is when the police have reason to believe that you have engaged, or are engaging, in anti-social behaviour.

Anti-social behaviour is defined as behaviour likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress”.

In this situation it’s a criminal offence to refuse to give your name and address. You could be arrested if the police think it’s necessary to do so in order to find out your name and address.

Never give false information. This could be seen as an offence of obstructing the police in the course of their duty.

What if I want to complain?

Some police forces make a record of a ‘stop and account’. Ask the officer or PCSO if they are making a record. If so, ask for a copy. This will help if you want to make a complaint.

If you are stopped and asked to account for yourself, the police can’t make you stay or take further action against you unless they have good reason – as explained above. If this has happened to you, it may be a good idea to speak to a solicitor specialising in actions against the police. Visit our page on finding a solicitor. If you’re unhappy with the way the police behaved towards you, you can also make a complaint.

Top Tip

Remember, ’stop and account’ is not the same as ‘stop and search’. Under ‘stop and search’ the police have greater powers – so don’t mix them up. If you are stopped by police, ask them what the reason is.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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