Investigating a noise complaint
If you feel that you are suffering from unnecessary or unreasonable levels of noise, there are a number of things you can do. Firstly, it may be helpful to speak to the person responsible for the nuisance before taking any other action. People often do not know that they are causing a problem and this approach may help to solve the problem on a more friendly level. Please see our guide on how to approach your neighbours about noise. If you feel you can’t do this, or your friendly approach doesn’t work, the Environmental Protection team will investigate the matter on your behalf. Generally this will involve the following steps:
Details of the complaint will be taken. Please make sure you know the source of the noise as we need to write to them. We don’t need their names though. We cannot investigate anonymous noise complaints - we need to prove that the noise is unduly affecting someone, so someone needs to be prepared to detail to us how they are being affected. We don’t give out names or details about who has made the complaint (but sometimes it can be guessed!).
You’ll be asked about the noise, when it is happening, and how long it goes on for. Is the noise particularly bad at a certain time or when it happens in a certain place? Let us know – while the subject of the complaint may not be able to completely stop the noise, if there’s a particularly annoying aspect they can deal with, it might be a compromise both sides can live with.
We will send out diary sheets for you to make a record of the noise. Please see the guidance on completing these. More diaries can be downloaded if required. This record helps the Council decide if the issue is likely to be considered a statutory nuisance and may also be used as evidence in Court at a later date. We also use the information provided to plan the next step of the investigation. If you are unable to keep these diaries, let us know and we will assist you in recording the information in another way.
Once we have received your diary sheets and reviewed the evidence, will write to the subject of the noise complaint to let them know that we have received a complaint. We will ask them to take whatever action they think is appropriate so that we don’t get any further complaints. The subject often contacts us when they receive this letter – the more information we can provide them the better. We don’t tell them who made the complaint. If we can resolve the matter informally at this stage, all the better.
A noise diary is vital for us to progress the investigation. If you do not return the diary, no further action will be taken on your complaint.
We then need to substantiate what is in the diary. This is so when we take formal action we can justify it, if necessary, in court because we have witnessed it for ourselves.
- We will review the information provided – if no Statutory Nuisance action is available we will advise you of this and other options available to you.
- If the disturbance happens mostly during office hours you will be asked to contact the team when it is happening so that, if possible, a monitoring visit can be carried out.
- If the forms show a pattern to the disturbance we may arrange to visit at times when the disturbance is likely to be happening.
- Where the disturbance is regular but there is no pattern to it you may be provided with noise monitoring equipment that will record the noise and how loud it is.
What happens if the problem is considered a statutory nuisance?
If the investigating officer believes that there is sufficient evidence of statutory nuisance, and the matter cannot be resolved informally, immediately and completely, the persons responsible for the noise will be served with an Abatement Notice under Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
If the person being complained about does not agree with the Notice and appeals or does not comply with the requirements of the Notice, the complainant and other witnesses may be required to give evidence in Court.
Should the offender(s) persist in contravening the Abatement Notice, the council may be entitled to execute work ‘in default’ and require the offender to pay all costs to do this. This is basically the Local Authority taking steps themselves to stop the nuisance. This might include applying to the magistrates court for a warrant to enter the offender’s premises in order to seize any equipment likely to be the cause of the noise nuisance. Seized equipment is kept securely by the council until the magistrates court decides whether it is to be permanently confiscated. The offender has to pay a fee to have the items returned.
The council can also prosecute the offender for contravening the requirements of the Abatement Notice. These cases are usually heard in the magistrates court. If the offender is found guilty then a fine of up to £5,000 per offence may be imposed by the court (£20,000 in the case of a trade or businesses, or on indictment an unlimited fine or even imprisonment).
In some cases the council will do both.
If the offender is a tenant the Abatement Notice will also be raised with the landlord, and separate action may be taken for breach of tenancy. The Environmental Health Team work closely with the Tenancy Services Team at NKDC. Persistent noise may ultimately lead to someone’s eviction from their home.
What happens if the problem IS NOT considered a statutory nuisance?
Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives complainants the power to take independent action through the local Magistrates’ Court to deal with noise and nuisances where:
- The Council considers that the problem is not a statutory nuisance;
- The Council cannot obtain enough evidence to serve an Abatement Notice or to prosecute; or
- The complainant does not wish to involve the Council in resolving the complaint.
A separate Guide providing advice and information on taking independent legal action using section 82 powers is given.
Depending on the facts of the case, the Environmental Health Team will advise you on other potential action you can take.