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Noise - How complaints are investigated

This page outlines our investigation and enforcement procedure for the common problem of noise nuisance. See also these pages:

If you are being disturbed by noise first ask yourself 'Have I become oversensitive to the situation?' particularly if you don't get on with the noise-maker(s). Are you 'tuning in' to the noise and find it annoying even when other people wouldn't? This situation is quite common and the noise problem, though annoying to you, may not be suitable for action by the council.

Likewise, is the noise-maker behaving unreasonably? If not then it is unlikely they are causing a noise nuisance that can be addressed. However, if you think they are behaving unreasonably, approach them and explain politely and calmly that you are troubled by the noise. Attempt to find a solution that suits you both. Although you may feel this is a difficult step, often this is all that is needed to solve the problem.

Inevitably this guide to the investigation of noise complaints does not cover every individual case or situation. If you wish to complain then the officer assigned to your case will advise you on how your specific complaint will be dealt with.

Step 1 – You make your noise complaint, and our case officer starts the investigation

Many noise problems persist simply because of a lack of communication when they could be resolved very quickly and easily. You should have made reasonable efforts to discuss the problem with the noise-maker before you make an official complaint, otherwise neighbour relations may suffer and you may jeopardise your case.

When your complaint is received it will be assigned to a case officer for investigation. They will contact you by visiting your home or telephoning you to discuss the problem. If the circumstances of your case do not permit formal investigation by the council then the case officer will provide practical advice where possible and they may suggest that you consult your solicitor.

Step 2 – We contact the noise-maker

The case officer will attempt to discuss the matter with the person responsible for the alleged noise by either visiting them or writing a letter. They will not reveal your identity, although this might be guessed (correctly or incorrectly). If you have provided any incorrect information when making your complaint, the investigation may stop at this point.

Step 3 – You keep a noise record

If your complaint can be investigated then evidence of the problem will normally be required from you to assist the investigation. This will be in the form of a detailed written record known as a 'noise record form'.

The information you record must accurately specify:

  • The date the noise occurs
  • The times when the noise affecting you starts and finishes, and
  • The type of noise e.g. loud music, barking dogs
  • The effect that the noise has on you

Read carefully the instructions that accompany the noise record forms.

The noise record form must usually cover a period of at least 21 days but a longer period may be required and your case officer will discuss this with you.

Step 4 – Submitting your noise record form

If the noise stops during the investigation of your complaint please inform your case officer. If the noise continues, the noise record form should be completed, signed and forwarded to your case officer, who will use their training and experience to decide whether further action or investigation is warranted. If you do not return your completed forms the case officer will assume that you do not wish to pursue your complaint.

Please note that poorly completed record forms are of no practical use in the investigation because your case officer cannot proceed without good evidence.

The case officer may judge that the noise you are complaining about is annoying but unlikely to be classed as a statutory (legally defined) nuisance. In this case they will write informing you that no further action can be taken by us. They will enclose guidance on how you can take your own legal action should you wish to do so. The case will be closed.

Step 5 – Contacting the noise-maker for the second time

If the case officer has decided that your complaint may be actionable (i.e. that a statutory nuisance may exist), the alleged perpetrator neighbour will be contacted again advising of continued complaint and asking for their cooperation in resolving the matter.

They will be advised as to the measures they could take to prevent noise nuisance. They will also be warned of the action that may be taken if noise nuisance were to be substantiated. At this stage you will also be contacted and advised on the action to be taken. It is particularly important that you continue to complete the noise record forms at this stage and throughout the investigation – failure to do so would weaken your case and could jeopardise the chances of successful legal action.

Step 6 – You keep and submit further noise records

After the warning to the alleged perpetrator, it is in your hands to provide further evidence (noise record forms) after 14 to 21 days if you consider the noise is continuing to be a nuisance. If so, contact your case officer who will then arrange for observations to be carried out in an attempt to substantiate your complaint.

Step 7 – Your case officer(s) witness the noise

Before formal action can be taken your case officer must independently witness the noise from your property – either by calling out or by installing sophisticated recording equipment. If calling out they will ask you to telephone when you consider the noise is most representative of the nuisance you feel it causes. Each case officer has many clients and they may be unable to respond immediately each time you telephone, but they will respond if and when they can do so.

Your case officer will normally make up to three attempts to witness the noise when called out by you. Make these opportunities count by calling them out only when you feel the noise nuisance is severe and likely to be sustained for long enough to be witnessed.

Step 8 – Serving an Abatement Notice

If your case officer is satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists then a legal Abatement Notice (Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as amended) will be served on the noise-maker. An Abatement Notice formally requires them to put an end to the statutory noise nuisance and may specify how this is to be achieved.

Further statutory noise nuisance would be a 'contravention' of the notice. Failing to comply with the requirements of an Abatement Notice is a criminal offence. Good evidence of continuing statutory noise nuisance (see Step 7) is required before enforcement action can be taken.

Step 9 – Action if the Abatement Notice is contravened

Should the offender persist in contravening the Abatement Notice, the council may be entitled to execute work ‘in default’ and require the offender to pay all associated costs. Depending on the nature and facts of the case, the case officer may able to apply 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.

Step 10 – Prosecution proceedings

Prosecution proceedings may be taken against 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).

How long does it take to resolve a noise complaint, and how can I speed up the procedure?

The legal powers available to the council for investigating noise complaints and taking enforcement action are notoriously slow. This problem faces every local authority and every complainant. However there are several things you can do to help:

Make the effort to discuss your noise problem with the noise-maker at an early stage and before it escalates. You need to be polite and diplomatic but firm. If the conversation does not prove successful, do not allow an angry exchange to develop – remember it takes two people to have an argument.

Be certain when making a complaint that you have the correct address of the noise-maker. Ideally news of your formal complaint should not be a surprise to them when contacted by the case officer.

Keep an accurate and detailed record of the noise using the form provided, and following the instructions carefully.

Keep your case officer informed of any developments.

Last updated: 29 February 2016

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