Making a nuisance complaint
Most nuisance complaints can often be settled amicably between the parties without local authority involvement. An informal approach by the complainant is not only courtesy, but also the first step in resolving any differences. Research has found that one in three people who take this informal route are able to resolve the problem (it also helps to promote good neighbour relations).
The investigation of nuisance is a formal process which may ultimately lead to an appeal in the magistrate's court or a criminal prosecution, so it is a serious matter which should not be taken lightly. That is why it is better to try to resolve the problem informally - remember that whilst the Council will make every effort to resolve the issue at the end of the process most people still want to get on with their neighbours.
The following information will help us deal with your complaint:
If the issue is a noise complaint then please complete our noise and nuisance report form, you will be asked to provide details such as the following:
- your name and address (we are not able to deal with anonymous complaints, but we will not disclose your name to the person that you are complaining about without asking you first - but be aware that if the matter goes to Court then the Council may need you to be a witness)
- the address where the problem is coming from (if you know it the name of the person responsible for the problem)
- the nature of the problem you are suffering from
- when and how often it occurs.
How will my complaint be dealt with?
In the first instance the officer dealing with your case will contact you to find out exactly what is causing the problem. If we are satisfied that you have made an attempt to resolve the problem and it is a matter that can be dealt with by the law, we will then write to the person responsible and make them aware that their activities are causing a disturbance - we will ask them to stop.
Often people are not aware that they are causing a problem and we find that the initial warning letter resolves the issue. However, sometimes the problem continues so we will decide the best way of investigating the issue.
If the matter is on-going or happens spasmodically then you will probably be asked to keep diary sheets so that the investigating officer can ascertain the times of day and for how long you are being affected by the problem. If the matter relates to a one-off event such as an accumulation, then the officer will probably arrange a visit. In order for a nuisance to be proven the Council must have evidence of its existence. The diary sheets are an important element of that evidence. Whilst the Council can make visits to witness events you should bear in mind that the Council only has so much resources and the number of visits cannot be unlimited. You are normally in a better position to witness events because you are there and experiencing the problem.
We hope that the warning letter will resolve the problem. However, this is not always the case and the matter may continue. This is why we ask you to complete nuisance diary sheets for us.
Diary sheets form the basis of our investigation. The diary sheets tell us what times of the day the nuisance occurs, how long it goes on for, the nature of the nuisance, where you experience it in your home and how it affects you. All this vital information helps us to establish the best method for investigating your complaint and it will help us establish if the matter is a 'statutory nuisance'.
- If the disturbance is something that is predictable, constant or occurs during times when the service is available then the investigation is best conducted using programmed site visits
- The diary sheets may also be useful if you decide to take your own action under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990
Note: Due to the large number of complaints we receive, our policy states that we only carry out further investigations for complaints of nuisance once completed diary sheets are returned unless you have not been requested to keep a diary of events.
If the diary sheets are not returned within 28 days, we will assume that the warning letter has resolved your complaint and that no further action is required.
If you have difficulty in completing the diary sheets for any reason, please contact us and we will try to find a suitable alternative to suit your circumstances.
Completing the diary sheets
- When you next experience the disturbance, make a note of the date and time it started, the nature of the disturbance and how it affected you
- The disturbance may affect you e.g. by preventing you from sitting in the garden, or acrid smoke coming into the house. Please write as much as you can
The information you provide on the diary sheets will help the case officer to assess the disturbance and decide what action can be taken. Remember that although we may agree that a nuisance probably exists we still need to be able to prove it before we proceed.
What actions can the Council take?
We can take action if the disturbance is a nuisance in law (a 'statutory nuisance'). We will assess the evidence to see if it is sufficient to be a nuisance. In determining whether or not the matter is a 'statutory nuisance' we will have to take into account:
- the nature of the disturbance
- how severe it is
- how often it occurs
- how long it lasts for
- the time that it occurs
If we are satisfied that the matter is a statutory nuisance and have the evidence to back this up we can serve a notice under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, requiring the nuisance to be stopped or reduced.
What we can't do
The Council cannot take enforcement action on nuisance based solely on complaints. We have to independently establish, by staff witnessing the nuisance or by other methods, to establish that the problem is a legal nuisance.
In some cases, despite all efforts, the Council will not be able to establish that the problem is a statutory nuisance. In these cases, individuals can take their own action for nuisance via the Magistrates Court under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.