Where noise from intruder alarms becomes a problem, i.e. when they malfunction or sound continuously, they need to be switched off to prevent prolonged disturbance. This can be particularly problematic at night. Having access to key-holder details can speed the process up and prevent the need for enforcement action. However, local authorities often face difficulties when trying to find key holders and do not generally keep databases themselves. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 allows local authorities to designate ‘alarm notification areas’ in which alarm-holders must nominate a key-holder and notify the local authority of that key-holder’s contact details. However, relatively few local authorities have chosen to apply this designation.
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act empowers local authorities to enter premises in order to silence alarms where key-holders cannot be reached or where they are not located in an alarm notification area. The powers of entry apply when an alarm has been sounding for 20 minutes continuously or 1 hour intermittently, is likely to cause annoyance to those in the vicinity and that (if it is located within an alarm notification area) reasonable measures have been taken to locate a key-holder.
The test is lower than that of statutory nuisance and the noise need not be witnessed from a neighbouring property. In addition the powers of entry are enhanced and allow alarms to be turned off on land without the need for a warrant. However, where force is required to gain entry to a property to silence the alarm a warrant will need to be obtained from a magistrate. This may provide delays to the process. The owner of the property is usually charged for the cost of calling out a locksmith and any other charges incurred from applying these powers.
Where local authority out of hours services are limited neighbours should contact their environmental health department as soon as possible in the morning in order to give them time to resolve the issue (i.e. if you can help it do not leave it until late in the afternoon). The investigating officer should usually be able to resolve the problem within 3 to 4 hours of being notified.