Taking your own action

Noisy Neighbours Law – Going it Alone

Whilst we would always advise using your local authority service before resorting to taking your own action against the perpetrator of the noise, there are other options available to you. Included in the range of noisy neighbours law is the “section 82” option. Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 can be viewed here.

We recommend you try to resolve problems informally before taking formal action yourself and explore other possibilities. For example by taking up the issue with your neighbours landlord. Landlords like housing authorities and associations have a responsibility to help protect you against issues arising from their property that affect you in your home.

If the noise is associated with licensed premises (for example those selling alcohol or offering entertainment) you or the licensing officer can talk to operators and help solve problems. In most areas of the UK you can also apply for the licence to be reviewed if there are public nuisance issues. Successful reviews may help reduce noise through the reduction of permitted operating hours.

Taking Your Own Action

If informal methods do not work, in most areas of the UK, you can also take your own statutory nuisance action against perpetrators of noise (using pretty much the same legislation as the local authority). This is referred to as section 82 action and involves the aggrieved party making a complaint direct to the magistrate’s court.

You don’t need a solicitor to do this and need not cost much. However, there are risks involved when taking your own action so you may wish to seek legal advice.

If you do take your own action you should prepare your case carefully, gather plenty of evidence and follow legal procedures very carefully. As always with statutory nuisance the quality and quantity of your evidence will be the key to your success.

There are some important steps that should be followed if you wish to take your own action including providing a written warning to your neighbour so, if you are going to go down this route,  you will benefit from some further guidance. We have some more information on this subject in our Resources.

Other private action are possibilities in some circumstances such as seeking a civil claim for damages or an injunction. There is also mediation. However, we strongly advise that you read the additional information in our Resources as that will help inform you and prepare you for taking your own action. Our membership sections provide a full explanation of noisy neighbours law and how you can get the matter investigated properly before taking your own action.

Is mediation a possibility?

Noise and Mediation

You may wish to consider talking through your differences with your neighbour and coming to an amicable solution to the problem. You should always approach your neighbours in a calm and constructive way; and avoid conflict. If you are not in a position to talk directly to your neighbour or if relations have broken down you could consider mediation as an alternative.

Mediation is a way of resolving disputes between two or more parties where a neutral third party, the mediator, assists the parties to negotiate some form of a settlement or agreement.

Trained mediators will be available in most areas but not all services are free. Even so, mediation can produce positive or beneficial results much more cheaply and efficiently than taking legal action. A search facility for civil mediation providers in your area can be found on the Civil Mediation Council website. The directory provides details of providers who are accredited by the Civil Mediation Council. Costs through this service can be as little as £50 for a one hour session.

More information on mediation can be found on our Resources or from Citizens Advice. Find out what else you can do to help yourself.


Do you have a noise issue?

If so, check out this information from Noisenuisance.org.

Noise Complaint Investgation Process

Environmental Health – The Noise Police

If you are suffering from noise pollution you can usually complain directly to your local authority environmental health department (who are in most areas have the noise police role). In the majority of cases, your local police force do not enforce the specific noise legislation. However, they can be the best agency to go to if there is a wider anti-social behaviour problem or if there are serious disorder issues.

After receiving your complaint the environmental health service officer should then contact you to discuss the nature of your complaint and to advise you as to if and how they propose to investigate the matter. This may be via electronic or written communication.

Noise Complaint Process

They may, in the first instance, require you to keep a log of events. In the meantime, the perpetrator will normally have been contacted by the investigating officer, usually in writing. He should inform them that a complaint has been received and to provide them with an opportunity to rectify the situation. Your identity is not usually revealed to the perpetrator at this stage and in many cases this first contact with the perpetrator from the local authority will help resolve the problem.

However, if the problem persists, it may be necessary for an EHO to witness the noise. To do this they will need to come into your property and access your living areas.

Getting the Noise Witnessed

Local authorities provide different levels of service for responding to noise issues. Levels of service depend upon how much importance your local authority places on the issue and the availability of financial resources.

Where noise problems occur in the daytime or very frequent (for example, every evening) it should be easy for an officer respond very quickly or arrange a time to visit you. If you have provided a comprehensive noise diary this will also help them organise visits (we provide a diary in our online tutorial if you need one).

Many environmental health departments also run evening or weekend noise response services which allow them to visit when noise problems are at their worst. Busy metropolitan areas are more likely to benefit from an ‘out of office hours’ service.

The local authority may be dealing with hundreds of noise nuisance cases. As you are the person affected by the noise it is therefore important that you take the initiative to use the service provided. Make sure that you obtain details of when the service operates and how you can contact them. Use it frequently and be persistent.

Once Evidence has been Obtained

Once sufficient evidence has been gathered indicating that a statutory nuisance exists the officer will serve an abatement notice on the perpetrator. In some cases this can be served immediately and in others it is served within a week. In some cases the abatement notice will give the recipient a time limit to comply with the notice or specify certain measures that need to take place. In other cases, particularly those involving neighbour or music noise, the recipient is instructed to abate the nuisance immediately.

Very occasionally a notice is ignored or not complied with. If this is the case it may be necessary that legal proceedings are taken by the local authority against the perpetrator or equipment needs to be seized. In order to do this the officer will need to witness a breach of the notice. Again, they will rely on you to let them know if the problem is persisting and to provide them with an opportunity to witness the noise.

They may need a witness statement from you at this phase of the investigation and you may be asked if you would be willing to provide evidence in court. Court proceedings are relatively uncommon though and often the work that is carried out behind the scenes by the environmental health officer will result in positive outcomes.


Do you have a noise issue?

If so, check out this information from Noisenuisance.org.

Permitted noise levels

Maximum Permitted Noise Level

Contrary to popular belief there is no maximum permitted noise level that needs to be exceeded for noise to be categorised as a ‘nuisance’. Statutory nuisance legislation is routinely implemented and enforced by local authorities. Investigating officers will sometimes use sound level meters to help them assess nuisance but for most cases this sort of evidence is unnecessary and they will rely upon their experience and opinion. There are so many variables involved with noise disturbance issues that prevent a general acoustic limit being set.

How loud the noise is will be a crucial factor that must be taken into account by the investigating officer. He will make a determination based upon whether the level is reasonable bearing in mind the other variable factors involved in the circumstances (e.g. time of day and nature/character of the area you live in). Sometimes even very low level sound can be categorised as a nuisance, for example, if it is particularly irritating or causes loss of sleep.

Night-time Noise

However, separate legal provisions relating to night-time noise do provide powers to local authorities that enable officers to issue fixed penalty notices where noise exceeds a specified decibel limit (sound levels that exceed the background level by a set threshold) . The procedure involves a warning notice first and applies between the hours of 11pm and 7am. The warning letter can be served without actually measuring the sound but a breach of the warning must be confirmed by measuring the sound in a neighbouring property. There are different levels of fine applying to licensed premises (e.g. pubs and clubs) to residential domestic offenders.

Due to a number of difficulties in its application and use the ‘night-time noise’ provision is rarely used in practice though. In addition, because of limited local authority resources, many local authorities may not provide a night time response service by which to enforce the provisions.

In Scotland permitted decibel limits also apply to the daytime and evening hours (where the local authority have chosen to adopt the provisions).


Do you have a noise issue?

Why not try our download for sufferers of noise nuisance?

What is a statutory nuisance?

What is a Statutory Nuisance Anyway?!

When assessing the potential for nuisance the investigating officer will need to base his judgement on a number of factors. These include:

•    How loud the noise is and how long it lasts
•    How intrusive it is
•    How frequent the intrusion is
•    Whether it is a one-off or continuing problem
•    The time of day
•    Whether it is deliberate or not
•    The nature of the area you live in (e.g. rural or urban)
•    What steps the perpetrator has taken to avoid or reduce the nuisance
•    The use of the activity causing the noise to the public

Ultimately, a statutory nuisance is a criminal matter and so will exclude matters which present themselves purely as mere irritations or annoyances. To qualify as a nuisance noise the noise should therefore be, both, excessive and unreasonable.

People have varying sensitivities to noise and so it is important that the investigator is able to establish that the personal comfort and quality of life of the victim is being interfered with and that they are not unduly sensitive.

In addition, the vast majority of cases that are presented to the local authority are ongoing issues (rather than one-off issues) where a state of affairs exists.

We have much more information detailing what is a statutory nuisance in our tutorial along with hundreds of other resources.


What do we do here at noisenuisance.org?

Control of noise on construction sites

Control of Noise from Building Sites

Section 60 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974 refers to noise caused through the construction, repair or demolition of buildings. It provides discretionary powers to the local authority which enable them to serve a notice specifying how those works are to be carried out in terms of the hours of operation; and thereby limit noise from building sites. (See here for DIY noise).

Many local authorities will typically recommend (usually verbally or via their websites) that noisy works are limited to take place between the hours of 8am and 6pm Monday-Friday, 8am-2pm Saturday with no noisy works permitted on Sundays and Bank Holidays. However, the “Section 60” powers allow works to be controlled formally through a legislative power. It involves a notice being served on the person carrying out the works (usually the company making the noise at the building site). The notice may specify requirements as to the way in which the works are carried out – most commonly specifying the permitted hours for noisy works to take place.

Hours can vary though and evening and weekend works may be permitted in certain circumstances. Unless formal policies are in place hours and other requirements should be considered according to the particulars of the individual construction project and surrounding area.

If you are concerned about noise from building works you can contact your local authority. They may initially visit the site or contact the person carrying out the works to discuss the issue and may wish to resolve the matter informally first. It is not until they serve a notice that the conditions come into effect. The decision to serve the notice is discretionary. However, they do not need to witness noise themselves before serving the notice.

Failure to comply with any requirement of a s.60 notice without reasonable excuse is an offence.

Exceptions and Discretion

Many local authorities have joint or internal policies relating to working hours relating to noise from building sites and may recommend suitable hours of operation. A local authority policy can be a useful guide for enforcers and can help provide a consistent approach for developers. It should not, however, determine the outcome of enforcement action with respect to each case as there will often be circumstances where the discretion of the local authority is warranted. Examples include:

  • Allowing extended weekend works where they are located next to a school and community centre (even if it disturbs a number of local residents).
  • Restricting the breaking out of concrete in the daytime next to a city office block and allowing extended evening activity.

If a notice is required, the legislation allows the authority to take individual circumstances into account and make specific references to what type of works are undertaken and when. Local authorities must therefore consider the hours appropriate in each case and not by reference to a set of inflexible local rules. The important thing is that local authorities must not fetter their discretion in such cases and, as such, should not be bound by internal policies.

The officer involved should be able to provide a reasonable explanation of why those particular hours were imposed in each case and assure that any relevant considerations raised have not been ignored. It will normally be expected that, in order to do this, enforcers will need to discuss any legitimate issues the person carrying out the work might have before service of the notice.


Construction companies often partake in schemes to reduce noise and nuisance and limit the effect of construction projects on the local community. The considerate constructors scheme is one example.


BBC Radio Interview with Noisenuisance.org

Noise Limiting Devices

Noise limiting devices are common in nightclubs, bars, pubs, restaurants and live music venues and are often used as a way of limiting music volume. Noise limiting devices (NLDs) are used for two main reasons in the licenced trade:

  1. To protect the health and safety of employees on-site who are exposed to loud amplified music and, as a consequence, potential hearing loss; and
  2. To limit the effect of noise on neighbours and potential for nuisance.

Employees (and self-employed workers) like bar staff, security and waiters may regularly be exposed to sound levels in excess of 100dB. There are clear responsibilities placed on operators to ensure that they assess the risk that noise poses to health and put in place control measures that limit exposure. Devices that regulate volume will clearly play an important role in such circumstances; alongside other measures such as designing work areas to limit exposure.

Noise Limiting Devices – Compliance

When it comes to nuisance control the case for NLDs is not so clear. In recent years, particularly during the transitionary period of the current licensing act, it has been popular for licensing authorities to place conditions on premises licences requiring the use of a NLD. Councillors and licensing managers, often having limited knowledge of noise control and acoustics, sometimes see the NLD as a panacea to noise. In other cases they may have been used as a way of appeasing objectors. In any case, many licensing conditions specifying the use of a NLD are poorly considered and poorly worded and, as a consequence, unenforceable.

“A noise limiter must be maintained to the satisfaction of the licensing officer”.

Consider the above condition. Do they mean a volume knob? Furthermore, it would not prevent the device from being legally circumvented.

That is not to say that any operator should disregard any of their licensing obligations; on the contrary, there are a number of reasons why operators should do their best to comply.

There are also a number of other factors that should be considered by the operator when considering the installation of a NLD:

  1. It may lower sound quality (e.g. where amplified sound is reduced below percussive or brass instrumentation);
  2. NLDs may not always resolve problems associated with frequency or tonality;
  3. Drums and trumpets are still loud;
  4. Crowds are too;
  5. Setting a suitable level can be difficult.

Managing Noise

Relying on a NLD to control noise can be like placing a square peg in a round hole if the building itself is not suitably constructed or designed in order to reduce noise emissions. Where located next to potential sufferers, if it is not reasonably practicable (financially or otherwise) to improve the fabric and design of the building regular (loud) music events are not recommended. Unfortunately, some community buildings and clubs attempting to subsidise their income by maximising evening events can sometimes fall into this category.  Where some form of acoustic control may be provided by the venue and it’s management, the number of loud events and the time that they occur provide the best form of nuisance control. Beyond this the NLD can provide a useful contribution to the operator’s noise management plan.

Choosing and Installing

When in use a microphone monitors the sound against a pre-set level. Where the level is exceeded the NLD will provide an indication that the music is too loud and, after an extended period of exceedance, will cut off the power to the amplification equipment.

When setting up the device use a reference level inside the building that relates to a suitable threshold outside (or in a neighbouring property). Where there is a cut-off make sure that all electrically amplified equipment (amps, speakers etc.) run through the system.


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Anti-social Behaviour and Noise

Anti-social Behaviour and Noise

The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 updated a number of powers relating to the control and prevention of anti-social behaviour; some of which may be useful with respect to noise control. Those with responsibilities to protect communities against unreasonable levels of noise, including the police, local authorities and, in some circumstances, housing associations are regularly applying the laws in practice. Here is a quick summary of the main enforcement powers.

INJUNCTIONS

Injunctions can be placed on a person aged 10 or over if, on the balance of probabilities the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in anti-social behaviour (and if the court thinks it is convenient and just to grant the injunction for prevention purposes).

In the context of applications by housing providers (or local authorities exercising similar housing management functions) anti-social behaviour is “conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”. In any other case it will be conduct that “has caused, or is likely to cause, alarm or distress to any person”.

The injunction may include wide ranging prohibitions or requirements. Applications may be made by a number of authorities including: local authorities, housing providers, police, Transport for London and Environment Agency.

CRIMINAL BEHAVIOUR ORDERS

Criminal behaviour orders may be made by a court where a person is convicted an offence and where the offender has caused, or was likely to cause, alarm or distress to any person. Again, it is intended as a preventative tool. The application will be made by the prosecution.

COMMUNITY PROTECTION NOTICES

Community protection notices may be issued by an authorised person to an individual (aged 16 or over) or a body if it is satisfied on reasonable grounds that:

(a) the conduct of the individual or body is having a detrimental effect, of a persistent or continuing nature, on the quality of life of those in the locality, and
(b) the conduct is unreasonable.

The notice may include requirements aimed at preventing or reducing continued or recurring detrimental effects. The authorised person must follow a warning process, and only after which may the notice be issued if the recipient’s conduct is still having the effect.

Grounds of appeal in the case of a CPN include that the conduct specified has not been of a persistent or continuing nature, is not unreasonable or has not had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality. Failure to comply with a notice is an offence. A person guilty of an offence is liable to a fine of up to £2500 (in the case of an individual). However, there is also a fixed penalty procedure involving a specified amount of no more than £100 (with provision for an early payment discount).

In the case of CPNs authorised persons include constables, local authorities and persons designated by local authorities.

Guidance on the anti-social behaviour powers and noise

Guidance for front line officers on the new ASB powers has been published by the Secretary of State.

The guidance is in two parts: the first provides some outline to the Community Trigger; and the second provides an outline of the new powers and interventions contained in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Within the text there is an explanation of how Community Protection Notices fit with the existing statutory nuisance regime. It is clear that the statutory nuisance regime remains the first port-of-call. However, the new powers clearly fill in a few gaps in the noise intervention tool-box.


We have some more detail on the anti-social behaviour powers and noise in our tutorial resources