Investigation Process

The Investigation Process

First Steps

If you are suffering from noise pollution you can complain directly to your local authority environmental health department.

After receiving your complaint they 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.

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 frequently (for example, every evening) it will 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.

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.

(See also our information on manually activated sound recording devices and the Noise App.)

Taking Formal Action

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.

Investigation Timeline

The following table outlines a case of neighbour noise nuisance based in a district authority that runs its full course; and sets out a rough expectation for benchmarks. Don’t be put off by the seemingly long time-frame as most noise cases are rectified informally in the first month and well before the abatement notice stage. However, we think it is best that you have an understanding of what to expect from your local authority.

Day 1You contact the EH department and lodge a ‘complaint’. This will probably be via an administrator who will pass your details on to the team responsible.Can be done by post, telephone, email or through web contact forms. If you ring you may be able to discuss your case with an officer.
Do encourage others to complain if they have a problem.
Day 4An officer contacts you back to discuss your case and/or sends you a standard reply with a diary sheet to complete. Noise diaries are important as they build essential supporting evidence of nuisance.
He should also contact the alleged perpetrator and let them know that a complaint has been received, get feedback and warn that they may be monitored. Your personal details are not usually revealed at this stage.
Get the direct contact details of your case officer and his department. Find out if they offer an out of hours service, when it runs and how to contact them.
If possible, start calling them out when the noise is happening so that they can witness the noise.
Day 34By now you should have completed and returned your diary/log. If not your case may be closed automatically. Some authorities will wait until they have been returned before offering further services.
After receipt they should contact you to discuss how they intend to witness the noise. They will need to enter your property to do this when the noise is happening.
Some authorities may install noise monitoring equipment.
Diary sheets should be completed with as much information as possible. Don’t expect much help if you just complete one occurrence or enter one line.
Keep on completing your diaries for as long as the nuisance persists.
Be persistent and call officers out whenever the noise is disturbing. Carry on doing this even if the noise has been witnessed.
Day 60Most complaints should have been fully investigated by this stage. However, a few more weeks may be necessary in areas with restricted resources.
Where they are satisfied that a nuisance exists they must serve an abatement notice. If officers are unable to witness the noise they may close your complaint. Sometimes local authorities will attempt to witness the noise a set number of times (often 3) before closing the complaint.
It may be that the noise is not loud, late or often enough to constitute a nuisance.
If the noise occurs at the same time every week ask for an officer to visit you at that time. They should be happy to arrange this.
If their evening/weekend service is limited ask whether a noise monitoring device is available for installation.
Continue supplying evidence to the case officer.
Day 67By now an abatement notice may have been served on the person responsible for the nuisance. They may be given a time limit for compliance or it may require its immediate abatement.
An appeal to the magistrate’s court by the recipient will delay enforcement but not the collection of further evidence.
If you are unsatisfied with the action taken so far make a complaint to the Environmental Health manager or follow the Council’s complaint procedure.
Day 90If the notice has not been complied with (and not appealed) the officer will need to witness a breach. He will need your cooperation on this matter and, again, may need to be contacted when the noise is happening.The officer may wish to witness more than one breach of the notice so be persistent.
Day 130The officer may have collated evidence and gathered witness statements. His case will have been referred to their solicitor for legal proceedings.By this stage your evidence is important to the local authority’s case.You will have been asked whether you would be willing to attend court.
Your identity may have been disclosed through the exchange of evidence.
Day 220The date for the criminal case at the magistrates court. This may be adjourned.

Note that noise investigation policies and procedures vary slightly in each local authority so not every authority will follow this approach.

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