Noise in the UK

Noise in the UK

The following provides a brief summary of our research into the state of noise in Britain. It explains who is more likely to be affected by noise and outlines your chances of success with the enforcement authorities.

Neighbour Noise Surveyed

Our 2014 noise survey revealed some interesting information about the numbers of noise complaints being received by local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We asked each local authority in the UK how many noise complaints they received, how much enforcement action they took and about officer staffing levels.  Data was provided by 340 respondents out of the 374 local authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a response rate of 91%). During the course of the research we have compared the data received to government data and national indices (due to differing noise enforcement mechanisms in Scotland we excluded their data from the survey).

The Extent of the Problem

422,250 noise complaints were received by local authorities responding to the survey (predominantly environmental health departments) in the 2013-2014 financial period. However, it should be noted that our replies related only to local authority noise nuisance data and excludes anti-social behaviour statistics and complaint data collated by other agencies, such as Police and Housing Associations. In addition, many people affected by noise do not complain to enforcement agencies. As a result, it is fair to assume that the actual proportion of people affected by neighbour noise in the UK will be considerable!

Who Suffers Most?

As you would expect, it was found that there was a strong relationship between the number of complaints received and population density (population per hectare). So, living in urban environments is not easy; not only are you more likely to suffer from road, rail and aircraft noise you are more likely to complain about neighbour noise (be that from commercial or residential sources). The figures are not surprising; it is something that we know and, to a certain extent, accept.

Generally speaking, the more complaints that were received by a Council, the more noise abatement notices were served and local authorities tend to take more enforcement action in the areas that are most affected. So, in urban environments, the rate of notices served is generally higher (and those Councils receiving the most complaints generally take the most action).

What we didn’t expect to find was no relationship between areas of high deprivation and the likelihood of complaints being received. However, since we were using the ONS indices, we know that the term “deprivation” is not necessarily just associated with income or wealth but takes into account other factors. Higher levels of rural deprivation, where property values may be lower and levels of unemployment significant, could also be a contributing factor that may balance figures. Furthermore, previous research has shown us that “those with the means” tend to be more likely to take advantage of public services (i.e. complain about noise).

Areas with higher proportions of social housing stock were more likely to experience a higher level of noise complaints. Again though, social housing is more likely to be located in built up areas and in dwellings concentrated in close proximity to each other (i.e. flats).

The bottom line is though that, rich or poor, noise does not discriminate and affects all walks of life; more so if you live in an urban environment.

Your Chance of Enforcement Success

On average 1.7 abatement notices were served by each Council (for noise) for every 100 complaints received with 24 Councils were identified as having served no notices at all. Doesn’t seem like a particularly high rate does it? However, it is worth noting that most noise complaints are settled informally by the local authority; before a statutory nuisance is established.

There were an average of 3.85 officers working in each Borough each responsible for investigating an average of 385 complaints. Many of these officers were responsible for carrying out a number of other tasks in addition to noise investigations though. The greater the rate of complaints received (number of complaints received per every 1000 population) the greater the number of officers are employed.

The enforcement rate (number of notices served against complaints received) demonstrated a very weak relationship to staffing levels. The result indicates that the approach to enforcement may differ from area to area. This is not necessarily bearing in mind the nature and variables associated with nuisance (‘what might be a nuisance in Belgrave Square may not necessarily be in Bermondsey’). In addition, one might consider that where enforcement is exercised in a sector where local politics, resources and priorities differ from borough to borough, there will be difficulties comparing ‘like with like’.

Don’t let any of this put you off. All this means that it is important that you understand how the enforcement system works in order to get the best out of your local authority.