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Are you living next to a noise nightmare?

This information is aimed at helping people who are suffering from noise problems. It provides advice and guidance in situations where we may not be taking legal action, and tells you what you can do when you have noise problems.

Noise can make life a misery. Noisy neighbours, traffic, industry, aircraft, building sites and barking dogs are just some of the problems that can cause problems.

Many noise problems, such as those with neighbours, can be sorted out without involving the council. If this approach does not work, then you may need to ask us for some help.

Making a complaint

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When making a complaint you will need to tell us:

  • Your name and address and, where possible, your telephone number and email address.
  • The address, or site, where the noise is coming from
  • The type of noise – eg barking dogs, loud music
  • When the noise happens
  • How long the noise lasts for (this can be done by keeping a written record of when you hear the noise or using the Noise App)
  • The effect that the noise has on you (eg not being able to sleep)
  • Anything that you have done to try and deal with the problem, for example talking to the person who is making the noise.

We do not pass on details of the person who is making the complaint, although sometimes they make a guess and ask if it was you. If a case goes to Court then you may be asked to appear as a witness.

Please note that we are unable to follow up complaints where the caller will not give their name and address.

What we will do

A letter or email will be sent to you within 4 days of you making a complaint.

You will be sent a diary sheet and information on how to use the Noise App will be enclosed with this.

Complete the diary or submit noise recordings via the Noise App for 14 days and then send it back to us.

We ask you to keep noise diary/recordings because:

  1. It helps us to work out whether the noise is likely to be a “statutory nuisance”
  2. It will help us to find out the times when an Officer is most likely to hear the noise.
  3. The diary sheet / Noise App diary can be used in court.

If after 28 days we have not received your diary sheet back, or received further noise app recordings, we will assume that you have managed to sort the problem out yourself, and we will not take any other action.

If your complaint is linked to another agency – for example the Civil Aviation Authority for aircraft noise – we will pass your complaint on to them and let you know what will happen next.

After we have received your diary sheet, or noise app recordings our Officer will write to the person that you have complained about to let them know that we have received a complaint – and to ask for them to co-operate in keeping noise levels down. Your name will not be mentioned, and you will also receive a letter from us telling you what will happen next.

It is important that you continue to keep a noise diary sheet / Noise App recordings. If there are more problems they can be used in any legal action we may need to take.

An Officer will normally make three visits, and during these will try to see whether, in their opinion, the noise is a “statutory nuisance”.

We may also use recording equipment where noise does not happen at a routine or regular time, but in most cases we need to hear the noise before we can take legal action.

What to do if you hear noise

If the noise happens during a mid-week day during office hours, you should call Environmental Health and ask if an officer is available to visit to listen to the noise.

As part of the Council’s Covid-19 risk assessment you will be asked to complete a risk assessment before the officer can visit. In these unprecedented times there may be occasions where it is deemed the officer cannot visit, for example, if you are in isolation, someone in the household has symptoms etc.

Sometimes it is more difficult for us to witness the noise, such as when it occurs late at night or at the weekend; we will offer to install noise monitoring equipment in your home.

If we are sure that a statutory nuisance exists, a Noise Abatement Notice will be served on the person/s causing the problem. Sometimes this means that they will be given a certain amount of time to carry out work that is needed to stop the noise from being a problem.

After a Noise Abatement Notice has been served, it is a criminal offence not to obey it, and the person can be taken to court.

We aim to reach a decision on what action to take within two months. Whilst many complaints will be sorted out within this time, there are others – especially where there isn’t a pattern to the noise – which may take longer.

The Officer who is dealing with your complaint will keep in contact with you to let you know what is happening.

Sometimes we are not able to take action – again this can be in situations where we have not been able to hear the noise or where the noise is not loud enough or frequent enough for us to legally do anything to stop it. If this is the case then we will let you know.

Taking your own action

Some types of noise do not happen very often and / or cannot be called a “statutory nuisance”.

Noise is very difficult to deal with because different people react to it in different ways – for example what one person finds perfectly fine, another person will find unacceptable.

Some noises may be irritating, but this does not mean that we can take legal action to stop them.

There is no fixed level of noise which the law says is a statutory nuisance, so each problem needs to be looked at on its own. Usually we will consider the volume, what type of noise it is, how long it lasts, and when it happens. When assessing if a noise is a statutory nuisance the law does not allow us to consider it more of a problem because of your personal circumstances such as a shift worker trying to sleep during the day.

The Environmental Protection Act allows you to take legal action when the council has not been able to because we have not been able to hear the noise, or are of the opinion the noise is not a statutory nuisance.

If we have not been able to help you then you can take this further on your own.

What you should do

You should write to the person who is making the noise. You may have already spoken to them about the problem, but you will need to write, saying that you think that they are making a noise which is a nuisance.

In your letter you will need to let them know that unless they stop, you will be making a complaint to the Magistrates’ Court.

Make sure that you date the letter and then keep a copy because it will help your case.

Whilst the Law does not say that you have to take this step, Courts are usually impressed by people who act in a sensible way.

If this does not work and the noise continues then your next step is to contact:

Justices’ Clerk’s Office, The Court House, Danesgate, Stevenage, Herts. SG1 1XH Telephone Stevenage (01438) 730489

What the Law says

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 has a number of sections in it. Section 82 says that a Magistrates’ Court can act on a complaint from someone who is troubled by noise which is a nuisance.

You can also approach the Court in situations where the noise problem seems to have stopped but you have good reason to think that it may start up again.

If the Court is satisfied that the noise nuisance exists, or may start again at the same place, they can issue an Order. This Order may:

  • Say that the person who is making the noise must stop it within a time limit that the Court decides.
  • Stop the noise from being started again.

Even if you do not know who the person is who is making the noise you can still take a case against the owner or person who lives there. An example of this is with noisy parties – you may not know who turns the stereo on, but it is usually easy to find out who lives there.

Anyone who still makes a nuisance, without any reasonable reason for doing so, after an Order has been made by the Court will have broken the law and can be fined.

Most cases taken to Court privately are domestic incidents. If you take a private business or trade to court they can defend themselves if they can prove that they are using “the best practicable means” to prevent noise nuisance. Usually the Environmental Health Officer will almost certainly act where a trade or business is concerned.

Finally, just three points about taking your case to Court

  1. Only one person needs to make a complaint to a Court, although you can ask people to be witnesses if you like.
  2. Taking someone to Court does not cost much – you do not need to hire a solicitor and the Environmental Health Division will be please to provide you with any more information you may need.
  3. There are two sides to each story – Environmental Health Officers look into hundreds of complaints of domestic noise. In many cases the person being complained about has their own version of the story.

Sometimes we find that noise complaints are part of a greater and bigger problem between two people. In these cases we will often advise someone to take their cases to Court so that they can decide the rights and wrongs of the situation.

If you do decide to take your case to Court you will need to be quite certain about your reasons for making a complaint, and that you are not reacting to something that most people would find acceptable.