Noise nuisance

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who are concerned that the council is not taking action about the noise nuisance they are experiencing and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I am experiencing noise from nearby buildings and I am unhappy that the council has done nothing about it. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances, although we can’t overrule the council’s decision on whether or not to take action. It isn’t our role to say whether the noise that you are complaining about is a nuisance in law or whether action must be taken to reduce it. But, if you believe that the council did something wrong in the way it investigated complaints about the noise and can also show that it caused you problems, then you can complain to us and we can investigate.

If you are suffering from noise nuisance, you need to let the council know as soon as possible giving details of the noise and the dates and times that it occurred. The council cannot immediately intervene to stop the noise but needs to investigate to establish the nature of the problem. It may ask you to fill in diary sheets to record details of the problem. 

How do I complain? 

You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for? 

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it has investigated your complaint about noise and, if so, what effect this had and what problems this led to for you. For example, is the fault likely to have made a difference to the noise problems you experienced? Some faults we might find are that the council:

  • did not investigate the complaint properly and establish whether there was a noise problem, or established the problem but failed to take action on it
  • took too long to investigate the noise problem or failed to take enforcement action when informal attempts to resolve the problem failed
  • did not take into account, or failed to give proper reasons for not following, the relevant law, policy or guidance
  • did not explain the outcome of its investigation to you, or
  • made a decision based on inaccurate, incomplete or irrelevant evidence or failed to consider evidence that was available.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

It depends on the fault and what the consequences are for you. We cannot force the council to take action to stop the noise. But, if we find that you still suffer from noise because of the council’s fault or suffered for longer than was necessary, we may ask the council to take steps to address the problem.

If it has established that there is a noise problem but has failed to take action, we may ask the council to re-evaluate the evidence and consider issuing a noise abatement notice.

If the council has not investigated the noise complaint properly or has failed to consider evidence that it should have, we may suggest that the council interviews witnesses or uses its own officers or outside specialists as independent witnesses to evaluate the noise. Or we may recommend that the council installs monitoring equipment in your property to record the noise and to use as possible evidence at court. In cases where the noise has now stopped but we find that you suffered from it for longer than necessary, we may ask the council to pay you compensation.

We may also ask for compensation for the time, trouble or expense you have been put to in pursuing your complaint.

Where we find fault with the council’s procedures we will often recommend that the council introduces changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr P complained about noise from an extractor fan on the commercial kitchens next to his home. The council visited Mr P’s property. The officer asked Mr P about the noise, how it affected him, how often it happened and the time of day and duration of occurences. He asked Mr P to complete a diary record of the problem and took noise measurement recordings from Mr P’s home and garden. There are no decibel noise limits set in law but the officer analysed the data he had collected in accordance with government guidance and the law and he did take into account guidance from the World Health Organisation about how noise levels affect people. Despite this the council concluded that although the fan was audible and clearly annoyed Mr P, it was not a statutory noise nuisance. The council had investigated the problem properly, analysed the data, and taken into account the relevant law and code of practice. Although Mr P did not agree with the council, we could not conclude that it had been at fault in how it reached its decision or that it had acted unreasonably.
Mr H complained about the council's handling of his complaints about noise from a factory next door. The first officer to investigate concluded that the owners of the factory had a defence against the noise complaints, so he could take no action. Then a new officer took over the post and she concluded that there was a problem. She carried out testing and agreed a programme of works to reduce noise with the owners, but they delayed in carrying this out. The council prepared to serve a noise abatement notice but did not do so because production at the site ended. We found an inconsistency of approach between the two officers who dealt with Mr H’s complaint. The second officer took the correct approach and identified measures that could be taken. But the first officer decided that the owners had a defence in law without considering the problem properly, which meant that Mr H suffered avoidable noise nuisance. We asked the council to pay Mr H £1,000 for his loss of amenity, his time and trouble and towards the professional fees he incurred.

Other sources of information

Bothered by Noise – Information leaflet from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at www.gov.uk/government/publications/bothered-by-noise

Dealing with problems in your neighbourhood – guidance on neighbourhood problems, including noise, from Citizens Advice can be found online at: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/housing/problems-where-you-live/problems-in-your-local-environment/

Statutory nuisance – Friends of the Earth information leaflet at www.foe.co.uk/resource/guides/5_2_statutory_nuisance.pdf

Information on a range of noise issues from Environmental Protection UK at www.environmental-protection.org.uk.

Information about environmental protection and statutory nuisance from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health is at www.cieh.org/policy/environmental_protection.html

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

June 2014 

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