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Noise nuisance

If you are concerned about the noise coming from a neighbour's home, a local business or manufacturer, or noise from stationary vehicles and equipment in the street, often the best way to deal with the problem is to go to talk to the person or company responsible for the noise and point out the problem. You may find they are unaware that they are disturbing you, sometimes we are all guilty of making noise that annoys. The problem is not always one of inconsiderate behaviour, even homes that have reasonably good sound insulation may not cope with noise from powerful modern equipment.

Irritated woman covering ears with pillows

Who do I complain to?

If you want to make a complaint about noise, you should contact Environmental Health using our complaint form. The Council has a duty to investigate complaints of noise from premises (land and buildings) and from stationary vehicles, machinery or equipment in the street. Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 local authorities have a duty to deal with any noise which they consider to be a statutory nuisance.

All complaints relating to noise are recorded on a computerised complaints handling system. The name of the person making the complaint will not be released unless permission is given to do so or is required in evidence.

If Environmental Health staff visit and witness the noise, and are satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists, they can require the perpetrator to abate the nuisance. If the noise is intermittent, you may be asked to keep details of the noise in the form of a diary and equipment may be installed to record examples for later analysis. There is no set level at which noise becomes a statutory nuisance and the assessment will take into account a number of factors including, the noise source, the locality, the time of day or night, and the frequency and duration of the noise complained of.

For a copy of a noise complaint diary form in pdf format, double-click on the following link: Noise diary. It is recommended that a diary of significant noise events is kept for approximately two weeks.

Please note that some neighbour noises, such as from children, raised voices, footsteps, doors being closed etc., cannot normally be dealt with under the Environmental Protection Act. Also, the Council has no enforcement powers to remedy complaints of noise caused by transport undertakers, aircraft, road traffic and trains.

Formal Action

In the majority of cases, the Council will try to solve the problem informally. If this fails and it is satisfied the noise amounts to a statutory nuisance it must serve an Abatement Notice. This may require the noise to be stopped altogether or be limited to certain times of the day. A Notice must be served on the person responsible for the noise or, in certain circumstances, the owner or occupier of the premises, or the offending vehicle, machinery or equipment. A person on whom an Abatement Notice has been served has a right of appeal to a Magistrates Court within 21 days of it being served.

Failure to comply with a Abatement Notice

If a person on whom an Abatement Notice has been served fails to comply, without reasonable cause, he will have committed an offence. For offences relating to domestic premises and private vehicles, the Magistrates' Court may impose a maximum fine of 5,000 with a further fine of up to £500 for each day on which the offence continues after conviction. When the nuisance arises on industrial, trade or business premises, the maximum fine is £20,000.

Local authorities have powers to gain entry to premises to enable them to abate a noise nuisance. They can also gain entry or access to vehicles, machinery or equipment to stop problems such as vehicle alarms when the owner or person responsible cannot be found. Local authorities have powers to seize noise making equipment and to apply for it to be disposed of.

Best practicable means

It is a defence in any Court proceedings relating to noise arising on industrial, trade or business premises for the business to prove that the best practicable means have been used to prevent or minimise the effect of the noise. In such circumstances there may be technical or practical reasons why the local authority cannot take formal action on a particular noise problem.

Codes of Practice

Codes of Practice give advice about the minimisation of problems caused by potentially noisy activities. Courts must have regard to relevant codes approved by the Secretary of State when considering the defence of best practicable means.

There are codes approved by the Secretary of State dealing with noise from audible intruder alarms, ice cream van chimes, model aircraft and construction sites.

Annoying noise

Complaint Direct to a Magistrates' Court

If, for whatever reason, the Council does not take action, or if you do not wish to involve them, you can complain about a noise problem direct to the Magistrates' Court, under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. You will need to have good evidence of the nuisance in order to persuade the Magistrates' Court that the noise problem amounts to a statutory nuisance.

How do I proceed?

It is important that you keep a written record of the dates, times and duration of the offending noise, as well as a description of its nature and the distress it causes you in the reasonable occupation of your home.

Try and resolve the problem informally before contacting the Court, and by writing to the person responsible for the noise. If you know where the noise is coming from, but do not know what or who is causing it, then making contact with the owner or occupier of the premises may work wonders.

Give fair warning of your action

If you decide to take action under Section 82 of the 1990 Act you must give three days notice in writing to the maker of the noise of your intentions, and provide them with details of your complaint. Deliver your Notice by post or hand and make sure your letter is dated and you have kept a copy.

Working with the Court

When you contact the Court, tell them you wish to make a complaint under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. You will probably need to visit the Court where the procedure will be explained to you and you may be asked for evidence of the problem. This will show the Magistrates that you have an arguable case. You should also let the Court know if you have notified the Environmental Health Section at Tandridge of the problem.

The Court will decide if a summons can be issued, and may ask you to serve it (by hand or by post) on the person responsible for the noise, stating the date and time for the Court hearing. If you serve the Notice, you should keep a careful record and ensure that the Notice is served well before the hearing date. When the time comes for the hearing, you will have to attend Court to give evidence.

The person responsible for the noise will very likely come to Court to defend themselves, and may even make counter-accusations. You do not need to have a solicitor to represent you at the hearing, although you may do so if you wish.

If you are going to present your own case, the Clerk of the Court may give you advice and guidance. Alternatively, you can contact your local Citizen's Advice Bureau which may be able to offer assistance.

You will need to be prepared for the possibility of having to pay the costs of taking the case to Court. These costs will include your costs, those of your solicitor if you have one, and any witnesses you may call in support of your case.

The outcome

If the Court decide in your favour it will make an Order requiring the offender to abate the noise nuisance and specify the measures they will have to take to achieve this. The Order may also prohibit or restrict a recurrence of the nuisance.

The Court may also impose a fine at the same time as making the Order.

If the Court finds that the nuisance existed at the date of making the complaint, they will award you the reasonable costs incurred by you in bringing the action against the noise maker. These costs will be awarded whether or not the nuisance still exists or an Abatement Order is made. If an Order is made the Court will generally require the noise maker to pay your costs.

If the case is dismissed, you will normally incur your own costs in bringing this case to Court and you may incur the costs of the other party.

What if the noise nuisance continues?

Should the noise continue, any person contravening the requirements of an Abatement Order without reasonable excuse will be found guilty of an offence under the Act and can be fined.

You should keep your record of noise occurrences up to date in case the Order is being ignored and it proves necessary to return to Court. The procedure for initiating a future case will be the same as for the original proceedings.

Making a complaint

Environmental Health complaint form