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30 Neighbourhood and Community Disputes

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1 Introduction

2. What can I do if I have a problem with my neighbours?

3. Dealing with matters yourself

4. What is mediation?

5. What if mediation doesn't work?

What if mediation doesn’t work?

If mediation does not work or is not available to you, and other methods have failed, then you may wish to take more formal action. What you can do will depend on the problem and how you want to approach it.

Problems with noise

Noise is by far the most common cause of problems in communities and between neighbours.

If you live in social housing (usually council or housing association housing), contact your landlord to discuss the problem. If that doesn’t work, or the problem is with someone who has a different landlord to you, go to the Environmental Health Department at your local authority (council).

They will probably ask you to keep a diary of when the noise happens and how bad it is. This will be needed as evidence if your landlord or the council takes any formal action, such as court action. You should also keep a diary if your problem is with another type of nuisance. But use some common sense in keeping a diary – don’t include events that you wouldn’t otherwise notice. Councils can use a range of laws that cover different types of noise nuisance:

  • The Environmental Protection Act 1990 provides the main controls over what are called ‘statutory nuisances’, which cover noise nuisances from industrial, leisure or domestic activities, including car alarms.
  • The Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 covers noise nuisances in the street, including noise from vehicles, machinery and other equipment such as loudspeakers, and car alarms and burglar alarms.
  • If you live in London, the London Local Authorities Acts 1991 and 1996 together provide a ‘fast-track’ procedure for dealing with noise from burglar alarms, though only in those London boroughs that have adopted it. The 1991 Act says that people who have alarms must make sure their alarm has an automatic cut-out, and that they must give the police contact details of two key-holders (people who can get into their house or flat).
  • Under the Noise Act 1996, it is an offence to make excessive noise from a house or flat at night (between 11pm and 7am). Not all councils use this Act, but some of those that do have a 24-hour noise service, which you can call if you have a problem with a noisy neighbour. The local authority can issue a warning notice and, if the person making the noise does not stop or reduce it, they can be fined. The council can also prosecute the person responsible, and remove any equipment that is making the noise (such as a stereo or power tools).

By law, a council must investigate any complaint about noise. An environmental health officer or technical officer may visit the place where the noise is coming from. They may leave equipment inside your house to record noise disturbance over a period of time.

However, they can take action only if they believe the noise is a ‘statutory nuisance’. They need to look at whether the noise nuisance is ordinary, reasonable behaviour. For more, see ‘What is a ‘statutory nuisance’?’.

If the council decides that a noise is a statutory nuisance, it can serve an ‘abatement notice’, telling the person causing the nuisance that they must stop. If they don’t, then they are guilty of an offence and the council can prosecute them. If this happens, you may need to make a formal statement about what has happened, and attend court to support the council’s case.

If the council officers do not consider noise levels to be a statutory nuisance, they can:

  • try to resolve the dispute informally themselves or appoint mediators;
  • write to the person causing the nuisance, saying that someone has made a complaint; or
  • ask the person to reduce the level of disturbance.

Local councils must also consider possible noise nuisances when considering planning applications. Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, they must draw up plans to deal with the conflicts that can result from new development. This means they could agree to a planning application only if the developer also agrees plans to control problems like noise or pollution.

Problems with building and planning permission

If you are in dispute with a neighbour or someone in your area over a proposed piece of planning (for example, a neighbour’s plan to extend their house), you should contact the council planning department. There is a formal process for dealing with planning disputes, but many councils will suggest mediation instead. If they don’t, or this doesn’t work, you will need to make a planning appeal. The planning department will tell you how to do this.

Children’s behaviour

If you have a serious problem with trouble from children in your area, contact your local police community beat manager. They may be able to arrange mediation, or an informal discussion with the children and their families. If the poor behaviour is serious enough to be a nuisance, you could go to the magistrates’ court. However, the police are more likely to take action under the powers they now have – see ‘What can be done about anti-social behaviour?’.

Access to land or property and parking

If you have a problem getting access to your property or, for example, someone is parking on your land when they shouldn’t, contact your local police community beat manager. They may be able to arrange mediation, or an informal discussion with the person causing the problem. If it is serious enough to be a nuisance, you could go to the magistrates’ court (see ‘Taking a case to court yourself’). However, the police are more likely to take action under the powers they now have – see ‘What can be done about anti-social behaviour?’.

High hedges

If you have a problem with a neighbour’s hedge blocking your view or light to your house, and you have not been able to sort out the matter with them directly, contact the council. It can issue a formal notice ordering the neighbour to cut the hedge. If they don’t:

  • they could face a fine of up to £1,000; or
  • the council will cut back the hedge.

However, the council will consider complaints about hedges only where:

  • the hedge is evergreen;
  • it is over two metres high;
  • it is blocking out light; and
  • it affects access or ‘reasonable enjoyment’ of your property.

6. What is a ´statutory nuisance´?

7. What if the council won´t help?

8. Taking a case to court yourself

9. What can be done about anti-social behaviour?

10. Acceptable behaviour contracts

11. Anti-social behaviour orders

12. Further help

13. About this leaflet


The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.

Leaflet Version: July 2005

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