The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman has found no fault in the way the Council investigated a complaint of noise nuisance, and so we have completed this investigation.
- The complainant, to whom I will refer as Mrs F, says that she has been suffering from a noise nuisance at her home for many years. She complains that the Council has failed to do anything to stop the noise.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed the Council’s case notes and its correspondence with Mrs F.
- I also sent a draft copy of this decision to both parties for their comments.
What I found
- In May 2017, Mrs F complained to the Council about a noise nuisance. She said she could hear and feel constant noise and vibrations in her house. This was loud enough to cause the walls to shake and pictures to fall off. It was preventing her and her dog from sleeping.
- The Council installed noise monitoring equipment at Mrs F’s house. The officer installing the equipment noted that Mrs F had said she could hear the noise and feel vibrations during his visit. But the officer wrote that he could not feel or hear anything himself, except the occasional passing of traffic on the road outside.
- After approximately two weeks, the Council collected the noise monitoring equipment. It had not detected any abnormal noises or vibrations. An officer called Mrs F to explain this to her.
- Shortly after this, Mrs F told the Council that she had spent the night sleeping in a relative’s car some distance away from her home, but she was still able to hear the noise there.
- The Council explained that the only noise that could be detected at Mrs F’s home was from the road, and that it could not do anything about this.
- In October 2017, Mrs F raised the same complaint again with the Council. The Council reviewed its previous response and explained that it could not do anything further to help her.
Legal and administrative background
- The Council’s policy explains ‘a statutory [noise] nuisance can be defined as “an unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land or some right over, or in connection with it”.’ It goes on to note, ‘Whereas most people would describe anything that annoys them as a nuisance, a statutory noise nuisance must be, in the opinion of the local authority officer, both excessive and unreasonable.’
- The Council’s policy says it will investigate complaints of noise nuisance by asking complainants to complete diary sheets. On receipt of the diary sheets, the investigating officer will consider whether it is necessary to install noise monitoring equipment and conduct site visits. Following these steps, if the issue is confirmed as a statutory nuisance, it is likely that an abatement notice will be served.
- When a person makes a complaint about noise, a council must consider whether it constitutes a ‘statutory nuisance’. This is noise which either unreasonably interferes with a person’s ability to enjoy their home, or is likely to cause injury or ill-health.
- In order to establish that there is a statutory nuisance, the noise must be witnessed by an Environmental Health Officer. Councils can install noise monitoring equipment in the complainant’s home for this purpose.
- In this case, the Council installed noise monitoring equipment at Mrs F’s home and left it there for approximately two weeks. Mrs F activated the equipment approximately 190 times in that period. But the officers reviewing the recordings could detect no unusual noise or vibration.
- The Council officer installing the equipment was also present when Mrs F said she could hear the noise and feel vibrations. He recorded that he had detected nothing himself.
- The role of the Ombudsman is to determine whether the Council has followed the appropriate procedures and taken relevant information into account when making its decisions. I cannot say that the Council failed to respond appropriately to Mrs F’s complaint here. It investigated her concerns but could not find any evidence to support them.
- The Council carried out its investigation in line with its published policy, which involved it installing noise monitoring equipment and conducting a site visit. It provided a clear written explanation to Mrs F about why it had concluded a statutory nuisance did not exist. It appears there is no fault in how it acted. As such, the Ombudsman cannot challenge its decision.
- I have found no fault in the Council’s actions and so I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman