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.

We hold councils to account for services they pay other organisations, including private companies, to carry out on their behalf. This means we can still investigate complaints about those services.

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.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or 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 or community protection 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 a financial remedy.

We may also ask for a financial remedy 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

Ms P complained about noise from a nearby pub. She said that she was disturbed by loud music and people congregating outside the pub at closing time.
Council officers were satisfied there was a statutory nuisance and served a noise abatement notice. It only covered noise from music, not noise from people. Officers told Ms P that they would monitor the pub for breaches of the notice.
Ms P continued to report noise issues but was not contacted by officers seeking evidence of a breach. When she complained to the council about the lack of action, it said that the abatement notice was too old to enforce.
We found the council failed to properly monitor the pub for breaches of the notice. It also failed to investigate Ms P’s complaints about noise from people outside the pub. This caused Ms P distress and she likely suffered avoidable noise nuisance.
To remedy Ms P’s injustice, we asked the council to take specific actions to investigate the noise properly and to pay Ms P £600.

Mr H complained about noise from a nearby supermarket.
The council investigated and found the noise was coming from an electrical substation at the rear of the supermarket. The council served an abatement notice requiring the supermarket to abate the noise within seven days. The supermarket carried out insulation works to comply with the notice.
Mr H continued to complain about noise from the supermarket, particularly at night. The council carried out some further monitoring and confirmed the presence of a low-level humming noise. The supermarket confirmed the noise was from its bakery fan. It agreed to carry out some works to the fan but did not give a timescale for completion.
The council decided to serve the supermarket with a Community Protection Notice restricting its use of the fan to daytime hours. The council then carried out further monitoring. Officers said there was a slight hum when the windows were open, but they were satisfied that the noise did not constitute a statutory nuisance.
We found that the council investigated the problem properly, in accordance with relevant legislation and its own policy. We were satisfied that there was no fault in the way officers decided the noise was not a statutory nuisance.

Other sources of information

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.

We provide 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 we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

June 2020