This fact sheet is aimed primarily at householders who have problems related to high hedges, either on their property or on a neighbour's, and who may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.
I have a problem with my neighbour's hedge which separates our properties, and the council is being unreasonable about the request to do something about it. Can the Ombudsman help me?
Yes, in some circumstances. If you believe the council has made an error in the way it has dealt with a request for action under the high hedges legislation (the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003), and this has caused problems for you, we may be able to investigate your complaint. But if your complaint concerns one of the following we are unlikely to be able to help.
- A decision by a council to serve a notice on you requiring a remedial action to a hedge you own. This is because you will have a right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate against that notice and we would usually expect you to appeal if you wished to challenge the notice.
- A decision by a council not to serve a remedial notice on your neighbour or to serve a notice which does not require as much work to the hedge as you think is necessary. This is because you will have the right to challenge the council's decision by appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and we would usually expect you to appeal if you wished to challenge the council's decision.
- The amount the council charges for considering a complaint about high hedges. The legislation gives each council the right to set the level of fees it considers appropriate.
- Damage to your property by a neighbour's hedge. We would normally consider it appropriate for you to take legal action against your neighbour.
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.
If you consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?
First, we must consider whether your complaint is one we can investigate. If it is, we must then consider whether we should do so or whether there is an alternative which would be more appropriate.
We consider complaints that the council has done something wrong which has caused you problems. So we look at what the council has done, whether there have been any errors or failures, and if so, how this has affected you. Some faults we might find are that the council:
- delayed in responding to your request for action in respect of a high hedge that is badly affecting your property
- did not keep your informed of action being taken
- gave you wrong or misleading advice about the action it could take, or
- did not follow up after a remedial notice was confirmed, so that there was delay in getting necessary work done to a hedge causing you a problem.
What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?
Where there has been fault and you have suffered as a result, we can recommend that the council apologises and takes action to put the matter right. Depending on the impact the council's fault has had on you, we could ask the council to:
- decide if and what enforcement action should be taken and, if considered appropriate, take action in a reasonable time
- provide better and more timely information about what is happening
- improve procedures so the same problems do not occur again: for example, to introduce new guidelines to clarify its enforcement priorities.
We may also ask the council to pay a financial remedy to remedy significant injustice which cannot be addressed in other ways.
Examples of some complaints we have considered
Mrs C complained about the council’s decision not to enforce a remedial notice it served on her neighbour. This required him to trim the hedge to keep it at its current height and to remove dead stubs. When she complained about the neighbour failing to comply with the notice, a council officer inspected the hedge and took photographs. While the neighbour had not removed dead stubs, the council decided it unnecessary to take any further action. This was because the neighbour had complied with the main part of the notice about the hedge height. The council decided this meant the neighbour could reasonably defend any legal action. The council also decided the stubs did not significantly impact on light to Mrs C’s property as they were below the approved height of the hedge. The council asked the neighbour to consider their removal as part of planned works for that year. Mrs C then complained to us about the Council’s decision.
The council has the power under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 to waive or relax the requirements of a remedial notice. In addition, its enforcement powers are discretionary. This means the council did not have to take enforcement action against Mrs C’s neighbour. It could decide whether to take enforcement action after considering all the circumstances of the case. As there was no evidence of fault in the way the council reached its view, we did not uphold the complaint.
Other sources of information
Guidance on this subject can be found at: www.gov.uk/how-to-resolve-neighbour-disputes/high-hedges-trees-and-boundaries or www.gov.uk/government/collections/high-hedges
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.