Investigating Environmental Health nuisance complaints

The law says there are different types of nuisance, including public nuisance and private nuisance.

We have power under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to take action against the most severe nuisances. These are called Statutory Nuisances.

What is a Statutory Nuisance?

A Statutory Nuisance is something which interferes with your life so much that you are unable to carry out normal and reasonable daily activities.

The most obvious sort of nuisance is noise. An example of noise which causes a Statutory Nuisance, would be noise from a local pub which happens on a regular basis, and not just occasionally.

Other things can be a nuisance, for example:

  • Odour or fumes from a commercial kitchen
  • A property which joins on to yours being in such bad repair that it is causing damp in your home

Whatever the nuisance is, the investigation process is the same.

Our Environmental Health Officers need to decide if the activity which is causing the complaint is reasonable. They do this by looking at the intensity, length, frequency and times of day that the activity is taking place.

This is not an exact science, and there are no clear rules as to what would be classed as a Statutory Nuisance. Each situation is unique, and is considered on its own merits.

What do we need from you?

Because it is a criminal offence to cause a Statutory Nuisance, our investigations work in a similar way to the Police. We have to gather evidence to take action against someone. Without the right evidence, the case will collapse.

You are the most important witness in the case, and you will have to complete an evidence log. This is a formal witness statement, which can be used later in court, but which also provides us with information so that we know how to direct the investigation. Your evidence log must be precise, specific and accurate. If we don’t get the right evidence, we might make the wrong decision about the case. We might ask you for more evidence, or we might decide that there is not enough evidence to continue the investigation.

If we get enough evidence from you and we decide that further action is needed, then we will use the information you give us to decide on the best course of action. This might be having noise monitoring equipment fitted at your premises, or arranging a site visit.

Our staff resources are limited, so it’s best for us if we can identify the most efficient way of investigating the complaint.

Our Enforcement Policy

Any action we take has to be in line with our Enforcement Policy. The Policy says that formal action should be a last option, and that we should try wherever possible to resolve any issues informally.

Our officers will usually always try and visit the person responsible for causing the complaint, and help to try and reach a solution. It might be appropriate to disclose your identify at this stage to allow the person responsible to make sure that any action they take will have the right effect at reducing the impact at the right location.

The person at the heart of the complaint is encouraged to get in touch with us, so that we can discuss the issue, and arrange for site visits. We can give guidance and advice on practical solutions. This is usually very useful, and helps to stop costly formal action later. For noise and odour problems, we might advise that consultants are employed who can help identify the right solution to the problem. There may be a cost involved in this, but it’s often very effective.

Defences against formal action

For complaints about commercial and industrial premises, we might talk about something called a “Best Practicable Means Defence.” This is where the company are doing everything they realistically can to try to stop any impact on others, but the nuisance still goes on. This might be because of activities like pile driving on a construction site, or it might be that they operate a process which must run 24 hours a day.

It might not be in the public interest for us to pursue formal action against them, if there is a strong “Best Practicable Means Defence.”

What does formal action mean?

The first formal action in a Statutory Nuisance investigation is an abatement notice. The nuisance must have been witnessed by an officer, and there must be enough evidence to make sure that the officer can defend an appeal against the notice.

The notice means that the person responsible for the nuisance will have to reduce the impact so that the nuisance no longer exists.

This does not necessarily mean that the activity will stop altogether. You may still be affected by the activity.

The law says that the impact of the nuisance has to be brought down to an acceptable level. For example, music from a pub may be restricted to a certain volume, and times may be limited. You might still be able to hear the music, but it may be quieter, and not last into the night for as long, and would not stop you from continuing your normal life.

If the premises do not comply with the notice, then we will need you to collect evidence again, in the same way as at the start of the investigation. We will then need to witness the breach of the notice, to decide if an offence has been committed.

It can take time to establish this, and to gather enough evidence to satisfy our legal team that it is appropriate to prosecute in the Magistrate’s Court.

If we do decide to take the case to court, all of the evidence you have collected will be used, and you will be expected to appear in court as a witness for us.