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The right hedge can be an ideal garden boundary but the wrong hedge may bring problems. This guide explains the powers that local authorities have to deal with disputes between neighbours about high hedges, and how home owners and occupiers can complain to the local authority about such hedges.
This is a simple guide and not a statement of the law.
The law and high hedges
1. What does the high hedges legislation do?
Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 allows local councils to deal with complaints about high hedges whose area contains the land on which the hedge is situated.
When councils are determining a complaint they must first decide whether the height of the high hedge is having an adverse effect on a neighbour’s enjoyment of their home and/or its garden or yard. If it is, then councils can order the owner of a high hedge to take action to put right the problem and stop it from happening again.
The legislation also allows councils to set and charge fees for handling these complaints.
When you can complain
2. I think my neighbour’s hedge is causing a problem but we can’t agree on what to do. Can I complain to the council now?
The council can reject your complaint if they think you haven’t taken all reasonable steps to try to settle your dispute without involving them.
Please see Over the garden hedge for information on the steps you should think about taking before you complain to the council.
What you can complain about
3. What sorts of complaint can the council look at?
If you’ve taken the steps listed in Over the garden hedge and can answer ‘yes’ to all the points listed below, the local council is likely to be able to consider your complaint.
Is the hedge (or the part of it that’s causing problems) a ‘high hedge’? Is the hedge:
- growing on land owned or occupied by someone else?
- made up of a line of 2 or more trees or shrubs?
- mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen?
- more than 2 metres tall?
- a barrier to light or access (even if there are gaps)?
Does this hedge’s height harm the reasonable enjoyment of a home you own or occupy and/or its garden or yard?
Are you the owner or occupier of this domestic property?
4. Does the hedge have to be in my neighbour’s garden?
The hedge must be on land owned or occupied by someone else. But the further away it is, the more difficult it will be to show that the hedge’s height is harming the reasonable enjoyment of all or part of your home and/or its garden or yard.
5. Can I complain to the council about single trees or single shrubs?
No. But you can still try to settle your dispute by following the steps in Over the garden hedge.
6. What’s a semi-evergreen tree or shrub?
One that keeps some live or green leaves all year round. This doesn’t include those privet hedges that lose all their leaves in winter and beech or hornbeam hedges that keep dead leaves in winter.
7. Where do you measure the hedge’s height from?
From ground level. This is usually at the base of the trunk or main stem of the trees or shrubs in the hedge. If the hedge is on a bank or in a raised bed the measurement should be taken from the natural ground level.
8. What does ‘capable of obstructing light or access (even if there are gaps)’ mean?
It is a matter of judgement whether a hedge meets this test. The key question is:
- To what extent does the hedge block light or views, even if there are gaps in the greenery or between the trees or shrubs?
9. There are gaps in the hedge. Can I still complain to the council?
There are no fixed rules on the size of gaps. But a hedge with gaps at more than 2 metres above ground level that significantly affect its overall effect as a barrier to light or access is not a “high hedge” and, therefore, you cannot complain to the council about such hedges under this procedure.
10. What sort of hedge problems can I complain to the council about?
You can complain about problems that you have in a home that you own or occupy and/or its garden or yard because of the hedge’s height. You will need to explain what, and how serious, those problems are.
But the legislation doesn’t allow councils to deal with every problem that might be caused by hedges. The council can’t, for example, take into account how tall other neighbours’ hedges are or that worrying about a hedge is making you ill.
Chapters 4 and 5 of High hedges complaints: prevention and cure include detailed guidance for councils on the sorts of hedge problems they can and can’t deal with.
11. Can I complain to the council if the hedge has protected trees in it?
12. I’m worried about the hedge causing subsidence in my home. Can I complain to the council about this?
Subsidence can be caused by a hedge’s roots taking moisture from soils that shrink. The legislation specifically says that councils can’t deal with problems caused by roots.
How to complain
13. How do I complain to the council?
The council’s website will have information on how you can contact them. It may also have information on how to make your complaint, any fee you may need to pay and which department handles complaints.
14. How do I know if it will do any good to complain to the council?
You can’t be sure what the result will be. So, before you send your complaint and any fee to the council, it’s very important to collect all relevant information that you may need and think carefully about your reasons for complaining.
It might be worth reading Hedge height and light loss. This guide and the related spreadsheet can help you work out whether an evergreen hedge is blocking too much daylight and sunlight to your home or garden.
To help you test the strength of your case, it also might be worth reading High hedges complaints: prevention and cure. For example, chapters 4 and 5 of this guide give detailed advice about what councils look at when they make decisions on complaints.
15. What information should I give to the council?
The complaint must be in writing, and many councils recommend using their form. Whichever way you make the complaint this is your chance to set out your case, so it’s important that you give the right information.
Think carefully about the reasons for your complaint. Clearly explain:
- the steps you’ve taken to try to settle the dispute
- the problems that you are having in your home and/or its garden or yard because the hedge is too tall
- why these problems are serious
- how you think the hedge is adversely affecting the reasonable enjoyment of this property
Stick to the facts and give all relevant information to back up your points. For example, give details of the position, type and height of the hedge’s trees or shrubs and, if you wish, include a plan.
If you’re having trouble writing the complaint, a relative or friend or Citizens Advice may be able to help.
You can send your complaint to the council by post or email. You can also send a copy to your neighbour so that they know what you’ve done. The council will let the neighbour know that you’ve complained, so bear this in mind when you’re writing the complaint.
16. Do I have to pay the council to handle my complaint?
If the council accept your complaint you will most likely have to pay them a fee for their service. The council may offer reduced fees for people who are on a low income or benefits. Check the council’s website or complaint form, or contact the council, to find out how much the right fee is and how you should pay it.
17. Will I get my money back from the council if my complaint is successful?
Not usually. This is because the council have worked to settle your private dispute with a neighbour. But in some cases the council will decide that it’s right to refund all or part of a fee.
18. Can the council ask or order my neighbour to repay me the fee?
No. The council can’t get involved in helping you get back the fee that you’ve paid and certainly can’t force your neighbour to repay you.
What happens with complaints
19. What will the council do with my complaint?
Once they’re satisfied that your complaint meets the legal tests, the council will invite your neighbour to set out their case. When they’ve got both sides of the story, a council officer will visit the site to look at the hedge and its surroundings.
The officer will also get other facts that they need to help them decide your complaint. They might, for example, measure the size of your garden or how far the hedge is from windows in your home.
Once they’ve got all this information, the council will weigh it all up. They will decide whether the hedge adversely affects the reasonable enjoyment of your home and its garden or yard and what, if anything, should be done.
If the council decide action is necessary, they’ll issue a formal ‘remedial notice’ to your neighbour and give you a copy. This notice sets out what must be done to the hedge and when it must be done by. It may require your neighbour to keep the hedge trimmed to a certain height.
20. How will the council decide if the hedge needs trimming?
The council should decide whether the hedge is adversely affecting your ‘reasonable enjoyment’ of your property and, if so, what action (if any) should be taken to put right the situation or stop it happening again.
The council have to weigh up all relevant information before reaching a fair and balanced decision. They must take into account any relevant concerns raised by you and your neighbour. They must also think about effects on the neighbourhood. For example, the hedge might help to make the area an attractive and pleasant place.
Collecting written evidence from you and your neighbour and visiting the site will make sure that the council have the information they need to make the right decision.
21. How long will it take for the council to decide my complaint?
There’s no set deadline for the council. It will take time for them to get a statement from your neighbour and arrange to visit the site. You can ask the council how long they expect all this to take.
If you’re worried because you haven’t heard anything, you can contact the council to check progress.
22. What happens if the hedge is owned by the council?
The council should determine your complaint impartially. They might, for example, make sure that your complaint is handled by someone who isn’t responsible for maintaining the hedge.
What can happen to high hedges
23. If the council agree with my complaint, what height will my neighbour have to cut the hedge down to?
The legislation doesn’t set a specific height. The council can do no more than issue a ‘remedial notice’ ordering your neighbour to reduce the hedge to a height that will put the problems right and stop them happening again. For example, 2 metres will only be the right height in some cases.
The council may use the government’s guidance to help them decide what could be the best height for the hedge.
24. Can the council order my neighbour to remove the hedge?
The council cannot order your neighbour to:
- remove the hedge
- take any action that could result in the hedge’s death or destruction
- trim the hedge to a height less than 2 metres above ground level
25. How long will the council give my neighbour to cut the hedge?
It could be weeks or months. The council must be realistic about how long it will take your neighbour to cut the hedge or arrange for someone else to do it. The council might also have to allow extra time to protect birds nesting in the hedge.
26. Can the council make sure my neighbour keeps the hedge at its new height?
The council can order your neighbour to take action to stop the problems with the hedge happening again. This could include keeping the hedge within its new height for as long as it’s there. The remedial notice issued by the council will say what must be done.
You can contact the council if you think your neighbour isn’t acting in accordance with this notice.
27. What happens if my neighbour doesn’t cut the hedge when they’re meant to?
It’s an offence to fail to do what a remedial notice requires. Such an offence is punishable with a fine of up to £1,000. Also, the council can enter the land and carry out the required work. Chapter 9 of High hedges complaints: prevention and cure gives detailed guidance on enforcing remedial notices.
28. Can I cut my neighbour’s hedge?
If you do anything more than trim overhanging branches, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property.
If the hedge includes protected trees, you might need to get separate permission from the council for trimming overhanging branches.
You, your complaint and the council
29. What can I do if I disagree with the council’s decision?
You can appeal to the independent Planning Inspectorate. So can your neighbour.
30. What can I do if I don’t like how the council has handled my case?
You can complain to the council if you think they’ve done something wrong, failed to provide a service or not followed correct procedures. The Local Government Ombudsman is the final stage for complaints about councils.