Nuisance smoke: how councils deal with complaints

How councils deal with complaints about smoke from premises that's a statutory nuisance, smoke that's exempt and how smoke can be assessed.

Councils must look into complaints about smoke from premises that could be a ‘statutory nuisance’ (covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990).

For the smoke to count as a statutory nuisance it must do one of the following:

  • unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises
  • injure health or be likely to injure health

If they agree that a statutory nuisance is happening, has happened or will happen in the future, councils must serve an abatement notice. This requires whoever’s responsible to stop or restrict the smoke. The notice will usually be served on the person responsible but can also be served on the owner or occupier of the premises.

Smoke covered by statutory nuisance laws

All smoke from residential, business and industrial premises is covered by statutory nuisance laws (unless it’s exempt).

Smoke not covered by statutory nuisance laws

The following types of smoke aren’t covered by statutory nuisance laws:

  • chimney smoke from houses in smoke control areas
  • dark smoke from chimneys of buildings or from chimneys serving fixed boilers or industrial plants that are attached to buildings or on land
  • smoke from steam trains
  • smoke from premises occupied by the armed forces or visiting forces

How smoke complaints are assessed

To work out whether it’s a statutory nuisance, smoke is usually assessed by environmental health officers from the council. They can look at:

  • the amount
  • how often it happens and for how long
  • how unreasonable the activity is (for example, smoke from an everyday activity like cooking is unlikely to be a statutory nuisance)

Smoke from chimneys: special rules

If someone emitting smoke from a chimney is served with an abatement notice and they’ve used the best practicable means to stop or reduce the smoke, they may be able to use this as one of the following:

  • grounds for appeal against the abatement notice
  • a defence, if prosecuted for not complying with the abatement notice
Published 7 April 2015