Statutory nuisances: how councils deal with complaints
What counts as a statutory nuisance and how councils can deal with complaints by issuing an abatement notice.
Councils must investigate complaints about issues that could be a ‘statutory nuisance’ (a nuisance covered by the Environmental Protection Act 1990).
If they agree that a statutory nuisance is happening, has happened or will happen in the future, councils must serve an abatement notice (usually on the person responsible).
What can be a statutory nuisance
Issues that may be a statutory nuisance include:
- noise from premises or from vehicles, equipment or machinery in the street
- smoke from premises
- smells from industry, trade or business premises (for example, sewage treatment works, factories or restaurants)
- artificial light from premises
- insect infestations from industrial, trade or business premises
- accumulation or deposits on premises (for example, piles of rotting rubbish)
For the issue 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
Councils must serve an abatement notice on people responsible for statutory nuisances, or on a premises owner or occupier if this isn’t possible. This may require whoever’s responsible to stop the activity or limit it to certain times to avoid causing a nuisance and can include specific actions to reduce the problem.
For noise nuisances from premises, the notice can be delayed for up to 7 days while the council tries to get the person responsible to stop or restrict the noise.
The abatement notice must be served on the premises owner or occupier if either of the following apply:
- the person responsible can’t be found
- the nuisance hasn’t yet happened but is likely to happen in the future
If the nuisance is caused by a structural defect on the premises, the abatement notice must be served on the premises owner.
If the nuisance is caused by unattended vehicles, machinery or equipment in the street, the notice can be served by fixing the notice to the vehicle, machinery or equipment if the person responsible can’t be found.
Penalties for not complying with an abatement notice
If someone doesn’t comply with an abatement notice they can be prosecuted and fined:
- a lump sum (the amount is set by the court)
- further fines for each day they fail to comply (the amount is set by the court)
Councils can also take action to stop or restrict the nuisance by:
- carrying out works and making the person given the notice pay for them (this can include seizure and confiscation of equipment)
- applying to the High Court for an injunction (if a prosecution isn’t adequate)
Those served with an abatement notice can appeal to a magistrates court within 21 days of getting the notice.
Grounds for appeal include:
- legal tests haven’t been met to show that the issue is a statutory nuisance
- the notice was served on the wrong person
- the notice is defective
In certain cases, people who’ve used the best practicable means to stop or reduce a nuisance may be able to use this as:
- grounds for appeal against the abatement notice
- a defence, if prosecuted for not complying with the abatement notice
The Environment Agency (EA) controls some potential statutory nuisances like noise, smell and dust with environmental permits, as part of pollution control.
Councils need to work closely with EA to make sure that people aren’t penalised twice for the same activity. If a facility has an environmental permit, councils must get the Secretary of State’s permission before prosecuting for breach of an abatement notice.