If we as a local authority do not take action or if you do not wish to involve us you can complain about a problem direct to a magistrates' court under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The court will need to be persuaded that a problem amounts to a statutory nuisance. We have put together this advice to help you take your own independent action when you are being disturbed by noise/odour/ smoke etc.
Before you start legal proceedings you should have discussed the nuisance with the source in an amicable way to try to solve the problem informally. You should keep records – clearly and in ink – of when the nuisance happens, including dates, times, how long it lasts and the effect of the disturbance on you. Keep notes of all discussions and correspondence between you and the source. You should be satisfied at this point that legal action is the only course of action left to you. Your written notes, records and correspondence are the only evidence court officers can use to assess your complaint, so be careful to write up events as they happen, not some time later, and make sure that they are accurate and valid. Do not exaggerate.
Note the names and addresses of anyone else who hears the noise. You will not be allowed to tell the court what someone else said so make sure that they write down what they heard and saw. Let witnesses write statements in their own words and do not prompt them. Witnesses must state that their statement is in their own words and is a true account of what occurred. They should sign and date it and get someone else to sign it to say that their signature is correct. The court prefers witnesses to appear in court in person to tell them in their own words what happened and so you should get your witness's full name and address and confirmation that they are willing to appear in court if necessary. If other neighbours are affected, you can ask them to keep similar diaries to support you in court. You may have difficulty proving your case without witnesses particularly if the source of the noise disagrees with what you say.
When you have decided to start legal proceedings and collected all your evidence, you will need to give the source of the noise at least three days clear notice of your intentions along with details of your complaint. Make sure you keep a copy of this correspondence and make a note on your records.
The next step is to contact the court and tell them you wish to make a complaint under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Be sure that you wish to pursue the matter to the end: you will need to give verbal and written evidence in court to support your case. The court will explain the procedure and ask for evidence you have collected. It is a good idea to tell them that you have complained to us.
You will need to give the court the following information;
From your evidence the court will decide whether to issue a summons. It will be your responsibility to serve it on the source of the problem well before a hearing date. The court can give you advice on how to do that properly. The source of the nuisance will probably attend court to defend himself/herself. You can conduct your own case, but you may be advised to engage a solicitor at your own cost. It is a good idea to get legal advice at some point to make sure you have a case and are proceeding correctly. If you are on a low income you may be eligible for free legal advice (ask a solicitor). If you lose your case you may have to pay costs.
NB: This information is not an authoritative interpretation of the law; it is intended as a guide only. You should contact a solicitor for legal advice.