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Take action through the courts

If you would prefer to take your own action, or if we can no longer help you with your nuisance problem, for example if our investigation could not establish a nuisance, this guidance may help you.

You can use the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA), Section 82, to deal with statutory nuisance. Courts can use it to force neighbours, businesses and so on to stop creating or reduce the effect of a nuisance. We cannot offer advice on how you should go ahead with any particular case, but set out below is an outline of things that might help you if you are suffering from a nuisance.

It is a good idea to try to sort out problems in a friendly way. Your neighbours may not realise that their actions are causing a nuisance or they may not have any control over the cause for complaint. A personal approach can sometimes get the result you want. If you are worried about approaching them personally, a polite letter may sort out the problem. Even if it fails, it will help to show the courts that you have acted reasonably.

In the case of noise you will usually need to show the courts that the noise unduly interferes with your comfort and convenience.

The Courts

The courts will balance your right to "quiet enjoyment" of your property with the right of the other person to use their premises in a normal way.

In the case of noise, it is unlikely that the courts would support someone seeking complete silence, as experiencing some noise is a part of everyday life, but you do not have to experience unreasonable levels.

When deciding what is unreasonable, the courts will look at the nature of the nuisance, together with its frequency, how long it lasts, the times and days it happens and how it would affect the average person.  For example, a shift worker who has to sleep during the day, a home worker who needs complete silence to work and so on might be unlikely to be classified as average people when deciding upon noise nuisance.

How do you take your own action?

Taking legal action is fairly straightforward and you can take it in easy steps that we explain below. Many people have used this legal action, without needing a solicitor. You can represent yourself during the court hearings if you feel confident enough. The procedure is not difficult and you can get advice from the Citizens' Advice Bureau and the magistrate's courts.

Using the Environmental Protection Act

Both private and council tenants, people who own their own homes and anyone affected by nuisance can use the Environmental Protection Act.

Suggested steps before you start legal action

Speak to the person who is causing the problem. Try to come to a suitable arrangement, for example, with noise, turning the music down, or perhaps limiting the hours of the noise.

If you do not want to speak to the person, or if the problem continues after you have spoken to them, write to the person explaining the problem and telling them what action you would like them to take to reduce the nuisance. Make sure you date the letter and take a copy.

If the situation does not improve, (and if you are not already keeping one) start keeping a written diary of the nuisance. Include in the diary record:

  • when it happens, including the date and time;
  • the length of time it lasts
  • what type of nuisance it is (for example, for noise what types of noise it is e.g. loud music, machinery, and people shouting)
  • why is it a nuisance, for example because you cannot get to sleep, the effect on your life and so on.

Note: See the section  'Report a nuisance' which details how to keep diary record sheets

If you know about any other person bothered by the nuisance, or who has witnessed it, ask them if they would be willing to give evidence at court if you started proceedings against the person causing the nuisance. If they are, ask them to keep their own diary. They will also need to make a written statement if the matter goes to court. 

You can now take legal action against the person causing the nuisance under section 82, Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The procedure

You must have enough evidence to support your claims. 

Proceedings under section 82 are criminal matters, and your case must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.

First of all, you must give the person responsible for the nuisance at least three days' notice in writing. This notice must say that you are going to bring proceedings in the magistrates' court if specific action is not carried out. You must date this letter and keep a copy. If you post the letter you should send it recorded delivery.

If there is no improvement after you have sent the letter, you should contact the clerk of the court. Tell them you want to make a complaint under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. They will probably make an appointment for you to go and see them. In Colchester, the magistrate's court to contact is:

Colchester Magistrates Court
St Botolph's Circus
Colchester
Essex
CO2 7EF


General Contact Number:

Tel: 01245 313300 

Fax: 01245 313399

Search for further details of Colchester Magistrate's and other Courts.

 HM Courts Service

At the court, you will see one of the clerks of the court who advises the magistrates. They will explain the procedure and will take the details of your complaint. In other words they will ask you for the information they need to decide whether they should issue a summons.

A summons is a document that tells the person who is causing the nuisance that you have complained to the court about the nuisance and that they must go to the Court at a time and day to `answer' the complaint. There is no fee for this.

You must give the clerk any schedule of the work, or change in behaviour, which you consider should be done to stop the nuisance. For noise, in many cases this may be as simple as asking the other person not to play loud music at night, but it may be that with certain types of noise nuisance technical matters will arise, and you will need to have information from a specialist.

The summons will give the date, time and place of the hearing. You should continue to keep a record of the nuisance.

At the hearing the person who has been summoned will be asked to plead `guilty' or `not guilty'.

"Guilty" Plea

If the person pleads `guilty' it is likely that the matter will be dealt with then. You will be asked to present your case and give the court copies of any written evidence, for example, your diary of the nuisance and any letters that you might have written.

The magistrates will want you to tell them what you need to reduce or get rid of the nuisance and will then make an order that the other person does what you have asked, or to take some other reasonable action.

"Not Guilty" Plea

If the person pleads `not guilty' the case will be put back so that a trial can take place. You will be asked how many witnesses you will be calling, and the day for hearing will be read out in court.

Preparing your case

You will need to prepare your case for that hearing. Get written statements from any of your witnesses, and write one about your own experience.

Put together any other evidence that you might have, for example, doctor's notes, experts reports and so on.

You must send a copy of everything that you are going to use at the trial to the other person (or their solicitor if they have one) as soon as possible.

If, at the hearing, the magistrates are satisfied that there is a nuisance, they will grant what is called `an abatement order'. This tells the person who is causing the nuisance that they must stop the nuisance from causing you trouble any longer. They can also be fined and ordered to pay costs.

Costs

If you are successful, the court might make an order that the other person should pay your costs.

Note:  You should keep a record of any costs that you or your witnesses have had to pay for example having to take a day off work unpaid, travel expenses and so on.

In other circumstances, magistrates can decide how to award costs and either you or the person causing the nuisance could pay all or part of both sides' costs according to the circumstances.

In some cases you might be able to get legal aid to help your case. This will only be available if you employ a solicitor to act for you, and you are on a low income.

You can get further advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau by phoning 0870 1212033.