What to do when noise is a nuisance

Many people deal with situations where noise is an issue – this could be from a business such as a construction site or it might be noisy neighbours playing loud music.

Initially, it may be preferable to try and reach an amicable solution, especially if the perpetrator is a neighbour – by telling them that their noise is affecting your quality of life. However, if the noise continues, it’s possible to go through official channels to make a complaint.

Noise nuisance laws

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, local councils must investigate complaints about any noise that’s creating a “statutory nuisance”; meaning that it’s likely to be detrimental to your health or that it is “unreasonably and substantially” interfering with the enjoyment or use of your home or premises.

Councils are responsible for dealing with complaints about noise from premises and machinery, equipment and vehicles in the street, such as music from car stereos but they do not deal with regular noise from traffic or planes. Common noise complaints emanate from:

  • Residential properties
  • Other premises (non-dwellings)
  • Intruder alarms
  • Construction works
  • Licensed premises
  • Trade, industrial or business premises

What action can councils take?

The council can serve an abatement notice: this requires the person responsible to reduce the noise within a specified period and it advises that they may be committing an offence. In the case of noise between 11pm and 7am, a warning notice can be issued without it being a statutory nuisance. The council can prosecute if they believe the noise is louder than the legal level after seven days – after measuring it from within the complainant’s property.

Penalties for non-compliance

Councils can give a fixed penalty notice with a fine of up to £500 for licensed premises and £110 for dwellings, to be paid within 14 days – instead of prosecuting. If the fine isn’t paid on time, prosecution follows. The fine then becomes unlimited for licensed premises and £1,000 for dwellings and the noise-making equipment is removed.

In the case of intruder alarms continually sounding, the council can enter premises without force to silence the alarm if they are unable to contact the key holder or they can get a warrant to enter with force if necessary.

Construction works

A council can serve a notice on construction sites that advises how the work should be carried out to avoid noise nuisance. This will include specifying the acceptable noise level, the machinery to be used, operational hours and the steps required to reduce noise. Those who don’t comply can be fined for each day of non-compliance.

Industrial, trade or business premises

If an abatement notice has been served on business premises where the best available means to reduce the noise has been implemented, the proprietor may have grounds for appeal and a defence lawyer if they’re prosecuted for non-compliance.

Councils have separate powers to deal with anti-social noise and should consider potential nuisance when making planning decisions and issuing entertainment licences. The Environment Agency controls some noise nuisances through environmental pollution legislation, working closely with councils to ensure people aren’t punished twice for the same activity.


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