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Statutory nuisance

Statutory nuisance is more than a mere annoyance and will significantly impact the health and well-being of anyone affected. You can claim statutory nuisance to your local authority. Your local authority will then decide to intercede or not. What is a statutory nuisance and how can your local authority help you sort it out? Read this guide to find out.

To fall within the definition of statutory nuisance, an activity needs to be, or be likely to be:

  • a nuisance (ie it needs to unreasonably and substantially interfere with the use or enjoyment of a home or other premises), or

  • harmful to health or likely to be harmful to health

An especially vulnerable person cannot claim statutory nuisance for an activity that would not ordinarily affect most people. However, if a nuisance that would affect the ordinary public has severe effects on particular people, the fact that they are more vulnerable than most will not prevent them from bringing a claim.

Activities that might be caught by the definition of statutory nuisance are things that are or may be injurious to health or a nuisance and arise as a result of:

  • the physical state of the premises

  • smoke, fumes or gases emitted from the premises or a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street (eg factory fumes)

  • dust, steam, smell, etc on industrial, trade or business premises

  • any accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance (eg rubbish)

  • noise coming from the premises, a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street

Things that have been found to be a nuisance include:

  • loud music being played every week during the early evening and into the night.

  • dogs left at home all day and continuously barking for several minutes when someone walks by

  • a business installing a new machine without noise insulation.

Things that have been found not to be a nuisance include:

  • a person carrying out DIY during the day and at weekends over a few weeks

  • noise from children playing on a trampoline in their garden

  • dust from a construction site where reasonable control methods were being used

The local authority (eg an environmental health officer (EHO)) is responsible for deciding whether or not a statutory nuisance is occurring or is likely to occur. This involves investigating whether the matters complained of are a nuisance or likely to cause damage to health.

An EHO must take ‘such steps as are reasonably practicable' to investigate your matter. The EHO may write or visit the person causing the nuisance asking them to take any steps that may be necessary to mitigate the current issue. 

If the local authority is satisfied that a nuisance exists, it must issue an abatement notice against the person responsible.

The abatement notice may require whoever's responsible to:

  • stop the activity, or 

  • limit the activity to certain times to avoid causing a nuisance

If you receive an abatement notice, you can appeal it to a magistrates court within 21 days of receiving it.

Failure to comply with an abatement notice without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence. Penalties from the court include a lump sum, or fines for each day the person causing the nuisance fails to comply. The maximum penalty  breaching an abatement notice is a £20,000 fine for industrial, trade or business premises and a £5,000 fine and £500 daily penalty for other premises

In Scotland, failure to comply with the terms of an abatement notice (without reasonable excuse) may result in persecution in the Sheriff Court. On conviction, a person may be liable for a fine not exceeding level five on the standard scale (currently £5,000) in addition to a daily fine of an amount equal to one-tenth of that level (ie £500) for each day on which the offence (non-compliance with the abatement notice) continued after conviction.

Where the conviction is for breach of an abatement notice for an offence on industrial, trade or business premises, the maximum fine on summary conviction is £40,000.

Where an abatement notice relates to activities carried on at a trade or business premises, in some circumstances you can use the best practicable means (BPM) defence. BPM involves having regard to local conditions and circumstances, the current state of technical knowledge, and financial implications. This defence is also available for Scotland. 

There are also specific defences for noise and nuisance complaints on construction sites and in areas where there are registered noise levels.

 If the nuisance in question arises on industrial, trade or business premises, the defence does not apply to the following:

  • where the physical state of the premises is prejudicial to health or a nuisance

  • where dust, steam, smell, etc on industrial, trade or business premises are prejudicial to health or a nuisance

  • any accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance

  • any animal kept in such a place or manner as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

  • any insects emanating from relevant industrial, trade or business premises and being prejudicial to health or a nuisance

  • any noise emitted from premises to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

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