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Cambridge City Council

Report a noise issue

Everyone's perception of noise, or unwanted sound, is different. It's not just a question of sound levels in decibels, but of what is acceptable to the average person – and what one person considers unacceptable may not seem unreasonable to somebody else.

Before you consider formally reporting a problem to us, you should first try to approach the person causing the disturbance if you feel comfortable to do so – they may not be aware that they are causing a problem. The government provides more information about resolving neighbour disputes and raising concerns.

You might also wish to consider using the neighbourhood resolution panel scheme, which aims to help anyone affected by low level crime, antisocial behaviour and neighbour disputes by encouraging all those involved to work together to find a meaningful resolution.

If you are unable to resolve the issue by either of the above methods, you should contact us to assist you.

You also have the right to take action through the courts.

We have a duty to deal with statutory nuisances, which are defined by the Environmental Protection Act 1990 as “prejudicial to health or a nuisance” – in other words, noise that would be considered a nuisance to the average person, rather than noise of a specific volume. We are unable to take into consideration an individual’s circumstances or sensitivities.

Our officers are trained to decide if the noise you are being disturbed by is a statutory nuisance. If we believe a statutory nuisance exists we will serve an abatement notice which if breached may resolve in formal action being taken against those responsible.

Noise we cannot take action on

No house or flat is completely sound-proof – you must accept that you will hear your neighbours sometimes.

The law does not consider normal everyday living noise to be a nuisance, so we cannot take action against it. We also cannot take action against noise heard through poor sound insulation between properties.

Examples of everyday living noise include:

  • footsteps and general movement
  • doors closing
  • babies crying or children playing
  • occasional raised voices or laughter
  • people talking in gardens
  • furniture being moved
  • reasonable musical instrument practice

Noise caused by aircraft and trains

Note that noise caused by aircraft and trains is not within our jurisdiction.

How we respond to reported noise issues

We have to decide what is reasonable and what is not before taking action. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 sets out the legal provisions regarding the investigation of noise nuisance and the relevant enforcement powers, and our officers are experienced at judging issues and enforcing suitable solutions.

We will contact you when an issue is reported to us. If you have not spoken to your neighbour about your concerns, or considered mediation, then we will give you two weeks to try to resolve the matter yourself informally.

If you do not manage to resolve the problem yourself within those two weeks, then we will investigate the complaint. The first thing we do is check whether there have been any similar complaints made against the person or property in the past. If we have not received similar complaints in the last 12 months we might consider this to be a new complaint.

We’ll contact you to discuss your concerns in more detail. We might ask you to keep a diary of the extent of the issue, including for example the date, time, duration, and a description of the noise each time it occurs. We use the Noise app as part of the investigation procedure – we might ask you to submit recordings of the noise that is disturbing you via the app.

If the diary sheets or recordings indicate that it is likely that there is a problem, we will write to the person that you have said is causing the noise. This will normally resolve your noise complaint informally.

However, if the problem persists and cannot be resolved informally, then further investigation will be required – this might involve pre-arranged noise assessment visits or the installation of noise recording equipment. If following further investigation we are satisfied that a nuisance is being caused, we will usually serve a statutory noise abatement notice to prevent a recurrence of the problem. The notice will require the noise to be reduced to a level which is not a statutory nuisance, within a reasonable time dependent on the circumstances of the case.

Any breach of this notice can lead to prosecution or seizure of noise-making equipment.

Complainants’ details are kept confidential throughout the investigation, but should we have to take legal action and the case go to court, we generally have to disclose who has made the complaint at that stage. You might also be required to give a formal statement or attend court as a witness.

If following the investigation noise nuisance is not determined, you will be advised that we cannot assist you any further. You might wish to seek independent legal advice about alternative options available to you.

Take a noise complaint to court

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 gives you the right to take a noise complaint to your local magistrate’s court, where a nuisance order can be issued and a fine imposed.

If you wish to do this, you should first make a record of the problem – including for example the date, time, duration, and a description of the noise each time – and notify the person causing the noise that you plan to take legal action against them.

If the noise continues unabated you should visit the warrant office at the magistrate’s court, who will guide you through the process. It is also recommended that you discuss the matter with a solicitor.

Visit GOV.UK to find out more about how to take action through the courts.