Noise investigation procedure

How we deal with noise complaints

We aim to deal with all noise problems fairly, impartially, consistently and in accordance with government laws and regulations. We have published our procedure so that you know what to expect from us, and also understand what is required of you if you decide to report a noise problem to us. 

1. Introduction

1.1 The Council recognises that the public has a right to expect a consistent approach to the investigation of noise complaints. The advice given here outlines the Council's standard procedure for dealing with noise investigations. The provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 have been considered in the development of these procedures

1.2 Noise is often defined as ‘unwanted sound’. What constitutes ‘noise’ is a very personal matter; one person’s favourite music might well be another person’s unwanted sound. We usually become involved in noise matters when a complaint is received. We then have a duty to investigate and have to decide if any action is possible.

1.3 We try to approach enforcement in a graduated way. Very often an informal approach is sufficient to resolve matters and no further action is necessary by the Council, but we have legal powers to take formal action if necessary. View the current noise legislation.

1.4 We have produced a brief checklist as a useful tool to help you decide quickly whether to complain and whether it is likely that we can help you with your complaint.

2. How do I complain about noise?

2.1 A complaint or a request for advice can be made by all common forms of communication including:

3. What information do I need to provide?

3.1 You will be asked to give full details of the problem. In the first instance you will always be encouraged to approach the person making the noise, since some complaints can often be settled amicably between the parties without local authority involvement. An informal approach by you is not only courtesy, but also the first step in resolving any differences. We recognise that this is not always possible and if you feel unable to adopt this course of action no pressure to do so will be placed upon you. View further guidance on direct negotiation with a neighbour.

3.2 Details of the person making the complaint are always treated confidentially and therefore anonymous complaints will not be acted upon. We also need to establish who the noise is affecting and how it is affecting them and this is not possible with an anonymous complaint. However anonymous complaints will be recorded and may be used as intelligence in some circumstances.

3.3 Before we start an investigation we consider the following.

  • The Council must be satisfied that the noise is affecting a specific person or persons.
  • The rights of the person being complained about must also be protected ensuring that the complaint made is not malicious.
  • Complaints via a third party will not be acted upon until the originator of the complaint has been contacted to confirm the details.

3.4 While efforts will be made to maintain the anonymity of the complaint, this is not fail-safe, i.e. noise makers can sometimes work out who has complained and a complainants name and address may have to be revealed if legal action is taken. If you have any concerns about this issue please feel free to telephone us where we can discuss this issue with you.

3.5 In order to deal with noise, we will at some point have to make contact with the person or persons who are making the noise, whether this is informally at the onset of a case or by taking formal action if a nuisance is shown to exist. Complainants should bear this in mind, and must understand that if for whatever reason they do not want us to contact the subject of the complaint; we will not be able to do anything in practice to help them.

3.6 In order to investigate the complaint it may be necessary to share information on noise complaints with the police, departments in the Council, and other authorities/agencies such as social landlords. By agreeing to our investigation we will also be confirming that you agree to us sharing information. This is in accordance with our agreements with them and other arrangements under data protection legislation.

3.7 If you live in a housing association owned property, please get in touch with your housing office in the first instance as they may be able to solve the problem or act on your behalf to request an investigation through their own complaint investigation policy and procedure.

3.8 If you decide to sell your property then you may have to declare any disputes and complaints to your solicitor.

4. Investigating a complaint

4.1 When we receive a complaint the initial details will be added onto our computer database. This will tell us whether there have been any similar complaints made for the same property in the past. Our records are kept for seven years in line with our document retention policy. After this time the records are deleted.

4.2 Your complaint will be assigned to a named officer who has overall responsibility and who will be accountable for supervising and progressing the investigation of a complaint to resolution. The Council will have regard to the Regulators Code and the Council’s Enforcement Policy.

5. What we cannot investigate

5.1 Certain complaints cannot be dealt with by the Environmental Health Department and will not be progressed, these include:

  • Anonymous complaints; 
  • Complaints where access to the complainant’s premises to witness noise and assess nuisance is necessary and is not allowed by the complainant;
  • Ordinary use of residential proprieties – Case law states that noise from the ordinary use of residential premises cannot be considered a nuisance, we are therefore unable to investigate reasonable behaviour including but not exclusively; babies crying, children playing, occasional dog barking;
  • If your complaint is in relation to anti-social behaviour such as shouting, arguments, swearing, verbal abuse, the Council has a dedicated Community Safety Team who can be contacted on 01295 221007;
  • We cannot take into account any special sensitivities of a complainant such as ill health or a night worker trying to sleep during the day;

Other agencies are responsible for the following types of noise:

  • Noise complaints from moving vehicles on the highway e.g. revving engines and car stereos – complaints of this nature can only acted upon by the Police who should be contacted at the time of the incident;
  • Noise from aircraft in flight- complaints of this nature can only be dealt with by the Civil Aviation Authority. Please telephone the Civil Aviation Authority on 020 7453 6525; Noise from low flying or noisy military aircraft can be reported to the Ministry of Defence, Complaints and Enquiries, Unit Directorate of Air Staff Level 5, Zone H Main Building, Whitehall, London SW1A 2HB. Further information is obtainable on GOV.UK - low flying in your area or telephone 0845 6007580.
  • In the Cherwell District Council Area information about noise from gliding activity at the former RAF Bicester can be found at Bicester Gliding Centre.
  • London Oxford Airport at Langford Lane Kidlington operates a noise amelioration policy. Details of the policy and how to complain or telephone 01865 290664.
  • Noise from engineering operations on the railway track. In such cases telephone Network Rail on 03457 11 41 41 or use the Network rail contact form.
  • Noise from rolling stock, station sites and car parks contact your local train operator:

6. The investigation

6.1 Once we receive a complaint we need to investigate the information that you have provided. This is to enable us to decide on the best a course of action which includes:

  1. No action and the case closed
  2. Informal action
  3. Formal action such as serving an abatement notice or a community protection notice
  4. Prosecution

6.2 There are three stages to investigate your complaint which are:

  • interviewing the complainant
  • gathering the evidence; and
  • assessing the evidence.

6.3 Interviewing the complainant

This is the first opportunity for you and the case officer to have a full exchange of information. It is essential for the case officer to obtain and record key information at the earliest stage; as this information will be used to decide the most appropriate strategy to adopt for gathering any additional evidence needed to properly assess your complaint. The case officer may deal with your complaint initially by having an informal discussion with the person causing the problem, or a more formal investigation may be carried out.

6.4 The following information is required for your complaint to be investigated:

  • Your details; including your name, address and contact details; and
  • Where the noise is coming from (exact details including house/flat name or number or site description); and
  • Name of the occupier at the address, and/or person responsible for the noise (if known); and
  • Nature and details of the problem and its history including how it affects you.

6.5 If you require assistance because of literacy, language, or other difficulties we will offer support to assist you to make your complaint. This includes translation support if necessary, to obtain adequate information.

6.6 The Council deals with thousands of different service requests every year. We have a set of service standards which is our commitment to responding and dealing with complaints.

6.7 We will aim to:

  • respond to your service request within three working days
  • investigate your complaint within eight weeks.

Although we will try to meet our service standards there maybe occasions when we will not be able to comply and may have to reprioritise your complaint because of other demands. Your case officer will advise you if this is necessary and will explain why.

6.8 The case officer will provide you with information on how the investigation will proceed, what you can expect from the service and what you will need to do to enable us to fully investigate your complaint. You will be informed of the name and contact details of the case officer as the case officer will be responsible for your complaint until completion.

6.9 Gathering and assessing evidence

Before we can decide on any action we will need to gather evidence to establish whether there is a problem which we can help you with. Usually this will consist of information and evidence necessary to decide what action we may or may not be able to take. This may include:

6.10 The case officer will confirm a monitoring programme based on the information provided. The case officer will also inform the results of their analysis and the reasons for their decision about whether or not further action can be taken. The case officer may need to review the progress of the investigation after an initial period and implement alternative strategies to gather evidence.

7. Case decision

7.1 Once the case officer has gathered the evidence a decision on your complaint will be made. This will be either:

7.2 No further action

If we are unable to gather evidence and there remains insufficient evidence for the Environmental Protection Team to act formally no further action will be taken and, the case officer will close the case. We will write to you confirming what we have done and, the reasons why the matter is not actionable formally by the Council. We will outline any informal action taken and provide you with advice on how you may pursue the matter as a private action under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

7.3 The Council will not involve itself in private action between parties and cannot act for either side.

7.4 Informal action

Depending on the circumstances of the case we may try an informal route to resolve the issues. This may include working with both parties such as undertaking a noise level setting exercise. We may serve a community protection warning which describes the steps that should be taken to cease or amend the problem behaviour.

7.5 Formal action

Once the investigation has been completed, if satisfied that formal action is necessary, the Council will take appropriate and proportionate action (view noise legislation). For example if the Council is satisfied that a statutory nuisance is likely to occur or recur, the Council has a duty to serve an abatement notice on the person responsible for causing the nuisance.

7.6 If we serve an abatement notice on a business we will allow a period of time for the business to discuss alternative means of compliance with us.

7.7 You will be advised of the outcome of any action in writing, and what to do if the problem still persists.

7.8 A reasonable time will be given to comply with the terms of any notice served. Failure to comply with an abatement notice and a community protection notice is a criminal offence.

7.9 Further complaint and prosecution.

Once we have served a notice and there is reason to believe that it has not been complied with the Council will undertake further monitoring and investigations and will then make a decision on how to proceed. If a notice is not complied with, there are a number of enforcement options available

7.10 If we decide that prosecution is the most appropriate course of action, or the subject of the complaint decides to appeal against a notice, you may be asked to provide formal witness statements and may even be required to appear in court. We would also give statements where requested to other agencies such as social housing associations where they may wish to take action to seek possession of a property on the grounds that the nuisance is a breach of a tenancy agreement.

7.11 We would consult you before taking this course of action and would respect your decision if you feel that you cannot contribute in this way. This may mean however that we will be unable to pursue the case.

7.12 It should be noted that court proceedings can introduce delays which can be significant, for example up to and beyond 12 months depending on the complexity of the case.

7.13 In some circumstances, it may be decided that further action is not justified or practical even if a nuisance is shown to continue. Prosecution and any legal proceedings are very serious options and we carefully consider taking such action having due regard to the Council’s own and national guidance on enforcement and prosecution. If there is a principle in law it does not follow that all offences will result in prosecution.

7.14 If we decide not to pursue a case we will fully explain our reasons in writing to you.

7.15 At any stage you also will have the option to take your own action. We will give you information about section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. This enables any "aggrieved" person to take action through the Magistrates Court in respect of noise nuisance.

8. Closure of case

8.1 On closure of a complaint a customer satisfaction survey may be sent to you. This is your opportunity to comment on the quality of the service provided and provides us with valuable feedback to establish what we are doing well at and what we need to improve on.

9. Complaints about our service

9.1 We deal with many hundreds of complaints about nuisances each year and very occasionally, even with the best will, things can go wrong and customers may feel we may not have kept them adequately informed or that we have made a mistake. In such cases the Council has procedures for investigating formal complaints about the service.

9.2 If you wish to complain about the service that you have received please contact your case officer in the first instance. Further details about the Council’s complaint procedures.

10. Persistent complainants

10.1 In a minority of cases people pursue their complaints in a way that is unreasonable and may also be considered as harassment of the person they are complaining about. They may behave unacceptably, or be unreasonably persistent in their contacts and submission of information. This can impede the investigation of their complaint (or complaints by others) and can have significant resource issues for the Council. These actions can occur either while their complaint is being investigated, or once the Council has concluded the complaint investigation.

10.2 The Council has developed a proportionate approach when responding to unreasonable complaint behaviour and this is set out in the Protocol for the management of prolific and/or unreasonably persistent complainants:

Cherwell District Council Persistent Complaints Policy

Contact details

If you need to contact us:

Version control: this document was updated March 2023.