Environmental health - Messy/untidy neighbour

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You should know

  • Your local authority is responsible for ensuring a safe and pleasant local environment
  • The environmental department is responsible for bins, recycling, flooding and noise, among other issues
  • If you have a problem and it is not addressed, you can raise a complaint with the local authority
  • If your issue is not resolved within 12 weeks, you have the right to escalate your case to the Local Government Ombudsman
  • The Local Government Ombudsman is responsible for independent assessment of your issue, and can make a decision on how it is resolved
  • You can use Resolver to raise and manage your issue.

Complaints about your local environment should be directed at your local authority: it is there to help address a number of issues.

Excessive noise

Everyone’s perception of nuisance noise is subjective, so your local authority will determine whether the noise levels are reasonable, and therefore if it is appropriate to take action. It will also consider the number of complaints received over a period of time, for example a year.

When making your case to the council, it is advisable to keep a record of when the issue happened and for how long the excessive noise was experienced. 

If the local authority finds the noise to be excessive, it can serve a noise-abatement order. If a noise-abatement order is breached, the person or organisation that caused the noise can be prosecuted.

Legislation

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 provides the local authority with the power to investigate and act upon noise nuisance. The local authority has a duty to investigate its district for noise from time to time, as well as to respond to any complaints raised. 

Outside of control

Your local authority cannot deal with issues related to noise from aircraft.

Trains

Councils have a clear legal obligation to deal with trains under the Environmental Protection Act 1990

Taking your own action

There is also provision under section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 for a member of the public to complain directly to the magistrates court. The latter can make a nuisance order and impose a fine.

Licensed premises

If you have an issue with a pub, club or bar, you can raise the problem with your local authority. However, you should contact the police immediately if the issue is serious.

Restaurant/take-away hygiene

Your local authority is responsible for taking action on these matters, but requires the public’s assistance to bring problems to its attention.

Examples of unhygienic practices are:

  • food handlers smoking;
  • food handlers being unclean, or not wearing clean clothing;
  • food handlers having uncovered cuts or grazes;
  • refrigerated or chilled food being kept at an incorrect temperature;
  • or premises not being clean, in good repair or well ventilated.

The local authority can visit and inspect premises that sell food to consumers. Most inspections are informal, but the council can also take formal action. It can close a premises down if it does not meet the standards, but this requires the council to gain an order from the local magistrates court. Serious investigations can take a few months. 

Rating of quality

The national Food Hygiene Scheme helps you choose where to eat out or shop for food by providing information about hygiene standards. It covers restaurants, pubs, cafés, takeaways and hotels, among other outlets, as well as supermarkets and food stores. Ratings are also given to schools, hospitals and residential-care homes.

A food-safety officer inspects a business to ensure that it meets the requirements of food-hygiene law. At the inspection, the officer will check:

  • how hygienically the food is handled – for example, how it is prepared, cooked, reheated, cooled and stored;
  • the condition of the structure of the buildings, including the cleanliness, layout, lighting, ventilation and other facilities;
  • and how the business manages and records what it does to ensure that food is safe.

The hygiene standards found at the time of inspection are then rated on a scale from 0 (urgent improvement needed) to 5 (very good).

Other issues

If your issue relates to weights or measures, food labelling or ingredients, you should raise it with your local authority’s Trading Standards team.

Bins and recycling

Your local authority is obliged to collect two types of recyclable waste, separated from your household rubbish. If a householder does not follow the requirements, the council can refuse to collect their rubbish.

In addition to the normal collection of waste, your local authority might also offer a special collection service for bulky household goods.

Some local authorities offer commercial-waste collection services to businesses and other institutions. There is normally a charge for this.

As each local authority’s waste-collection policy differs, it is important to contact your authority to find information on the services that apply in your area.

Flooding

Local authorities are responsible for dealing with:

  • surface water flooding. This includes flooding due to rainfall run-off from surfaces such as roads, roofs and patios;
  • ordinary watercourses. This includes drains that can be easily overwhelmed after heavy rain, but excludes main rivers that are managed by the Environment Agency;
  • and groundwater flooding. This includes flooding caused by heavy and sustained levels of rainfall that is capable of increasing the groundwater table.

The role of your local authority includes assessing the risk of surface-water flooding across its authority, as well as working with organisations responsible for water management across the county, so that the likelihood of flooding is minimised.

The responsibilities of your local authority include:

  • developing, maintaining, applying and monitoring a strategy for local flood-risk management;
  • investigating flooding incidents and publishing the results, particularly with regard to which authorities have relevant flood-risk management responsibilities, and what they have done or intend to do;
  • and maintaining a register of local structures or features that have a significant effect on the flood risk.

The Environment Agency’s roles and responsibilities

The Environment Agency is responsible for coastal management, including managing the risk of flooding from primary rivers, and regulating reservoirs.

Making a complaint

If you have an issue with the environmental services delivered by a local authority, you should raise a complaint; the local authority will then address it.

If you feel that the issue has not been resolved, you have the right to escalate your complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.

The Local Government Ombudsman has issued guidelines on raising a complaint to your local authority. These are:

Don’t delay

  • Complain as soon as possible after the event: it is much easier to remember all the details. There might also be a time limit in which your complaint has to be lodged.
  • If you are unhappy with the reply, you might have the opportunity to take your complaint to a second stage; again, do so as soon as possible and explain why you are not satisfied with the first response.

Make checks

  • When you have decided to complain, ensure that you are complaining to the right organisation, and to the right department within that organisation. Usually the head of the department that you are complaining about is a good person to complain to.

Tell them it’s a complaint

  • Tell them straight away that you are making a complaint, and that you want it put through their complaints procedure. Ask for details of the complaints procedure, and find out who will be handling your issue.

Put it in writing

  • If possible, it is helpful to put your complaint in writing. If this isn't something you feel comfortable doing, you could ask a friend, carer, family member or an organisation such as Citizens Advice to help you. Be sure to write ‘complaint’ at the top of your letter or email.

Be clear and brief

  • Cover all the relevant points, but be as brief as you can. Avoid writing long letters or emails – you may feel that you need to give a large amount of detail, but in most cases this is unnecessary.
  • Make it easy to read by using numbered lists and headings to highlight important issues.
  • Give your contact telephone and email details, as well as your address. Then, if the person dealing with the complaint needs more information, he or she can contact you and ask.

Provide evidence 

  • Send copies of relevant documents – but only those that will help the complaint officer understand your issue, or provide evidence to support it. Ensure that you keep copies yourself. You might want to retain any original documents and send copies of these with your complaint.
  • Keep notes of any telephone calls about the complaint, including the name of the person you spoke to. This could be important later.

Check it through

  • Get family or friends to read your complaint before you send it – if they can’t understand it, the person you send it to is likely to struggle, too.

Be clear about what you want

  • Explain clearly what you hope to achieve by complaining. However, you should be realistic: your aims need to be fair and proportionate to the problems that you have had.

Be polite

  • Whether writing or speaking to a complaint officer, try to remain polite and calm.
  • Be assertive, not aggressive. Your experience of making a complaint is likely to be more productive if you calmly discuss the issues with the complaint officer. Getting angry tends not to lead to a better outcome, and makes the complaint process unpleasant for everyone.

Respond appropriately

  • Respond appropriately if asked to do so by the complaint officer, and read any letters and documents that are sent to you. If for some reason you cannot reply within the stated timescale, such as if you are unwell or on holiday, tell them why and ask for more time.

Be patient

  • It might take some time for your complaint to be considered. Don’t be afraid to politely chase the issue if nothing seems to be happening to progress matters.

Local Government Ombudsman

If your issue is not resolved after 12 weeks, you can take your case to the Local Government Ombudsman. It is there to provide a free, impartial assessment of your issue.

Resolver will remind you when you can escalate your case to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Restrictions on the Local Government Ombudsman

The law does not allow the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate all issues. These include instances where:

  • it has been more than 12 months since you became aware of the problem;
  • you are not personally affected – for example, if the issue affects most people in the area;
  • you have not been caused an injustice;
  • you have the right of appeal or can take legal action, and it believes that it is reasonable for you to do so. This might be to a tribunal (such as the Housing Benefit Appeals Service), a government minister (such as a planning appeal) or the courts;
  • it is about personnel matters (such as your employment, or disciplinary issues).

(Information correct as of May 2015)

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