Whether you're the one making the noise or the one suffering from the racket next door, here's the laws you need to know.
Noise and the law
UK noise laws are based on the principle that we all have the right to a certain degree of peace and quiet. They serve to protect against unreasonable or undesirable disturbances. Here's how:
The Noise Act (1996) - except Scotland
This law enables local authorities to measure noise, establish whether it exceeds a "permitted" level, and, crucially, to silence main offenders. The law was introduced as a means of controlling raves, so it's especially effective when it comes to party-like cases that occur between 11pm and 7am. It allows the noise people from the council to order offenders to shut the hell up immediately, have their sound system confiscated, and/or face a fine. Note that the law is only effective if your local authority has chosen to implement it. Contact your council for more details.
Environmental Protection Act (1990) - England & Wales & Control of Pollution Act - Scotland
A useful law that can protect you against the kind of noise that may not be shaking your foundations when you make the complaint, but which regularly kicks in when you need it least. For example, your neighbours might be Friday night Motorhead monsters, or in the habit of running their washing machine before they go to bed. Whatever the case, if they won't listen to reason then let the law deliver the kind of justice to help you sleep sweetly. As well as providing powers to the local authority - so they can investigate your complaint and serve an abatement notice if necessary - you are also entitled to take out private action by applying to your local magistrates court (or through a solicitor to the Sheriff's Court in Scotland).
The noise next door is outrageous! How do I complain?
If you're certain that any request to turn it down won't wind up in a fistfight on the street, your best bet is to knock on the door and talk to them. Explain your situation, and if you're reasonable and respectful then chances are they'll turn it down. After all, you'd do the same if they showed up in their dressing gowns and asked you nicely to do likewise - wouldn't you? If your request is ignored, or you feel like cutting to the chase, appeal to your local authority. For details, look up 'Environmental Health' in the phone book.
What can the council do about noise?
Your local authority is legally obliged to investigate a reported noise nuisance. However, they may not come rushing to your aid straight away. Many incidents are deemed non-emergency, so if you're phoning to moan that the lady next door conducts piano lessons every evening, chances are their noise pollution people will arrange a time and date to investigate.
But it's three in the morning and there are speakers hanging from their windows!
If a knock at the door hasn't worked, you can't get any joy from the council and this is just a one off outrage, you could consider calling the cops. If they believe the noise is "a breach of the peace" (which means technically it's causing harm to a person or provoking others to violence) then the police have powers to arrest, disperse or detain. Let's face it, finding a bunch of rozzers on the doorstep is usually enough to persuade anyone to shut off the stereo and apologise for the trouble caused.
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