Nuisance and the Law

Interpreting the legal definitions of nuisance is a challenge and difficult to place in lay terms due to the way in which the criteria of nuisance have been shaped by the British legal system over the last 150 years:
"A variety of circumstances are designated as a statutory nuisance under the terms of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 . There are two ways in which something may be designated as a statutory nuisance, either as a "nuisance" or as something deemed to be "prejudicial to health".
For this reason Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) officers have to consider many elements of the complaint and how it impacts the individual's life. It is important to realise that the fact that something causes annoyance to you does not in itself mean that it amounts to a nuisance which we could take action on.


For a noise to amount to an actionable statutory nuisance, two conditions must be met:

  • It must cause significant interference to the normal occupation of premises by a person of average sensitivity
  • It must be caused by some unreasonable or unusual act or omission or behaviour


When investigating complaints of nuisance WRS officers will consider the following factors (noise example):

  • Loudness and duration
  • The time of day when it occurs
  • What has been done to reduce the problem
  • Could it be easily avoided or would it be difficult to control
  • How frequently the problem occurs
  • The nature and character of the area where you live (eg. rural or urban)
  • The character and offensiveness of the nuisance
  • Public interest (eg. sporting event)
  • Is it regular or a one off
  • Is it unavoidable (eg. new road, water mains, etc.)

All of the above tests will form the officers opinion whether the nuisance is actionable in law or considered to be incapable of being a significant problem. In real world application the interpretation of what a member of the public and what officers of WRS consider to be a statutory nuisance may vary. It is therefore critical that the complainant understands what is required of them in the process of proving that the nuisance is justified and must co-operate fully with the officers requirements. Failure in doing so may compromise the ability of the officer to progress the complaint.

Statutory nuisance is ultimately a criminal matter, and so will exclude matters which could be described as minor or trivial, or merely irritations or annoyances, or where there was a reasonable excuse for the noise. e.g. child's play, occasional parties, arguments, church bells, smoke from domestic chimneys, dirty car exhausts, road, rail & aircraft noise, infrastructure maintenance etc.

Completing the investigation

If there is sufficient evidence to prove that a nuisance exists and an officer of WRS is satisfied that it is actionable in law then abatement notices can be served on the offending party requiring the nuisance to stop. Should the notice not be complied with, if sufficient evidence can be gathered the recipient may be prosecuted and fined in the Magistrates Court.

If there is insufficient information to prove a nuisance or the complainant refuses to co-operate with the investigating officer then the complainant will be advised that the complaint cannot be processed any further, and advised that they may take their own private action under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990, see our Taking Your Own Legal Action page.