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high hedges complaining to the council

By Antonio Warren,2014-05-27 12:55
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high hedges complaining to the council

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Contents

     Common questions …………………………………………………………. 2

     Useful contacts ………………………………………………………………. 7

     Further information ………………………………………………………….. 8

    The right hedge can be an ideal garden boundary but the wrong hedge may bring problems. This leaflet explains what will happen if the council get involved using

    their powers in Part 8 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003. It is a simple guide and not a statement of the law.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Common questions

Q1. Can we go straight to the council with our hedge problem?

    A1. No. Involving the council should be a last resort if you really cant agree a solution. The council can refuse to intervene if they think you haven’t done everything you reasonably could to settle your dispute amicably.

    Q2. What will the council expect us to have done to sort this out between ourselves?

    A2. This will depend on how well you get on with your neighbours. But, before you contact the council, you should have tried the following:

    ; Have a quiet word with your neighbour about your concerns.

    ; Follow this up by asking them to sit down with you so that you can get a

    better understanding of how you both feel and to try to work out the

    answer.

    ; If this doesn’t work or they refuse to meet you, invite them to talk to

    independent mediators who will help you find a way forward.

Further information on settling your hedge differences is in the separate leaflet Over

    the garden hedge.

Keep a record of what you’ve done. If nothing works, you should let your neighbours

    know that you will be making a formal complaint to the council.

    Q3. My hedge dispute has been running for years. Am I really expected to go through all this again?

    A3. The council will expect evidence of a recent attempt to settle your dispute with your neighbour. If you rely on an approach you made more than, say 4 months ago, they could ask you to try again.

    You never know, your neighbour could have had a change of heart. They might not welcome the council getting involved and could be ready to compromise.

Q4. What sorts of complaint can the council look at?

A4. If you’ve been through all the steps set out in A2 AND can answer ‘yes’ to ALL

    the points listed below, the council should be able to look at your complaint:

    ; When you look at the hedge as a whole, does it screen out light or would it get in

    the way of someone seeing or something passing through (see A5 for example) it? ; Are there at least 2 trees and/or shrubs roughly in line?

    ; Are the trees and/or shrubs in the hedge all, or mostly, evergreen or semi-

    evergreen?

    ; Are they over 2 metres tall?

    ; Are the specific problems you have with the hedge to do with its height?

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    ; Do these problems prevent you getting some of the practical benefits from your

    home or garden that you might realistically expect?

    ; Are you the owner or occupier (eg tenant) of the property acted by the hedge?

    Q5. The hedge has got some gaps in it that allow light through. Does this mean that I cant complain to the council about it?

    A5. Not necessarily. It depends whether the gaps mean it’s really a line of individual trees rather than a hedge.

    This isn’t easy to judge. You cant say that if there is more than a set distance between the trees or shrubs, then you cant complain. But, as general guide, if there’s enough space between them for someone to kick a ball through, or there are strips of sunlight in the shadow they case, then its probably not a high hedge. If in doubt, check with the council.

Q6. So I cant complain to the council about individual trees?

A6. No, you cant. Follow the steps in the leaflet Over the garden hedge to try to

    settle your dispute.

Q7. Does the hedge have to be on the boundary line or in next door’s garden?

A7. No, it doesn’t matter where the hedge is growing. Though the farther away it is

    from your house or garden, the less troublesome it is likely to be.

Q8. What’s a semi-evergreen tree or shrub?

A8. It’s something that keeps some live or green leaves all year round.

    Depending on where you live, this could include privet. The further north you are, the more likely that a privet hedge will lose its leaves over the winter.

    It doesn’t include beech or hornbeam hedges. The leaves that they keep in the winter are dead and brown.

Q9. Where is the 2 metres measured from?

    A9. It’s measured from the ground where the hedge is growing. This could make a difference if your own land is higher or lower.

Q10. What sort of problems can I complain about?

    A10. You can complain about practical problems that you face because the hedge is too tall. You must also be able to explain why these bother you.

    Because each case is different, it’s not possible to produce a list of potential grievances that you can choose from. You need to think about the particular difficulties that you have with the hedge, whether these are to do with its height and how serious they are.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    The council won’t be able to consider things that you’re worried about but haven’t actually happened. For example, fears that the hedge will break or fall. Nor can they take account of points that are not really to do with the hedge itself. For example, the situation is making you depressed, or other hedges in the area are kept at a lower height.

    Q11. I’m worried that the hedge will cause subsidence in my home. Can I complain about this?

    A11. No. This isn’t to do with the height of the hedge but its roots taking moisture from soils that shrink. The Act specifically says that councils can’t deal with problems caused by roots. There are other means of resolving these problems.

    Q12. I’m still not sure if the council can help with my hedge problem. Should I put in a complaint any way?

    A12. You will probably have to pay a fee to make a formal complaint (see Q15). So, if you have doubts, it is better to talk it through with a council officer first. If you explain your circumstances, they should be able to say whether they will be able to investigate your case.

Q13. Who do I complain to?

A13. You should contact your local county or county borough council. They’re the

    ones you pay your council tax to. You can find them in Yellow Pages under Local Government.

Q14. How do I make a complaint?

    A14. The council will send you a form to fill in. It will save time later if you provide full information now. Think carefully about your grounds of complaint. Explain as clearly as you can the practical problems you face because the hedge is too tall and why these are serious.

    The completed form can be sent by post or email to the council. It’s a good idea to send a copy to your neighbours so they know what you’ve done. If you don’t send it to them, the council will. So bear this in mind when you complete the form.

    Remember to include the right fee. The council can’t consider your complaint without it.

    Q15. What fee? Do I have to pay the council to consider my complaint? If so, how much?

    A15. Yes, you would normally have to pay the council for this service. The complaint form should tell you how much. It could vary from council to council but will not be more that ?320.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Q16. Will I get my money back if the council uphold my complaint?

    A16. That’s up to the council. But they are under no obligation to refund your fee, whatever the circumstances.

Q17. Can the council help me get it back from my neighbours?

    A17. No, the council can’t get involved and certainly can’t force your neighbours to pay you.

Q18. What if I cannot afford to pay the fee?

    A18. Your council may offer reduced fees if you are on a low income or benefits, so it’s worth checking this with them.

    Q19. The form provided by the council asks a lot of questions. Why do I have to provide all this information?

    A19. The form gives the council the information they need to check that certain legal tests are met (see A3 above) and that they can, therefore, deal with your complaint. It is up to you to prove this. If you’re having trouble filling in the form, your local Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help.

Q20. What will the council do with my complaint?

    A20. Once the council are satisfied that your complaint meets the legal tests, they will invite your neighbour to set out their case. When they’ve got both sides of the story, an officer of the council will visit the site to see the hedge and surroundings for themselves. The will also collect any other information they need to help them decide your complaint. They might, for instance, need to measure the size of your garden or how far the hedge is from windows in your house.

Once they’ve got all this information together, the council will weigh it all up. They

    will decide whether the hedge prevents you getting some of the practical benefits from your home or garden that you might realistically expect and what if anything

    should be done about it.

    If they decide action is necessary, they will issue a formal notice to your neighbour which sets out what they must do to the hedge and when they must do it by. This is known as a remedial notice. It can also require your neighbour to keep the hedge trimmed to its new size.

    Q21. Why do we have to go through all this rigmarole? Surely all it needs is for the council to go and get evidence to show the hedge is a problem and order the offender to cut it down?

A21. That’s not the way the law works. There is no offence for having a tall hedge.

    So its not up to the council to prove the hedge is a nuisance.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Their job, in the words of the Act, is to decide whether the hedge is adversely affecting your reasonable enjoyment of your property and, if so, what action if any

     should be taken to remedy the situation or to prevent it happening again.

    The use of the work ‘reasonable’ is important. It means that the council cannot just consider your grievances. They must also look at things from the other side of the hedge and from the neighbourhood point of view. They have to throw all this into the melting pot and come up with an answer that is fair to everyone.

    Q22. What possible reason could there be for the council not requiring something to be done about it if they decide the hedge is causing problems?

    A22. The hedge could have positive benefits. For example, it might be important to the way your neighbourhood looks. Or it might hide something ugly. So there could be stronger reasons for keeping the hedge as it is.

    Alternatively, the problems might not in the council’s opinion be serious and might be sorted out by lightly pruning the hedge. And so, the council might decide to give your neighbour an informal warning to keep the hedge under control, rather than impose a formal order.

    Q23. So I could pay the council to consider my complaint and still get nowhere?

A23. Yes, it’s possible that you won't get the answer you want.

    Q24. How do I know whether it’s going to do me any good to complain to the council?

    A24. You can't be certain what the result will be. That’s why it is important to think carefully about your reasons for complaining to the council before you return your form (see A14). You might find it worthwhile looking at the detailed guide Solving

    hedge problems. It gives advice on the sort of things that councils will take into account in considering how serious the problems you’re complaining about are.

    As a general rule, your case will be weaker if the trouble with the hedge affects you for only a few months of the year, is just inconvenient or can be got round another way. On the other hand, you will be in a stronger position if you can't get away from the problem and it’s with you nearly all the time.

    Q25. How long will I have to wait for the council to decide my complaint?

    A25. There is no set deadline for the council to decide your complaint. Remember it will take time for them to get statements from you and your neighbour, and to arrange to visit the site. So you shouldn’t expect to get an answer for at least [12]

    weeks.

    If the council is taking a very long time, ask them what is holding things up and when you might see some action.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Q26. What if I don’t like the council’s decision?

A26. If you don’t like the council’s decision, you can send an appeal to the Planning

    Inspectorate. You must get your appeal to them within 28 days from the date of decision letter which the council will send to you.

    There is a separate leaflet [name] that explains how you can appeal and how your appeal will be handled.

    You should be aware that your neighbour can also appeal if they don’t agree with the council’s decision.

    Q27. If the council uphold my complaint, will the hedge have to be removed? That would solve the problem once and for all.

    A27. No, the Act specifically says that the council can't order that the hedge be removed entirely. Nor can they require it to be cut down below 2 metres.

Q28. Will the hedge have to be cut down to 2 metres then?

    A28. Not necessarily. As a general rule, the council can only order your neighbour to reduce the hedge to a height that will remedy the problems - or prevent them happening again - and no more. 2 metres will not, therefore, be the right answer in every case.

    In addition, there is nothing in the Act that says all hedges must be cut down to 2 metres.

    Q29. How long will the council give my neighbour to cut down the hedge?

    A29. This will vary but it could well be months rather than weeks. The council must be realistic about how long it will take your neighbour to carry out the works. They might also have to allow extra time to make sure that any birds nesting in the hedge are not disturbed. Your neighbour can appeal if they think the council haven’t allowed enough time.

    Q30. What is there to make sure my neighbour keeps the hedge at its new height? Surely I don’t have to complain again, and pay a fee?

    A30. The council can order your neighbour to take action to prevent the problems with the hedge happening again. This could include keeping the hedge at its new height for as long as it is there. You wouldn’t, therefore, have to make repeated complaints to the council to get something done.

    Q31. does the council’s order allow me to cut my neighbour’s hedge if I think they’re dragging their heels?

    A31. No, it doesn’t give you any right to cut the hedge. If you do anything more than trim branches that hang over your side, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Q32. What happens if my neighbour doesn’t cut down the hedge when they’re meant to?

    A32. Failure to carry out the works ordered by the council is an offence. Your neighbour could be prosecuted and, if found guilty in the magistrates court, could be fined up to ?1,000.

    But it’s up to the council whether they prosecute and it’s unlikely to be the first step that they will take.

Q33. Will the council cut down the hedge instead?

    A33. The council can go onto your neighbour’s property and cut the hedge if they don’t do it themselves. But it’s up to the council whether they step in. They are not

    obliged to do so.

Q34. What happens if the hedge is owned by the council?

    A34. You should still send your complaint to the council. They will make sure that it is dealt with by different people from those who look after the land where the hedge is.

    If you think the council has not handled your complaint properly, you can complain to the Monitoring Officer of the council and/or the Local Government Ombudsman. If you don't agree with the council’s decision on your complaint, you can send your

    appeal to the Planning Inspectorate (see Q26).

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Useful contacts

    Arboricultural Association - for a list of approved contractos to carry out work on hedges, search www.trees.org.uk or tel: 01794 368717

    Citizens Advice Bureaux - offer free, confidential, impartial and independent advice. You can find your local office in Yellow Pages.

    Community Legal Service (CLS) - helps people to find the right legal advice. There are CLS Information Points in local libraries. Or else search www.justask.org.uk or tel: 0845 608 1122 for your nearest Community Legal Service provider.

    Gardening Which? - helps its members with their gardening problems tel: 0845 903 7000

    Hedgeline - helps those affected by problem hedges, drawing on the experience of their members tel: 0870 2400 627

    Mediation UK - to find your nearest community mediation service tel: 0117 9046661

    Royal Horticultural Society - helps its members with their gardening problems tel: 01483 479700

    Tree Helpline - for impartial advice on anything to do with trees, hedges and shrubs tel: 09065 161147 (calls are charged at ?1. 50 a minute)

    You may be able to obtain advice by contacting a telephone legal advice service often included in insurance policies, such as household or motor insurance.

    Organisations representing elderly people (e.g. ARP50 or Saga) may also include a legal advice service for their members.

    high hedges: complaining to the council

    Further information

    Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 - text of Part 8 of the Act is available on http://www.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/30038--i.htm#65

    Solving hedge problems - a detailed guide on administering high hedge complaints, [is] available on www.wales.gov.uk

    Appeals leaflet - a leaflet explaining how to appeal against the council’s decision on your hedge complaint, [is] available on www.planning-inspectorate.gov.uk

    Over the garden hedge - a leaflet on how to settle your hedge differences without involving the council, is available via www.wales.gov.uk

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