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Process for Reporting Nuisance Odours

In simple terms, bad smells count as statutory nuisances if they interfere 'substantially' and 'unreasonably' with the enjoyment of homes or premises or if the stink may cause injury to health. This section explains how to complain about a nuisance smell and how local councils investigate and assess toxic odours coming from business premises.

Problems that Can Cause a Nuisance Smell

The (Environmental Protection Act 1990) contains legislation for complaints made about ‘statutory nuisances’ (e.g. bad smells from trade premises).

The law forces local councils to serve abatement notices whenever statutory nuisances are happening, have already happened, or are going to happen.

An abatement notice would require the person responsible, or the occupier or owner of the premises, to completely stop or restrict the odour.

Important: In the United Kingdom, statutory nuisance laws do not apply to bad smells coming from residential properties (e.g. smelly neighbours living within the community).

As a general rule, nuisance smells and toxic odours usually have some relationship with problems caused by:

  • Animal slaughterhouses (abattoirs), and by-product rendering plants (e.g. pet food factories).
  • Agricultural and farming practices (e.g. animals, livestock, poultry, spreading slurry onto land).
  • Commercial kitchens and food processors (e.g. with poor extraction systems).
  • Sewage handling facilities, including:
    • Sewage treatment works
    • Sewage pumping stations
    • Sludge treatment centres
    • Storm water storage tanks
  • Paints and hazardous solvents from car sprayers, garages, or vehicle workshops (e.g. with poorly positioned air vents).
  • Unplanned spills on the highway (e.g. from road traffic accidents).

The most common ways that unwelcome or hazardous smells escape from commercial buildings and industrial premises is through:

  • Emissions coming from an extractor or chimney stack.
  • Leaks emitting from the actual building structure (e.g. through poorly sealed doors).

Note: Another section contains more information about the legal processes for settling disputes with neighbours, such as for bad smells and loud noises.

How Councils Assess Nuisance Smells

There are several methods used by local councils to assess (and then deal with) a nuisance odour from business, industrial, and trade premises.

First, they will try to work out whether the problem qualifies as a statutory nuisance, by considering where the smell is coming from, along with (any):

  • The general character of the area and how many people it is affecting.
  • The characteristics and frequency of the smell and whether it is interfering with the quality of life for the nearby residents (e.g. have they stopped spending time in their gardens).

Note: People respond to odours and bad smells in different ways. Thus, assessing them for legal purposes is not always an exact science.

As a rule, the local council will use two (2) or more human ‘sniffers’ to try and detect the smell’s strength, and:

  • How often it can be detected and recognised (including how long it lingers in the air).
  • Its character (using descriptions such as ‘fishy’ or ‘fruity’), whether it is considered as being an offensive stink, and its emission rate.

Important: Changes in the local weather conditions and the wind direction may cause variations. Even so, the council might ask you to keep a smell diary and record your perception of the smell and how it is impacting your daily life.

Abatement Notices and Special Rules

In the worst cases, the council can serve an abatement notice on business, industrial, and trade premises. Even so, as long as they used practicable means to stop the stench (or reduce it), they may have an opportunity to (either):

  • Make an appeal against the abatement notice.
  • Use their actions as a defence (e.g. if prosecuted for failing to comply with the abatement notice).

Environmental Permits for Pollution Control

The Environment Agency (EA) uses environmental permits to help control some of the most hazardous smell nuisances. As a result, councils try to make sure people do not get penalised twice for carrying out the same activity.

Note: You can check if you need to get an environmental permit and how to make an application (e.g. to the Environment Agency).

Related Help Guides

Note: The master section contains information about the environment and countryside and how specific laws address the effects and impact that human activities have upon them.

UK Rules for Dealing with Statutory Odour Nuisances