Noise complaints: know your rights

Pubs, nightclubs, bars, music venues and other late night leisure businesses have been under attack from local residents making noise complaints. Your venue could be forced to close down if you are found to be on the wrong side of relevant legislation.

The night-time industry is now fighting back. Why shouldn’t customers cause a bit of noise on a night out, so long as it’s not too disruptive or breaking regulation?

Some venue owners and managers are now taking the legal route to find protection. But do you know your rights?

Nightclub noise regulations

Put simply, regulations state that any noise coming from a licensed venue should not cause a statutory or public nuisance. That rule is up for some interpretation, but it’s fairly easy to follow a common sense approach. The noise should interfere significantly with an individual’s right to enjoy their home life. It has to be more than just a little bit disruptive or annoying.

Whether a noise can be determined a nuisance is dependent on several factors. This includes the time of day or night, how frequently and consistently the noise is occurring, how near the venue is to residential properties and what steps management are taking to reduce noise impact.

Put simply… loud music playing inside your venue might be okay. Allowing large groups of people to chant on the street outside isn’t.

What happens next?

As a first stage, your local council may investigate noise complaints between the hours of 11pm and 7am. They could have the right to issue a warning, give a fixed penalty notice or remove any equipment making the noise. Your venue could also be investigated by an environmental health officer. They might service an Abatement Notice asking you to stop the noise or limit it to certain hours. Breach your Abatement Notice, and you could risk getting a hefty fine.

If your venue is consistently making too much noise, members of the public have the right to request a review of your licence.

What are your noise responsibilities as a venue owner/manager?

You have a responsibility as a venue to prevent unnecessary noise ‘nuisance’ while people are inside or leaving your venue.

Treat the area directly outside your venue as your domain. It’s likely you have CCTV monitoring the area (particularly entrances and exits) and security staff on standby anyway. 

Therefore your door staff should also be trained to approach and confront any customers causing a noise nuisance. This includes customers leaving, taxi drivers constantly beeping their horns, or food and drink sellers shouting to drum up business.

If you are taking proactive steps to keep the noise down in your external spaces, make sure you keep logs of this. Record any perimeter check thoroughly and include as much detail as possible. For example, how many people were involved in making the noise, and what steps did you take to prevent it? Showing when, why and how you’re mitigating risk will be important if you have to defend your venue.

It’s perfectly acceptable to put up notices in your venue and car park asking customers to leave the venue quietly. This should certainly be a policy amongst staff members too.

Taking steps to address noise complaints

Practical steps such as soundproofing your venue or installing secondary glazing could help to reduce noise. External doors should also be well sealed and close fitting to avoid noise escaping from your venue. Emergency exits are also points of interest. If your venue is well ventilated, there should be no need for customers to open emergency exit doors (thus leaking noise out of the venue). If these exits do need to be opened, then music should be stopped and your customers advised to be considerate when leaving the venue.

Nuisance noise isn’t limited to customers at closing time. Think about how and when you’re receiving deliveries of large pallets, or how you’re disposing of glass. Where possible, keep deliveries to between the hours of 7.30am and 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays. The general day-to-day running of your club can cause excessive noise. It is your responsibility to make sure that it isn’t above and beyond necessary.

Consider carrying out perimeter listening tests to help you ensure that the noise levels emitted from your venue are not excessive. Or an even simpler method is to simply stand outside your venue and listen to the volume of noise – if it’s too loud, turn it down. As with all checks or preventative measures, you must ensure accurate and detailed records are kept. Make note of when you carried out a test and what the results of this were.

Your duty as an employer

Licensed venue owners also have a duty as an employer to ensure that the noise levels at your venue aren’t dangerous. This means they shouldn’t be too high for a prolonged period. Employers should complete all necessary risk assessments and put controls in place to minimise these risks, such as providing hearing protection if necessary. Take a look at the noise at work section of the HSE website for more information.

What rights do you have as a night-time industry venue?

The good news is that for, the most part, you do have the right to defend noise made by your venue.

Following a noise complaint, your venue may be subject to inspection against licensing objectives found within the Licensing Act 2003. One of these objectives includes the “Prevention of Public Nuisance”.

The good news is that there is no definition in this act that would allow noise complaints to unjustly alter your rights as a business. Relevant guidance states the following: “the prevention of public nuisance will not extend to every activity which annoys another person but will cover behaviour which, when balanced against the public interest, is found to be unacceptable.”

As long as you are sensible in the way you control noise, and don’t make any rash changes to your business practices that would increase noise, you should be able to successfully defend any noise complaints that come your way.

It’s worth noting that authorities do have the right to close a premises for 24 hours if noise emanating from the venue is causing or is likely to cause a public nuisance.

Any other action taken by local authorities would likely be to implement conditions to reduce the cause of the noise. Having said that, authorities must take a balanced view between the complainant and the venue. That means they shouldn’t prevent you doing what you do best – running a successful night-time venue.

The introduction of the agent of change

There is a significant problem in the way planning and licensing regulations communicate with one another. Many argue they fail to take into account real-life problems associated with urban developments. One major factor is noise coming from existing buildings in the area (aka your venue). Complaints made by new residential buildings are resulting in popular licensed venues being shut down. Worse still, this is a problem that’s continuing to escalate.

The Agent of Change principle was first developed in the National Planning Policy Framework back in 2018. It aims to suggest recommendations to developers that limit the impact of new developments on existing businesses and buildings within the area. This includes nightclubs, bars and other night-time venues. For example, developers may be encouraged to soundproof new properties that are being built nearby to a nightclub or busy late night bar, thus minimising the chance of noise complaints.

But is the Agent of Change principle enough to solve the industry-wide problem? Many experts suggest the only real way forward is to implement a significant change in planning and licensing regimes.

Councils must show an appreciation for the benefits that night-time industry venues bring for the whole community. Night time leisure is as important for the local economy as money from developers. This needs to be recognised.

What is the best course of action to prevent noise complaints and legal action?

Take steps to prevent complaints. Firstly, talk to the people in your local area and community. Discuss any concerns with them and demonstrate any measures you’ve put in place to prevent nuisance noise. If you can find a common ground, you’re less likely to find yourself on the wrong end of complaints as local residents know they can turn to you as a first port of call.

It’s also important that, before you make any changes to your venue that may affect the community (such as installing an outside seating area) that you talk to an expert. A licensing specialist will be able to tell you if your change is likely to cause a clash with the local authorities and hopefully prevent difficulties for you down the line.

NDML customers have access to our exclusive, industry-leading Business Protection insurance product. As part of this, we’ve partnered with specialist licensing solicitors and legal professionals to offer full support. This includes access to a 24/7 legal helpline, plus cover for any legal defense costs related to noise complaints.

If you’d like to discuss noise complaints with us, and how to put checks in place to prevent complaints (or claims), contact us today.

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