Smoke can prevent people enjoying their gardens, opening windows, or hanging washing out, and reduces visibility in the neighbourhood and on roads. It can also have a bad effect on people who have breathing problems.
Smoke and soot from bonfires, chimneys and commercial practices have always been a source of a significant number of complaints. There are no specific laws that stop garden bonfires or limit when they can be lit. Having a bonfire of your garden or domestic waste is not an offence, although the fire brigade may be involved if they feel the fire is dangerous or can damage property.
There are laws against smoke from a fire causing a 'Statutory Nuisance' on someone else's land. A Statutory Smoke Nuisance is something which is unreasonable and causes substantial interference in the use and enjoyment of a person's house. This means that any fires would need to be regular and/or long lasting, and the smoke having a recognisable impact, eg getting into a house.
What to do if you are affected by smoke
In most cases we advise that the informal approach is the best course of action in the first instance. This gives the person responsible for the light time to fix the problem, especially if they are not aware that a problem exists or to what extent it affects people nearby.
- Talk to the person responsible for causing the problem - they could be unaware that they are causing a problem. Do not attempt to do this if you feel threatened.
- Write to them - you may prefer to explain what the problem is in a letter as this can feel less confrontational.
If this does not work, we may be able to investigate your complaint.
What we can not investigate
- smoke from a train
What we are unlikely to investigate
- smoke from intermittent bonfires
- smoke from BBQs
- cigarette smoke
- burning of commercial waste: All businesses must safely contain, and legally dispose of, any waste they produce. The Environment Agency approve the burning of commercial waste and deal with complaints on 0800 807 060.
- smoke control areas: These are areas in which only smokeless fuel can be burnt and so chimney smoke could be a direct offence. Many wood burning, and multi fuel, stoves are now considered exempt from the restrictions provided the recommended fuel is being used and the appliance is correctly installed and operated. See smoke control areas for more information.
What we can investigate
- smoke from frequent domestic bonfires
- smoke from commercial premises
- smoke from a domestic chimney
- dark smoke: The emission of dark smoke from any chimney or furnace is an offence if it continues for a period more than 10 minutes (this allows for starting the furnaces etc). Certain sources of smoke such as cable burning is also illegal.
- cannabis smoke: possession of cannabis is illegal. If you are experiencing problems with cannabis odour or smoke, you should report it to the police on 101. If this does not address the issue, then we may be able to investigate the matter under anti-social behaviour powers. See anti-social behaviour for more information.
We are unable to investigate anonymous complaints so you must provide your name, contact details and address to enable your complaint to be dealt with.
What we will do
We will assess your complaint to decide whether it could be a Statutory Smoke Nuisance under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. If it is covered, we will investigate your complaint further. If it is not, then we will let you know and advise you who might be able to help if possible.
How a smoke complaint will be investigated
We need to record the following sort of information to see whether the problem meets the legal test of 'Statutory Nuisance':
- how long it lasts
- how often it happens
- the surrounding environment
- the level and nature of the smoke
In most instances, you will be asked to initially keep a record of when you are affected.
We may also collect other information on site visits, and contact with the person causing the smoke. We do not share your details at any time.
What happens next
The evidence gathered in the investigation will decide what happens next.
If the evidence shows the presence of a Statutory Nuisance, we will serve a legal notice. This will make it against the law for the person causing the nuisance to carry on doing so. If they continue, we may take the person to court or take other steps to ensure the Notice is followed.
If the issue is investigated and is not a Statutory Nuisance then we will not take further formal action and we will let you and the other person know.
- Customer Services
- 03000 26 0000