Questions and answers regarding preparations for making your complaint to the Council
Questions and answers regarding the handling of your complaint by the council
How to complain to the Council or about the Council, if it is behaving unreasonably
Advice on how to deal with the Council on matters of fees - 2 model letters
APPEALS 1. Necessary advice, if thinking of appealing.
2. favourable appeal decisions on: a)overhanging branches, b) deciduous trees in mainly evergreen hedge.
Councils are withdrawing remedial notices on pairs of trees where the owner fells one and leaves the other
If you want our information advice and guides on registering your initial complaint to the council about a neighbour's high hedge please see our 'About the High Hedges Law", index
Q1 I want to use the High Hedges Law but do not fully understand how it works or how to get the forms
A1 See our About the High Hedges Law Only consult Dot if there is any specific confusion after you have read these pages thoroughly. firstname.lastname@example.org. (There will be no charge for an initial appraisal of your case)
Q2 I do not understand what I need to write to the grower before I make my formal complaint to the Council
A2 See our note and specimen letter
Q3 My council has told me I will not be able to have a 'High Hedges Law complaints form' until I have been to Mediation.
A3 This is not the case. You only need to have offered the grower mediation, at the same time pointing out that you expect the grower to at least share any charges. Advice on preliminary requirements and model letter to grower, if required
Q4 An official at your council says that this council is not going to administer the High Hedges Law.
A4 Since Councils have not yet received all the information from the ODPM it is most unlikely that the information you are being given is official and it may be an uneconomical use of time to pursue the matter at this stage. Councils are required by Law to administer the High Hedges Law and to look into reasonable complaint.
If you do wish to take it further, ask the person's name and record that. Then record the date and time of the conversation. Try to write down as much of the person's actual words as possible since his colleages may well be able to recognise him by his turn of phrase. Then ask him to whom you can refer to confirm that this information is official and whether it has been published in any available document.
Q5 My council has told me that I will not be able to have a 'High Hedges Law complaints form' until it has decided the fee and that will not be until the end of June
A5 This is maladministration and could cause the victim another year of high hedge problems. The Law has been on the statute books since November 2003 and officially comes into force on June 1st, by which time we can reasonably expect their preparations to be complete. We feel that if the Council indicates that it will not be operating the High Hedges Law by June 1st then you should write immediately in the way suggested in our General complaints advice and if they have not given a satisfactory reply saying they are now 'up and running' by June 14th, then you should send a letter to the council ombudsman with a copy to your MP.
Q6 My Council has just sent me a their form for making my complaint under the High Hedges Law and I cannot afford the fee quoted.
A6 If you cannot afford the fee you should certainly make an official complaint to the council, who will probably be counting these complaints. see detailed note We are looking into the matter of complaints to the Ombudsman.
Please email Dot with your name and telephone number, the fee in question and briefly why you cannot afford it. (Dot is compiling an overview of all the fees being charged by Local Authorities in England, and especially concessions, if any, so that any further action by Hedgeline can be based on accurate figures for the whole of England).
Q7 Can I reclaim my complaint fee from my neighbour ?
A7 At this point we are not sure 0f the legal position. We are asking contacts if they can give us legal opinions, as to whether it would going to the Small Claims Court to claim back the fee would be a feasible and financially safe option. Please see our comment on this issue
Q8 **I think that the fee is too high but I am still going to pay. What would I tell the Council?
A8 Include a paragraph which states, 'I do not agree with this high fee but I wish to make a complaint so I enclose a cheque on the basis that I shall expect a refund at a later date should local authorities be ordered to lower the fees.' This should be sufficient to bind the local authority in the above eventuality.
Q9 If a hedge along my boundary grows in more than one garden will I have to pay more than one fee to have it considered under the High Hedges Law.
A9 There should be only one fee for one complaint arising from one complainant however many hedges or owners are involved
See The Government Guidance notes for local authorities 'High Hedges Complaints: Prevention and Cure', page 24, paragraph 5.17. - 5.19.
'As a general rule, each complainant will pay one fee, irrespective of the number of hedges or hedge owners that might be involved'.
Even if there are 2 or more hedges on 2 or more sides of a garden, then there is one fee.
Remember also that every two evergreen or semi-evergreen trees constitutes a hedge in its own right.
The Guidance Notes are available on - High Hedges Complaints: Prevention and Cure
Unfortunately, if there is more than one complainant about a single hedge, each complainant has to pay a fee.
Q10 What if the hedge belongs to more than one neighbour but only one neighbour has let it grow too high
A10 . If you are complaining about the hedge adversely affecting your garden rather than cutting out light to your windows you will encounter a problem if the hedge belongs to more than one neighbour and only one neighbour has left it to grow too high. The law says that a higher hedge is allowable if the hedge goes only part way along the boundary. This could lead to the Council taking an easy way out and leaving you with a higher hedge than necessary. If you are confused about this issue and the heights which Councils could decide on in these circumstances, please consult Dot. email@example.com (There will be no charge for an initial appraisal of your case)
Q11 My council says that my neighbours' line of evergreen trees is not a hedge because it has significant gaps between every two or three trees
A11 Every two evergreen or semi-evergreen trees counts as a hedge and so you have a number of hedges affecting your property. You can have all the hedges affecting your property dealt with under one fee. See Q. & A9.
Q12 The Council has told me my hedge is not high enough to be considered under the High Hedges Law.
A12 If the hedge is above 2 metres and, at least, predominantly evergreen or semi-evergreen you are entitled to have ALL the relevant issues you complain about (see our advise page, link below) considered though the Council may advise that it is unlikely to be a successful complaint. We will soon be posting here the relevant section of the Law which says that you can ask for a breakdown of why the hedge has not been considered a relevant subject for looking at under the High Hedges Law.
'Our High Hedges Law" advice page
'High Hedges Complaints: Prevention and Cure' Government Guidance Notes for local authorities (PDF) Also available by ringing 0870 1226 236
Q13 I notice my Council has not set a fee yet, what can I do to register my complaint
A13 We understand that some Councils are taking complaints, with a proviso that a fee will be requested at a later date. If this is the case - make your complaint
However, if your council states it cannot take complaints, then see the general complaint to council letter
How to complain to the Council or about the Council You should state that you have had another ruined summmer because of your council's delay.
Q14 My council was in your list as not having set a fee yet - they are now accepting complaints - but I worry they will be just as inefficient in dealing with the complaint procedure as they were in setting the fee.
A14 Yes you are right to be aware of this, especially as the Government did not lay down any specific times for the various stages of this Act to be completed. If some six weeks after your complaint has been received by the Council, you still have not been notified of a visit (or visited), or your neighbour had a site visit, then write a letter asking when the Council intends to do site visits. Give them ten working days notice and if you have not been satisfied with their response in that time, having had eight weeks pass, complain to the Ombudsman citing uneccessary delays in carrying out your complaint, again cite losing your enjoyment of your garden this year.
Q14 My council took my fee and complaint and then informed me I had no grounds for complaint. It appeared to be a paper exercise. I have paid £X fee for that ?
A14 According to Government Guidelines High Hedges Complaints: Prevention and Cure dated May 2005 Chapter on Invalid Complaints No 4.48 you should have your fee returned. Write a letter of complaint immediately to your Council quoting the Guidelines and giving the Council ten working days to return your fee. Failing an answer or a refusal, contact the Ombudsman on 0845 602 1983 and obtain/or download a complaints form from the internet: http://www.lgo.org.uk/contact.htm and ask him to adjudicate on your complaint.
Q15 My council have told me that even though my neighbours high hedge makes it impossible for me to grow any vegetables or plant flowers in parts of my garden due to poor soil, lack of nutrients and water, this is not a loss of enjoyment.
A15 Unfortunately the Law only deals with the 'height' of the hedge so if loss of water or nutrients is owing to roots it does not come under the scope of the Law. (The wording of the actual law and the Guidance Notes for local authorities make this clear).
Q16 The council has asked me to send a professionally drawn-up plan with my initial application.
A16 There is no mention at all in the 'Guidance Notes for local authorities' of the plan having to be professionally drawn-up. Under 'Grounds of complaint' the Guidance Notes advise:-
'To help the Council understand your situation, please provide a photo of the hedge and a plan or sketch of both the site where the hedge is growing and the property it is affecting, with the hedge clearly marked on it.'
Q17 The council has asked me to send, with my initial application, a copy of a solicitor's letters which I sent to the grower.
A17 To request that solicitors be drawn into the process goes against the basic intentions of this law. It was brought in because existing legislation was no use to people suffering from high-hedge nuisance. People will not therefore have expected to have contacted a solicitor. There is no mention anywhere in any of the Government documentation of any requirement for a solicitor to take part in the proceedings. The Guidance Notes for local authorities mentions that the complainant should submit evidence that all reasonable steps have been taken to settle the dispute. Involving solicitors is not a reasonable step except in the very few instances where court litigation is a reasonable possibility.
Q16 I have read on another website that my neighbour may come back at me and I will have to pay legal cost for his appeal.
A16 Appeals from both parties are covered by cost of the original fee,
Q17 I have good reason to believe my council is going to use the the 'BRE Guidelines' solely and there are other problems the height of 'the hedge causes me.
A17 Make sure that you mention in your initial form and in your appeal other issues which are relevant to your property being impaired by the height of your neighbour's hedge.See the other allowable issues Concise Notes. BUT the quotes from Government Guidance notes which establish that light loss and the the 'BRE Guidelines' which deal only with light loss do not supply final hedge heights are what you need in order to confront local authorities which are using light loss only. Extracts from Government Guidance notes
Q18 Are your Council stating TPO takes precedence over High Hedges Act ?
A18 The High Hedges Law takes precidence. See appeal appeals Q2 below
Q19 My council tried to scrap my remedial notice because there were not 28 clear days between the grower receiving the notice and the operative date (date of cutting) shown at No 5 on the remedial notice.?
A19 No the Law states that there must be a clear 28 days from the time of the issue of a remedial notice to the 'operative date'. If your council claims that the grower did not have a clear 28 days to make his appeal because the document was posted and so arrived after the issue date, you can challenge them.
There has been a recent case where the grower was to be taken to court for not complying with the operative date (cutting date) given on the remedial notice, but the council's legal department tried to withdraw because of a hitch of the type described above.
Appeals Q Can I get any help with appeals?
Appeals A Please be sure to contact Dot on Dot@mpcc.org.uk
Do this quickly after you get the council's remedial notice as you only have 28 days to appeal and the way you do it is crucial. (There will be no charge for an initial appraisal of your case)
Dot is looking into appeals for us and has the necessary expertise.
Favourable appeal decisions which may help you.
Please note that there have been appeal decisions, favourable to us, on the following issues. For a copy please contact Dot@mpcc.org.uk.
Appeals Q1 Are you having difficulty in proving:
a) that overhanging branches are causing a nuisance which should be included in the council's assessment of the height to which the hedge should be reduced,
b) or that the deciduous trees in a predominantly evergreen hedge should be included in the councils remedial notice and should be reduced to the height of the rest of the hedge?
Appeals A1 Please note that there have been appeal decisions, favourable to us, on these issues. For a copy please contact Dot@mpcc.org.uk.
Appeals Q2 Are your Council stating that a TPO takes precedence over High Hedges Act ?
Appeals A2 The High Hedges Law takes precidence, See section 5.92 of the Government Guidance notes,
5.92 Special considerations might apply where the trees in a hedge are protected by a tree preservation order or are subject to special controls that operate in conservation areas. These normally require people to get permission from the Council before carrying out certain works to the trees, or to give prior notice of their intentions. They do not, however, have to go through this process if they are obliged to carry out the works under the terms of a remedial notice issued under the Act 27. Dot@mpcc.org.uk
Appeals Q3 Are your Council stating Protective Planning Conditions take precedence over High Hedges Act?
Appeals A3 We know of an appeal decision which states that a council remedial notice takes precidence over protected planning conditions. This appeal decision suggests that, even though there are formalities to be observed, the owner cannot delay a remedial notice by refusing to settle these formalities. Dot@mpcc.org.uk
Appeals Q4Are your council refusing to take a conservatory into account in assessing the level of nuisance from your neighbour's hedge.
Appeals A4 We know of an appeal decision which states that because the consevatory is a substatial building and is obviously used as a living room it must be taken into account. Dot@mpcc.org.uk
Appeals Q5 What if the appeals inspector, who is to visit the site,
suggests an unaccompanied visit.
Appeals A5 If there is an appeal an appeals inspector must visit the site. He can come either accompanied by a council official, or unaccompanied. If the grower refuses to attend the visit, the inspector must be accompanied if you are to be allowed to make any points. So firmly, but politely, press for an accompanied visit. You may wish to let him see a badly shaded room or show him the problems with cutting overhang etc. Point out that it is not your fault if the grower refuses to attend.
However treat the accompanied visit as a privilege not a right. Be very polite and never inflammatory or personal about the grower. You are only allowed to make points relating to the effect of the height of the hedge and you may only make points to the inspector.
Questions selected and answered by Dot and occasionally Clare.