Frequently Asked Questions
Why can't I complain to my local authority about deciduous trees and hedges that cause problems?
The legislation was restricted to evergreen hedges because the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had evidence that they were a widespread problem - from the campaign group Hedgeline, and other letters received from all over the country. Both the problem and possible solutions were the subject of public consultation. The results indicated overwhelming support for new laws to deal with evergreen hedges, including among the majority of local authorities who replied. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's mandate - and commitment - to legislative action is, therefore, to take action in respect of evergreen hedges only.
Why should the person who is suffering the hedge problems have to pay the Council to intervene?
The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 states that complainants must pay a fee to the local authority when they submit their hedge complaint. There are several reasons why the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister think this is fair and reasonable:
- Most people who responded to questions about fees in the 1999 consultation 'High hedges - possible solutions' thought it was fair that the complainant should pay something for the local authority to intervene in their hedge dispute.
- Payment of a fee will encourage people to try to settle these disputes amicably, making sure that involvement of the local authority really is a last resort.
- A fee will also help to deter frivolous or vexatious complaints.
- It is common practice for local authorities to charge a fee for a service which is likely to benefit an individual (in this case, the complainant) rather than the community in general.
But the complainant is the innocent party in this dispute.
It is important to understand the way the legislation works. It allows local authorities to review these cases, as independent and impartial third parties. Authorities are not investigating any offence - none has been committed, even if a complainant 'wins' their case - and so the legislation does not deal in innocent or guilty parties. As a result, the fee is a payment for a service - not a penalty.
How can there be no offence: it's anti-social behaviour?
There is no special significance in the high hedges provisions being included in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. It simply provided a suitable opportunity, and vehicle, to get the high hedges legislation onto the statute book after several unsuccessful attempts through Private Members Bills. Certainly, the Act makes no provision for an Anti-social Behaviour Order to be served on the hedge owner. And no offence is committed until such time as a hedge owner fails to implement a local authority's order to carry out works to the hedge to remedy the problems it is causing.
Can I reclaim the fee from the hedge owner?
No. There is no procedure under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 for the complainant to obtain re-payment of the fee, either from the local authority or from the hedge owner.
People have asked about taking their neighbours to the small claims court. This is the special procedure for handling smaller claims in the county court. It can be used for most claims for £5,000 or less and so, on the face of it, the procedure may apply to reimbursement of the fee for making a complaint about a neighbour's high hedge. However, issuing a claim at court should be a last resort. People should have tried other ways of settling the matter; for example, by writing to their neighbour to ask for recompense.