Law guide: Complaints & disputes

See how we helped Liz

"It's not just a website... there are people there on call who can help answer your queries."

Liz W, London

High hedges

High hedges

Contents

High hedges

Your neighbour does not normally need permission to plant a hedge in their garden. There are also no general restrictions on how high they can grow the hedge. Still, there are still options to help you if your neighbour has planted a hedge which has grown too high and is creating a nuisance.

First steps

If a hedge neighbouring your property has become too large, approach your neighbour first to see if you can find a solution and settle the matter amicably. Before you can complain to the local council, you will need to prove that you have taken reasonable steps to try to settle the hedge dispute.

Negotiation or mediation are likely to be your best bet.

Informal negotiation

While it is often intimidating trying to confront your neighbour about a problem, it will be better, if at all possible, to settle the problem together informally. To achieve the best results, try to avoid discussing the matter in the 'heat of the moment'. However, in some cases discussing the matter informally will not be possible, in which case, you should make an attempt at mediation. If from the outset you do not have a good relationship with your neighbour, mediation might be your first step.

Mediation

Mediation is a process that involves an independent and impartial person (the mediator) who helps people to work together to reach an agreement. While they will not make a decision for you, they can help you and your neighbour understand each other's point of view in order to come up with a plan of action.

Further information about local community mediation services is on the UKMediation website at UKMediation.

Complaining to the council

If you have made every reasonable attempt to settle the matter with your neighbour informally, your next step would be to complain to your local council. It is advisable to inform your neighbour that you are making a complaint before you do so. Note that councils may reject your complaint if they consider that you have not made a sufficient effort to resolve the matter amicably. They may also do this if they consider that the complaint is frivolous or vexatious.

If you are making a complaint as the tenant of a property, check your tenancy agreement to see if it states that you must first obtain permission from the owner of the property before making your complaint.

Local councils have powers to deal with complaints about hedges over 2 metres high under Part 8 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 ('the Act) and the High Hedges (Appeals) (England) Regulations 2005.

The council should act as an independent and impartial third party. They do not negotiate or mediate between individuals, but will make a judgment on whether the hedge is negatively affecting the reasonable enjoyment of your property. They will take into account all views and relevant factors and assess each case on its own merits.

The council is able to charge a fee for settling the dispute, which will have to be paid by the person making the complaint. Fees are set locally and vary from about £100 to more than £600 in England, while in Wales the maximum fee is £320.

If the council decides that it is necessary, they will issue a notice requiring your neighbour to remedy the problem by, for example, reducing the height of the hedge and maintaining it at a lower level. This type of notice is known as a 'remedial notice'. They may enforce this by carrying out the necessary work themselves and/or through criminal prosecutions.

Defining high hedges

The Act defines high hedges as a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs higher than 2 metres above ground level that form a complete barrier to light or access. You cannot make a complaint if it consists of only one shrub or tree, no matter the height.

Before you complain to the council, consider the following:

  • Is the hedge made up of a line of two or more evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs?
  • Is the hedge more than 2 metres above ground level?
  • Does the hedge obstruct light or views even if there are gaps in it?

If you can answer 'yes' to all of these questions, then the council will probably consider it a high hedge for the purposes of the Act.

Note that it might be possible that only part of the hedge qualifies as a high hedge and not the hedge as a whole.

Evergreen or semi-evergreen

The Act applies to trees or shrubs that keep their foliage all year (evergreen) and to those that keep at least some live foliage for the year (semi-evergreen). It does not include climbing plants, such as ivy, or bamboo, which is considered 'grass'.

Mixed hedges that include some deciduous species are also covered by the Act . if the deciduous trees are located within a predominantly evergreen hedge.

If you are unsure of whether a plant is considered evergreen or semi-evergreen, research the particular tree or shrub at the library or via an internet search.

Measuring the height

Take measurements of the hedge from the ground at the base of the trunks or stems of the trees or shrubs in the hedge. If the hedge has been planted on a mound, or in a bed or other container raised above the ground measure the hedge from the natural ground area, rather than the hedge alone.

Types of property covered

For the complaint to be considered valid, the hedge must affect domestic property

If the hedge affects anything other than living accommodation, it will not be considered valid. Buildings not used for living accommodation might include, for example, a barn, shed, or garage If you are not currently living in the property, and it is empty, you may still be able to make a complaint under the Act if, for example, you are unable to sell the house due to the high hedge.

If the property contains a mix of domestic and commercial uses, the Act would apply to protect the living quarters only

The Act also applies to Crown land, provided it is affecting a neighbouring domestic property.

The Crown, however, cannot be prosecuted under the Act, although the employees of whichever body resides on that land (e.g. NHS Trust) could be.

If your complaint is rejected

If a council rejects your complaint, they should explain the reasons for their decision and return any fee.

While there is no right of appeal, if you believe that the council has not applied the legislation correctly, you can refer the matter to the council's complaints officer or to the Local Government Ombudsman. As a last resort, you may apply to the High Court to challenge the decision by judicial review.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

There is currently no legislation covering high hedges in either Northern Ireland or Scotland.

In Northern Ireland, if there is a covenant in the title deeds to the affected property restricting the height of any boundary hedge, you may be able to take legal action. However this could very well be costly, and so you are advised to try to come to an amicable solution with your neighbour if at possible.

For details of nuisance high hedges legislation in Northern Ireland, see High hedges