Police forces across England faced a sharp increase in complaints about noisy neighbours during last year’s lockdown, with claims that years of cuts have left councils struggling to deal with antisocial behaviour.
More than half of all police forces across England saw a surge in noise nuisance complaints as the nation was stuck at home, with one force seeing the number of complaints increase fourfold over just two years.
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act found that the average rise in complaints across the forces that responded was 67%, with some forces having received thousands more complaints last year than in 2018. Similar research has suggested that construction and general “neighbourhood noise” are to blame for the rise, as the noise from traffic fell during the pandemic.
Councils are now calling for a cash injection into their environmental health teams at the forthcoming spending review to help them respond to increases in antisocial behaviour. Labour, which compiled the figures, said that police were being drawn into the disputes because cash-strapped councils were unable to cope. Local authorities have said they need £2.5bn in extra funding next financial year simply to maintain services at current levels.
Greater Manchester police appears to have reported the biggest rise in noise complaints, with the figure growing fourfold over two years. Complaints rose from 1,058 in 2018-19 to 4,396 in 2020-21. Complaints tripled over the period in Cambridgeshire constabulary and Bedfordshire police. This supports the findings of a recent academic study, which found that during the Covid lockdown, the number of noise complaints increased by 48%, compared with the same period in 2019.
“Noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour have surged but councils have been cut to the bone by the Conservatives, so it’s no wonder they’re struggling to deal with this explosion of antisocial behaviour,” said Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary.
Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s stronger and safer communities board, said councils were doing all they could to tackle persistently disruptive behaviour, but needed resources. “Dealing with increased reporting of noise nuisance has added to the pressure on council environmental health teams that are already overstretched,” she said. “The spending review must commit to additional investment in regulatory services to ensure councils are able to effectively respond to issues of importance to their communities.”
A government spokesperson said: “We recognise the devastating impact that anti-social behaviour can have on individuals and communities. The government has allocated more than £12bn directly to councils since the start of the pandemic, with more than £6bn of this un-ringfenced, recognising that councils are best placed to deal with local issues. We’ve also given policing the biggest funding increase in a decade and are recruiting 20,000 police officers over the next three years.”
When lockdown began last year, Lesley and Phillip Stew didn’t think their noise problem could get any worse. They had been battling with various agencies for several years over the alleged noisiness of their neighbours in Coleford in Gloucestershire.
“It did get worse over lockdown,” Lesley Stew said. “We’ve got a motor home and in the past we’d go out during the day, but you couldn’t go anywhere so we were stuck.” Her neighbours also had nowhere to go. “There were parties in the back garden with dozens of people. They were reported to the police four times but nothing happened.”
The Stews complained of foul language, loud music in the garden, slamming doors and arguments. “None of the agencies involved has taken any notice,” she said.
In June, they installed security cameras after finding strangers in their back garden on several occasions. “When Phil goes out to do the shopping, I lock all the doors and windows. I don’t feel safe,” she said. “I’m 75 and he’s 80. You can’t relax – you’re on high alert all the time. It has taken a terrible toll on us – sleepless nights, dreadful panic attacks that come from nowhere. We both feel anxious.”
The Stews have enlisted the help of ASB Help, a charity for people suffering from anti-social behaviour and in June they installed security cameras. “That doesn’t stop them – they play up to them. We’ve reinforced the fence and put a solid side gate in. We’ve had to do that to protect ourselves.”