What do I need to be aware of under the law?
Local Councils are legally obliged to investigate complaints made under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 relating to public health and nuisance issues, which include smoke and fumes from fires or stoves.
In cases where our evidence shows that smoke or fumes is causing significant interference with another person’s use and enjoyment of their property we can serve a legal notice on the person(s) responsible for the nuisance, requiring action to be taken to stop the problem or face prosecution for non-compliance. With this in mind it is important to prevent smoke problems to neighbours by proper installation, use of correct fuel and careful operation of the stove.
Incorrectly installed stoves and flues can lead to fires or dangerous gases entering the house potentially leading to carbon monoxide poisoning or death. It is therefore in your own interest as well as your neighbours to ensure the correct installation.
The installation of wood burning or multi-fuel stoves is work that is controlled under the Building Regulations. You should ensure that your fitter is appropriately accredited (contact Building Control for up to date information) or contact Stafford Borough Council’s Building Control Section with full details before installing appliances or carrying out work to flues or chimneys (01785 619340 or email firstname.lastname@example.org).
How can I make a complaint about smoke from a stove or open fire?
You can make a complaint in person, by telephone (01785 619402), email or letter. Your complaint should include:-
- Your name and address and a daytime phone number;
- The address where the smoke is coming from;
- When and for how long the smoke occurs (it will help if you have kept a written record of the times and dates when the problem has occurred);
- The way the smoke affects you;
- Anything you have done to try to deal with the problem (for example, speaking to the person making the smoke).
We will keep your name and address in strictest confidence. However, the person you have made a complaint about may guess who has complained, or may approach you to ask if you have made the complaint.
What will we do if we receive a smoke complaint?
Initially we will write to you, acknowledging the complaint and letting you know how we intend to act. We will also send you some diary/log sheets and ask you to complete them for about 2 weeks, this will give us a clearer idea of the problems you are experiencing. At the same time we will write to the subject telling them that we have received a complaint, (without saying who from) and that if we receive any more we will investigate further.
If you feel that the smoke problem has not improved after returning the diary sheets, we can investigate further by visiting your premises. We will assess all the evidence and determine the extent of the disturbance. If we decide to take legal action in respect of your complaint, you may have to provide a statement and appear in Court as a witness. If we are satisfied that a Statutory Nuisance exists we will serve an Abatement Notice (Section 80 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990) on the person causing the problem. Sometimes it will be necessary for the person who causes the nuisance to carry out work. The Notice will give them some time to comply. Failure to comply with the Notice is a criminal offence.
Prevention is the Best Cure
- Only use well-seasoned dry wood. Wet or green wood will cause
unnecessary smoke and may lead to complaints from surrounding properties. Logs that are not dry provide a fire that smoulders and creates a lot of tar and smoke.
- Do not burn household rubbish or plastics as these may contain harmful pollutants.
- Do not use treated wood products such as old fence posts or chipboard. They contain glues and chemicals that will cause fume problems when burnt.
Flues and chimneys should be swept regularly. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for servicing.
If you do receive complaints from neighbours, consider using smokeless fuels if you have a multi-fuel stove. Check your manufacturers’ instructions and always burn the recommended fuels.
Remember that even if you follow the advice given above, if your appliance is causing a statutory nuisance you may have to stop using it.