Handling of Noise Nuisance (car alarm) by Council - phil_m

My car was parked over the weekend in a residential area in Surrey. Upon returning to my car I found an Abatement Notice in respect of Noise Nuisance (Environmental Protection 1990, section 80) on my windscreen. It was dated September 4th 2010 and said that my alarm was going off and I had to disconnect it within 1 hour. The alarm was silent at the time of my arrival and no other notices were present, so I assumed that all was well and drove home.

Twenty days later (September 24th) I was shocked to receive a letter from Woking Borough Council stating that after the Abatement Notice was issued, an alarm engineer was called out to silence the alarm. It also said that the engineer was unable to gain entry to the vehicle without causing damage, so the alarm was not silenced by the engineer, but it did stop sounding shortly after and no more complaints from residents were received.

Woking Borough Council said that they would be seeking to recover the cost of the call out charge, along with a 20% administration fee, despite the fact that the contractor did not silence the alarm. Seven days later an invoice arrived for the sum of £210.09 for "Recovery of costs for disabling faulty car alarm" (despite the previous letter stating that they did not disable it). Payment was required within 14 days of the date of the invoice, so by the time it arrived in the post there were only 9 days left.

I completely agree with the fact that falsely triggered car alarms are a nuisance and should be dealt with by local authorities when necessary. However, I cannot regard the way this particular authority has dealt with me as anything other than extortion. My particular points of concern are:

1. Is £210.09 a reasonable amount considering they have not done anything? Is it fair to charge a 20% administration fee?

2. The original letter stated that the alarm was not diabled, yet they are invoicing me for disabling the alarm.

3. Is it reasonable to be given 9 days between receiving an invoice and having to pay it?

4. Is it reasonable for me to find out that there are costs involved as late as 20 days after the date of the incident?

5. Shortly after the incident I discovered that the radiator grille in my car was no longer present. I am sure that the engineer removed it in order to try to get to the horn, did not reinstall it properly and so the grille fell out later (my car only has a factory fitted alarm which sounds the horn when triggered). This grille costs £95.35 to replace. Do I stand any chance of recovering this cost?

6. I know that my alarm is not faulty. For £49 I can put the car through VW diagnostics and get written evidence that no fault is present. Will such document help me fight the case for not paying Woking Borough Council?

Any advice will be very much appreciated.

Handling of Noise Nuisance (car alarm) by Council - LucyBC

If the alarm was going off any UK local authority with noise abatement responibilities is empowered to break into a vehicle to disarm the defective alarm and also to remove the vehicle if necessary.

They can also charge for doing so.

A weekend call out is likely to result in this level of costs being charged. It does not matter whether they succeeded in disabling the alarm or not you are required to indemnify them against any costs they incurred. This will include the charge they have incurred for the engineer and also any admin costs involved in council officers assessing the nuisance and then calling him.

You have little/no chance of recovering the cost of the grille in any manner that would be cost effective.

If you can show that there was no defect in the alarm then you might have a case that the nuisance did not occur but bear in mind that a technical report will not do much to persuade the court if the council produces evidence to the contrary from numerous people living in the residential area where you parked - many of whom probably reported it.

Edited by LucyBC on 20/10/2010 at 05:06

Handling of Noise Nuisance (car alarm) by Council - anewman

Numerous complaints are not proof of a defective alarm. It could be kids bouncing a ball off the car and running away round the corner, I have seen it happen before many times (and felt like throttling the little *******s). And of course the alarm would sound while an engineer was interferring with the car. The Council would need to prove the alarm was defective by having observed it going off more than once without any interference. I doubt they made any such effort and just sent out their contractor, when no doubt 2 or more people complained about the same instance of the alarm goibng off.

Many US states have explicit rules regarding how many times a car alarm can go off and how long it can sound for before it becomes considered a nuisance. Many alarms actively ensure they do not break these nuisance laws by not responding to sensor inputs if triggered a number of times within an hour. As the alarm electronically complies with the law, it is not possible for the alarm to break the law (at least in those US states). I am not aware of any such laws in the UK explicitly stating numbers of times in an hour etc. However, if the alarm itself has nuisance prevention technology (many do) I cannot see how the Council could state it was causing a nuisance, even if a sensor was faulty and setting the alarm off up until the nuisance prevention technology kicked in (after a few times). Many alarms also are tamper proof, so I cannot see how they can justify attempting to disable them when chances are they will not be able to, particularly on systems with battery backup sirens which continue sounding when the wires are cut (which would infact cause more of a nuisance).

It is also important to note that as the car alarm uses the car's horn itself, disabling the sound would in fact have made the car unroadworthy (no horn = mot fail) so the engineer should have known this on hearing the alarm sound and not interferred further. I suspect it would be illegal to interfere with a car in such a manner as to leave it unroadworthy. It is certainly illegal to cut someones brake lines which would have the same result.

Cost of fixing the grille would potentially be recoverable in small claims court. They have already admitted interferring with the car in writing. An alarm specialist should be able to provide a report that the alarm is not faulty, and I cannot see how courts could ignore such a report. OTOH a technical report from VW showing the car itself has not recorded a fault on its computers is a bit iffy as it does not prove there is no fault, just that the computer isn't aware of one which is entirely different.

Edited by anewman on 21/10/2010 at 00:02

Handling of Noise Nuisance (car alarm) by Council - LucyBC
The council don't have to prove it was defective.

The Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993 allows Councils to turn off vehicle alarms if they are causing a nuisance. An alarm which has been sounding for more than five minutes and is affecting residents is deemed to be a nuisance. Once a nuisance has been established they can serve a Noise Abatement Notice on the owner or if the owner cannot be found place the Notice on the car. This requires the owner to deactivate the alarm within one hour.

If after one hour an alarm is still sounding and the owner has not been found the law allows the council to deactivate the alarm calling out a specialist engineer to do so. They may try and open a door but if necessary they can break a window.

Some vehicles have sophisticated alarms that cannot be deactivated by alarm specialists. At other times the methods needed to silence the alarm may mean the vehicle is unsecure after deactivation. If this is the case they will tow the vehicle away.

All costs incurred are recoverable from the owner.
Handling of Noise Nuisance (car alarm) by Council - phil_m

Thank you both for your replies.

It is very helpful to know where I stand from the legal point of view. It seems like there isn't anything unlawful in the actions of the council and I am legally obliged to pay the invoice they have sent me.

I went to my local citizen's advice bureau before looking for advice online. Interestingly, they suggested that I:

1. Get second opinion from specialist that my car was damaged (I don't think this is applicable because even a child can tell that there is a gaping hole in the front of it)

2. Get second opinion from a specialist whether my alarm is faulty

3. If I wish to do so, appeal against the Abatement notice through my local magistrates' court

It does, indeed, say at the bottom of the notice that I can appeal against it at a magistrates' court within 21 days of it being affixed to the vehicle.

24 days passed before the council informed me that an engineer was called out and that they will be seeking to recover costs and another 7 days passed before they informed me what the cost was.

I wonder if any time restrictions are applicable to them? (they are certainly applicable to me, so it only seems fair - e.g. a notice of intended prosecution for speeding has to be received no more than 14 days after the date of offence)

Edited by phil_m on 21/10/2010 at 17:34

Handling of Noise Nuisance (car alarm) by Council - LucyBC

The appeal date is from when the ticket was affixed. The appeal is against whether the alarm was going off and causing a nuisance (as defined above). But you would have a strong case if your car was being broken into.

The hearing does not normally directly address the costs issue but obviously if you can show that the alarm was not sounding and there was no nuisance then the chances are that the costs would not be payable.

Councils will normally deal with any charges through agreement or civil proceedings but they can fine if they choose to do so. The problem you have with the grille is you would need to show both the council's agent caused it and it was unnecessary for them to do so.

Civil cases up to and around the £100 mark are almost always futile if there is any element of doubt as there is in this case.

The legislation permits them to break in through a door or break a window should this be necessary to stop the alarm (or to try and stop the alarm) and as long as they can show it was necessary they have no responsibility to cover the repair costs.

If this happens they will normally lift the vehicle to a pound for security reasons and charge you for doing so.

Edited by LucyBC on 21/10/2010 at 17:58

 

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