James Walker: How to complain about typical British bugbears

Litter and fly tipping are an increasing concern to many residents.
Litter and fly tipping are an increasing concern to many residents.
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According to legend, the two things that drive Britons to distraction are bin collections and dog mess. Without getting all Victor Meldrew about it, we all have at least one thing that goes on in the neighbourhood that makes us seethe.

Despite the bin and dog haters, it’s parking tickets and council tax disputes that generally drive most local authority complaints. Yet surprisingly, no matter where you are in the UK the top ten environmental health complaints are all remarkably similar.

The term “environmental health” isn’t (just) about recycling and the local environment. It’s a catch-all term for everything from noise pollution to pest control and from messy neighbours to dodgy drains. Some of these complaints are relatively easy to deal with. Some, however, can become issues that drag on for years.

At Resolver, I see complaints about all sorts of things that might make your write or call your local council. Here are few of the main ones – and what you can do about them.

Litter and fly tipping are an increasing concern to people these days. But this isn’t just the Blue Planet 2 effect. How your local town looks can affect how you perceive your community, from councillors to neighbours. When I speak to local councils, I often explain about the importance of listening to comments before they become complaints. So if there’s a local site where tipping takes place, or a bin on the high street that’s always overflowing, then it makes sense to tackle it early before it becomes an issue.

A surprisingly large number of complaints to councils are about trees (branches that need trimming) or hedges (woe betide the council that leaves a hedge to go native). Lots of neighbourly disputes arise thanks to trees and hedges. My top tip, compromise where possible. Some of the nastiest (and most expensive) legal battles I’ve seen have involved things that grow or miniscule boundary disputes. This doesn’t mean you should let next door get away with bad behaviour. But it’s worthwhile taking a deep breath, inviting them round and bashing out a compromise where you can.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. Noise, threats and unruly neighbours are a nightmare – and you need your council’s help if the problem is ongoing. Again, quoting the law isn’t always going to be the solution (you end up trapped in legal debates that can be exhausting). But mediation really can make a difference – or at least demonstrate how reasonable you’re being.

I also see a smattering of complaints about more specific issues, like unsafe playgrounds, grumpy council staff and “those pesky kids”. As is often the case, some of these cases may seem petty, but when you look at the context, there are wider issues at play.

Every council does things differently, so some situations are specific to where you live. For example, rubbish collections make the top ten, but in some areas it’s the bins not being collected, in others it’s the sheer number of bins, or penalties for not putting the right things in them.

If you need to complain to your council, it helps to get evidence. Photos are useful or keeping a diary if you’re unhappy with a noise pollution issue. Stay calm and think about how you want the problem to be resolved. Many councils offer mediation for neighbours’ disputes, which can save you years of hassle.