High hedges - frequently asked questions

Can I cut branches overhanging my boundary?

Yes. As long as you ensure that you know where your actual boundary is. Fences, hedges and ditches often mark the legal boundary between properties but such boundaries do not always follow an obvious line on the ground. In cases where you are in dispute with your neighbour you would be wise to take legal advice before cutting any vegetation. It is also good practice to discuss any proposed works with your neighbour before you carry them out.

Only branches overhanging your boundary can be cut and they must be cut in a way that will not compromise the health of the trees or shrubs. If the tree you intend to trim is protected by a ‘Tree Preservation Order’ or a ‘Planning Condition’ of if it is in a ‘Conservation Area’ you will need to get Richmond Borough Council’s permission for the works.

If I cut back branches overhanging my boundary can I put the material arising back over my neighbours fence?

You must offer the cuttings or arisings to your neighbour although they are not obliged to take them or remove them or pay for their removal. Be aware that any works to trees protected by a ‘Tree Preservation Order’ or by a ‘Planning Condition’ will require permission in writing from Richmond Borough Council. Works to trees in a ‘Conservation Area’ will also require our permission.

Can I expect or force my neighbour to pay for the removal of overhanging branches?

No. The responsibility for funding the cost of removal will be yours. On the bright side it will probably be cheaper than expensive litigation. However, strict liability for the safe retention of trees is the responsibility of the owner of the trees. Be aware that any works to trees protected by a ‘Tree Preservation Order’ or by a ‘Planning Condition’ will require permission in writing from Richmond Borough Council. Works to trees in a ‘Conservation Area’ will also require our permission. Please contact us to find out if the trees you are concerned with are protected.

Where can I get more information on high hedges?

The Department for Communities and Local Government, telephone 0870 122 6236.

Hedgeline (The Campaign for the Effective Legislative Control of Problem Hedges of all Species in Residential Areas of the UK), telephone 0870 24 00 627, www.hedgeline.org.

What about agricultural hedges? May I remove a hedge in my field?

No, not without first submitting a ‘Hedgerow Removal Notice’ to Richmond Borough Council. The Council will then have 42 days after the receipt of a properly constituted Hedgerow Removal Notice to consider the application and make recommendations. Follow the link at the top of this page to find out how to submit a Hedgerow Removal Notice. Such hedges are covered by the Hedgerow Regulations 1997.

Why should the person who is suffering the hedge problems have to pay the Council to intervene?

The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 states that complainants must pay a fee to the local authority when they submit their hedge complaint. There are several reasons why this is fair and reasonable:

  • Most people who responded to questions about fees in the 1999 consultation 'High hedges - possible solutions' thought it was fair that the complainant should pay something for the local authority to intervene in their hedge dispute.
  • Payment of a fee will encourage people to try to settle these disputes amicably, making sure that involvement of the local authority really is a last resort.
  • A fee will also help to deter frivolous or vexatious complaints.
  • It is common practice for local authorities to charge a fee for a service which is likely to benefit an individual (in this case, the complainant) rather than the community in general.

But the complainant is the innocent party in this dispute.

It is important to understand the way the legislation works. It allows local authorities to review these cases, as independent and impartial third parties. Authorities are not investigating any offence - none has been committed, even if a complainant 'wins' their case - and so the legislation does not deal in innocent or guilty parties. As a result, the fee is a payment for a service - not a penalty.

How can there be no offence: it's anti-social behaviour?

There is no special significance in the high hedges provisions being included in the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. It simply provided a suitable opportunity, and vehicle, to get the high hedges legislation onto the statute book after several unsuccessful attempts through Private Members Bills. Certainly, the Act makes no provision for an Anti-social Behaviour Order to be served on the hedge owner. And no offence is committed until such time as a hedge owner fails to implement a local authority's order to carry out works to the hedge to remedy the problems it is causing.

Can I reclaim the fee from the hedge owner?

There is no procedure under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 for the complainant to obtain re-payment of the fee, either from the local authority or from the hedge owner.

People have asked about taking their neighbours to the small claims court. This is the special procedure for handling smaller claims in the county court. It can be used for most claims for £5,000 or less and so, on the face of it, the procedure may apply to reimbursement of the fee for making a complaint about a neighbour's high hedge. However, issuing a claim at court should be a last resort. People should have tried other ways of settling the matter; for example, by writing to their neighbour to ask for recompense.

Further information is contained in the leaflets 'Making a Claim' (Leaflet EX301) and 'The Small Claims Track' (Leaflet EX307) available from the county court and at www.courtservice.gov.uk. Court staff can advise on the procedures, provide the necessary forms and help people to fill them out, but the final decision rests with the judge. So, court staff cannot tell someone whether or not they have a good claim or comment on their chances of success. People may be able to get free legal advice from a law centre to help them with this.

Why can't I complain to my local authority about deciduous trees and hedges that cause problems?

Government decided to restrict the legislation to evergreen hedges because of evidence that they were a widespread problem - from Hedgeline, the campaign group, and other letters received from all over the country. And both the problem and possible solutions were the subject of public consultation. The results indicated overwhelming support for new laws to deal with evergreen hedges, including among the majority of local authorities who replied. Government mandate - and commitment - to legislative action is, therefore, to take action in respect of evergreen hedges only.

The consultation revealed no general appetite for legislation to deal with all problem hedges. And it must be said that Government have no comparable evidence that deciduous hedges are a general problem. Although there are some letters from people who have problems with deciduous trees, these tend to relate to specific and individual sets of circumstances. They are also outnumbered by the representations we continue to receive on evergreen hedges.

Updated: 13 January 2017