Monday, 30 November -0001

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 3 July

Bickering over boundaries is a common problem. Thomas Blaikie explains how to tackle the issue of who must fix the fence

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
My neighbour’s garden fence has fallen down, which is very convenient for their children when they kick their football into my garden – they come straight through and retrieve it. Since it is not my responsibility to repair it, I’m not sure what to do.
Melanie Underwood, London

Dear Melanie,
A classic summer problem. Maybe the fence has been broken for some time but only in the finer weather do the young people come out to play, not just in their own garden but yours too. You really have two issues here and possibly the priority is to stop the children trespassing on your property or, if you’re generous of spirit, making it clear that you don’t mind them forging over the boundary to retrieve their balls until such time as the fence is mended – begging the question of how and when it will be repaired.

If relations with Next Door are on a knife-edge and both the parents and children unamenable to reason, this might be the best approach. On the other hand, if you really don’t want them in your garden, you should not hesitate to say so while remaining as polite and jolly as possible. Even though officially intruders, some people are quite capable of feeling rejected and excluded when asked to leave.

As for the fence itself, check that the ownership really is as you say. For a small fee you can get your title deeds from the Land Registry, which might indicate who is responsible for which boundaries. It might turn out to be you, which solves your problem, or that it’s shared, which also helps. But often, deeds throw no light on the matter.

Nevertheless you are entitled to approach your neighbour to discuss your mutual boundary. Their lack of a fence makes your home less secure. My guess is that they either don’t care enough or don’t have the wherewithal to do anything about the fence – or both.

If you want a quick resolution, the best hope is to do it yourself or get quotes for the repair, which you offer to pay for. Don’t do anything without consulting your neighbours but they might well respond favourably to a more-or-less fait accompli in the form of an estimate for the work or you saying you’ll rig something up yourself. They’ll either be shamed into getting on with it themselves or be grateful to be relieved of the responsibility and even the cost. Following the narrow letter of the law or what is imagined to be the law is not usually the most productive path in these cases. If you want the fence mended, best to get on with it and hang the expense, rather than wrangling for years over a few bits of wood.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


The former Education Secretary has issued grammar guidance for civil servants in his new department at the Ministry of Justice. They are to write ‘make sure’: ‘ensure’ is banned. ‘However’ and ‘yet’ must not appear at the beginning of a sentence. Contractions, such as ‘doesn’t’, are out and ‘impact’ must not be used as a verb. As so often with attempts like this to lay down the law, these rules only intermittently have anything to do with grammar. Gove is making a spluttering, indignant parade of his personal peeves. He’d have put himself to better use complaining about ‘however’ being wrongly employed as a conjunction. Why shouldn’t it start a sentence? What’s wrong with ‘ensure’?

Contractions should be avoided in formal writing but these days, rarely are. I don’t like ‘impact’ as a verb either but it’s come about as a shortcut to avoid ‘to make an impact on’. We’re going to have to get used to it and probably will. It’s only human to cling onto rules proclaiming that only we know what they are. But let this Gove story be a warning: go too far and we end up looking a wheeny bit pompous.

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