Home Improvement Headaches: How to Avoid Running into Issues with Your Local Council
17th October 2023
Home renovations are a unique opportunity to create a space that suits your needs and looks great. However, things can get complicated if you face problems with your local council. It can potentially lead to your project getting scrapped because it didn’t meet the standards of planning or building regulations.
In this blog, we’ll explore some ways to avoid running into issues with your local council. From checking for regulations to the best ways to finance the renovations, we will cover it all.
Navigating building requirements in the UK: planning permissions and building regulations
Before embarking on any construction project in the UK, it's crucial to understand the two key elements governing your build: planning permission and building regulations approval. These are distinct yet interconnected processes that ensure your project aligns with local and national standards, from design appropriateness to structural safety.
When are planning permissions required and when are they not?
Planning permission is a crucial aspect of any building project in the UK. It serves as formal consent from your local authority for your proposed construction. Its primary purpose is to ensure that the development aligns with local and national policies, preventing unsuitable or inappropriate projects.
Work requiring planning permission:
Understanding when planning permission is necessary is essential. Typically, you'll need it when:
- Building something new
- Making significant changes to an existing structure
- Changing the use of a building
To determine whether your project requires planning permission, it's advisable to contact your local planning authority (LPA) through your local council.
Applying for Planning Permission:
The process of applying for planning permission involves submitting your proposal to the LPA. They will evaluate it based on national guidance, local planning policies, and its impact on the surrounding environment.
Typically projects that have minimal impact on neighbours or the environment come under ‘permitted development rights’ and do not require planning permission.
Community Rights in England:
In certain cases where your project benefits the local community and garners community support, you may not need to follow the standard planning permission process. Neighbourhood planning allows communities to grant planning permission directly under specific circumstances.
After You Apply:
Once your planning application is submitted, the local planning authority will assess it against their development plan and relevant criteria. Decisions are typically made within 8 weeks (or 13 weeks for large or complex applications).
When are building regulations required and when are they not?
Building regulations approval focuses on ensuring the safety, accessibility, sustainability, and overall quality of the construction, extension, or alteration of buildings in the UK. It differs from planning permission, and you might need both for your project.
Work requiring building regulations approval
Building regulations cover a wide range of construction aspects, including:
- Electrical work
- Heating systems
- Windows and doors
- Roof coverings
- Structural alterations
If your project involves any of these elements, it's likely that you'll need building regulations approval.
Work not requiring building regulations approval:
Not all projects necessitate building regulations approval. Some of the exemptions cover most replacements, repairs and maintenance work- with the exception of heating systems, fuse boxes, oil tanks, and glazing units. Additionally, new lighting/power installations or adjustments to existing circuits, excluding those in proximity to baths and showers, as well as like-for-like replacements of basins, toilets, baths, and sinks fall under this category.
It's important to determine your project's specific requirements, and if in doubt, consult a building control body for guidance.
Determining your specific need for building regulations approval can sometimes be intricate. Seeking guidance from a building control body (BCB) can provide clarity.
Checking if You Need Approval:
Determining whether you need building regulations approval can sometimes be complex. Consulting a building control body (BCB) can help clarify this for your specific project.
You can either choose Local Authority BCBs if you prefer a government-affiliated body to handle your approval application or you can opt for Private BCBs, which are represented by approved private inspectors. Applying through them involves an 'initial notice' submission to your local authority. Private BCBs offer more flexibility in fee negotiations and inspections, but they still adhere to stringent standards.
Types of Applications:
When applying for building regulations approval, you'll encounter different types of applications:
- Full Plans: A comprehensive option, offering a decision within 5 weeks (or 2 months with consent).
- Building Notice: Suitable for smaller projects, allowing work to start shortly after submission.
- Regularisation: Retrospective approval for work already completed without consent, but only for work carried out after 11 November 1985.
Please note that failing to adhere to building regulations can result in fines and rectifications.
Understanding the differences between planning permission and building regulations approval is vital for a successful construction project in the UK. Planning permission focuses on the project's appropriateness while building regulations ensure it meets necessary standards. Both are essential for a safe and compliant build.
Navigating Local Council Regulations
1. Understand local council regulations
If you want to stay on top of your regulation game, you need to understand the playing field.
Each council may have specific rules and requirements for various types of renovations. Imagine, for instance, that you live in a conservation area. You might not be able to make any significant changes to the appearance of your home.
You can consider what happened to Miranda Dickson as a cautionary tale. In 2021, she painted the front door of her house in Edinburgh pink. In 2022, however, the city council threatened her with a £20,000 fine because the house was located in the World Heritage Conservation Area. Long story short, Dickson was forced to repaint her front door to comply with the council regulations!
2. Consult with a planning officer
If you plan to make any major changes to your property, speak to an expert before proceeding. Planning officers can provide valuable advice on the necessary permits and approvals.
3. Obtain the required permits and approvals
In some cases, you may require additional permission. This is even if your planned home renovation complies with the council standards.
4. Work with qualified professionals
DIYs, of course, are a very good approach to home improvement, especially if you’re trying to keep the costs low. But, in some cases, you may have to get an expert’s opinion. You may need to consult with an architect, an electrician or a plumber. They have a solid understanding of local regulations. As a result, they will be able to guide you through the process smoothly. In some cases, they may also be able to help out in securing the required permits and approvals.
5. Appealing if your application fails
Appeals for Planning Permission
If your application for planning permission is refused or granted with conditions you disagree with, you can:
- Reach an agreement with the LPA by making adjustments to your plans that address their concerns.
- If an agreement cannot be reached, you have the option to file a formal appeal.
Please note that the appeals process can be time-consuming and may take several months.
Appeals for Building Regulations Approval
If you believe that your project should not have to comply with building regulations, you have options to challenge the decision:
Request a Determination: If the building control body rejects building regulations approval and you find their decision unfair, you can request a 'determination' from your local authority.
Government Appeal: If the local authority still insists on compliance after your request for a determination, you can escalate the matter by making an appeal to the government within one month.
Private BCBs: It's important to note that you cannot request a private BCB to overlook or relax the building regulations. In such cases, you should approach your local authority BCB.
Fees: When requesting a determination, you may need to pay a fee unless your building work is specifically for disabled individuals. However, there is no fee for making an appeal.
Both planning permission and building regulations appeals require careful consideration, and you should follow the respective guidance and forms provided for each process.
Financial Planning for Your Home Improvement Ideas
Although loans won't directly address your council regulations, they can be a valuable resource in realizing your dream home.
When considering your home improvement plans, you might explore financing options to bring your projects to life. Home improvement loans can provide the financial flexibility you need to upgrade your space, whether it's renovating your kitchen, adding a new bathroom, or making your home more energy efficient. You can research different types of loans available, such as unsecured personal loans, which can be used for various projects, or specialized loans like central heating or conservatory loans, depending on your specific needs.
What happens if you fail to comply?
You should know what the pitfalls are, should you fail to follow planning regulations.
This situation is considered to be a “planning breach”. In some cases, if the local council does not have a problem with the home renovation project, they can simply ignore it. This is the best-case scenario.
However, if your neighbours start to complain, then the local council will sit up and take notice. They may ask you to demolish any renovation that you have done. An enforcement notice can require you to either make changes or revert it completely.
Aneel Zafar, for instance, is locked in a bitter battle over his decision to redecorate the exterior of his Victorian house in a conservation area in Staffordshire. Zafar was fined a penalty of £869 by the council for painting his house grey and installing plastic window frames.
Disabled Facilities Grant
As the name suggests, these grants are meant to make it easier for a disabled person to live independently. As per GOV.UK, this can include provisions like:
- Widening doors and installing ramps or grab rails.
- Improving accessibility to rooms and amenities, like the installation of a stairlift or a level-access shower
- Enhancing access to your garden.
- Constructing extensions, like a ground-floor bedroom.
- Providing a heating system suitable for your specific needs.
- Adapting heating or lighting controls to make them more user-friendly.
Importantly, applying for and receiving a Disabled Facilities Grant will not impact any benefits you currently receive. The amount you receive typically depends on your household income and savings, especially if your savings exceed £6,000. Disabled children under 18 can qualify for the grant without considering their parents' income. To explore the possibilities and eligibility criteria further, get in touch with your local council.
To Sum Up
The key to staying on track with building regulations is to understand them in detail. You don’t have to complete your home improvement project on your own. You can consult with professionals to ensure you’re on the right track.
Remember, planning and compliance with local laws will save you from potential headaches. It will also ensure that you complete your home improvements with all the approvals in place.