1st August 2020

Guest Post: Planning home improvements during COVID-19? Check the Building Regulations first.

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Posted by: tina

According to a recent survey, three in four homeowners are carrying out home improvements during the pandemic. While many smaller jobs require only a socially-distanced trip to the DIY shop, some home improvements will also need building regulations sign-off. More extensive building work may also require planning approval.

Homeowners must check whether they comply with the building regulations for specific changes before carrying out the work.

building regulations

What do I need to check?

Smaller changes to a property’s structure can usually be made under “permitted development”. There are significant changes underway to what is considered permitted development, but planning permission may still be required if you are planning significant structural changes.

Building regulations approval is required for a wide range of jobs, including the replacement of some windows and doors, roof terraces and balconies, and loft or garage conversions.

Other considerations, such as living in a conservation area, may also restrict what DIY projects you can carry out. Conservation area restrictions vary considerably and are specific to a given area.

How do I comply with the regulations?

First, check whether the work you intend to do could require planning or building regulations approval.

The gov.co.uk website includes information about planning permission and recommends that you contact your local authority’s planning department or the Planning Portal for more details. You can also apply for planning permission or make a building control application through the portal.

If there is a risk that the work might require sign-off, you should consider contacting your local authority for more information. The local authority will be able to confirm what steps you must follow to comply with applicable regulations.

Using a “competent person.”

The easiest way to comply with the building regulations 2010 is to have the work carried out by someone registered under a “competent person” scheme such as FENSA. A competent person is registered with a UK Government-run scheme that authorises the tradesperson to self-certify their work. This means that specific work can be signed off as compliant without council inspection.

Under lockdown, it was very difficult to arrange for tradespeople to carry out non-urgent work. Now, many builders, plumbers and electricians are eager for work and in high demand.

If you already have the right gear, getting a trained person to do a job that you could do yourself is (usually) more costly. However, one of the less obvious benefits of using a “competent person” is that the self-certifying process means you don’t have to carry out any checks or arrange inspections or pay any fees to the council.

What are the consequences of a building regulations or planning breach?

Planning breaches

A planning breach is not itself illegal, and the council may approve a retrospective planning application if the work does not violate planning restrictions. The local authority could serve an enforcement notice, however.

An enforcement notice may require you to undo any work you have done. It is possible to appeal an enforcement notice, but if the appeal fails and you do not comply, you could be prosecuted and face a fine. The council may also carry out works themselves, and charge you for the cost.

Building regulations non-compliance

The regulations exist primarily for safety reasons, and non-compliant changes may be unsafe.

The council can send an enforcement notice to require non-compliant work to be redone, in compliance with the regs or by a qualified person. Alternatively, if the work cannot be made compliant, the council could legally compel you to revert the changes.

Under section 35 of the Building Act 1984, the local authority has the power to prosecute someone who carries out work that contravenes building regulations. This action can be taken in addition to an enforcement notice. You may face a penalty.

Depending on the nature of the breach, fines could be as high as £5,000 plus an extra £50 each day after the conviction until the violation is resolved.

But I’ve already done the work!

If you have already completed the work, only to discover later that you needed approval, you may still be able to apply for the work to be signed off by the local planning or building controls officer.

Depending on the nature of the work, it may be possible to get retrospective approval. Retrospective approval can usually only be awarded if the work is compliant. In such circumstances, the local council may issue a regularisation certificate confirming the work is compliant.

There is no guarantee that the council will approve, however.

Selling a home with unauthorised work? Read this first
Suppose work has been carried out on the property without proper approval or a completion certificate. If you are planning to sell, your solicitor will recommend that you do not contact the council for approval.

Chris Salmon, director of quittance.co.uk, said, “In most cases, it is faster and easier for your conveyancing solicitor to arrange an indemnity policy. The policy will protect you, and subsequently, the buyer, from any costs or loss of value in the property if the council does take action in the future.”

Enforcement action is relatively rare for minor breaches, but an indemnity policy will give the buyer peace of mind and will satisfy their mortgage lender.

Be aware

Whether you are thinking about doing some DIY or getting a tradesperson in, you should be aware of which rules could apply. Getting a competent person to do the work is usually the easiest way to ensure that the work is carried out to a safe standard, in compliance with applicable regulations.

If you do the work yourself, it can be difficult, costly and risky to seek forgiveness and retrospective approval after the work is complete. Although dealing with the local authority’s planning department can seem tedious, it is preferable to fighting an enforcement action or fine later.



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