For most of us, the coronavirus pandemic has meant we’re spending much more time at home. Many homeowners on furlough have focused their attention on home improvements. With working from home now standard practice, many long-term homeworkers have been taking steps to improve their home office setup.
Whether you are planning small changes to office space, bathroom units or light fittings, or you have a major project in mind, like installing new doors and windows or a loft conversion, you must check the works are compliant.
Many changes to a property must comply with building regulations. Larger alterations may also need planning permission.
How do you know if your intended home improvements are compliant? The following article addresses the key legal and compliance issues surrounding home improvements.
What’s the difference between planning permission and building regulation?
In general, planning permission is concerned with the nature of a planned project and whether it’s suitable for the site and surrounding area.
Building regulations focus on compliance with health and safety rules, and minimum quality standards.
Depending on the nature of your planned home improvements, you could need both planning permission and building regulations approval.
Will my home improvements need planning permission?
You might need planning permission if your home improvements involve:
- Constructing a new building on the property
- Making a major change to an existing building, like an extension
- Changing the use of your building, like converting a home to flats
Home improvements that involve small structural changes can usually occur under ‘permitted development’.
What is permitted development?
Permitted development, or PD, allows homeowners to undertake certain work without having to make a planning application.
Under PD, you can usually carry out works like a single-storey extension, changing the position or shape of a property’s windows or doors, or a loft or garage conversion.
In some cases, such as within conservation areas and national parks, permitted development rights are more restrictive. Listed buildings also have very specific limits on changes that can be made.
How do I apply for planning permission?
You should contact your local planning authority to discuss any major structural changes to your property. They should be able to tell you if you need to apply for planning permission.
To find out if your project needs planning permission, or to apply for planning permission online, visit the Planning Portal.
What happens if I do the work without planning permission?
If the work complies with planning restrictions, the council may approve a retrospective planning application.
If the work doesn’t comply with restrictions, you could receive an enforcement notice. An enforcement notice will order you to undo the changes you have made.
You can appeal an enforcement notice. If your appeal fails and you don’t undo the work, you could face prosecution and a heavy fine. The council may also carry out the work themselves at your expense.
What home improvements need building regulations approval?
You need building regulations approval for a variety of home improvement jobs. Building regulations cover areas such as fire safety, the size and dimensions of rooms, and what materials should be used for a given purpose.
Some jobs that are likely to need building regulations approval include:
- an extension to your property
- loft or garage conversions
- cavity wall insulation
How can I ensure compliance if I’m doing the work myself?
You need to understand how building regulations apply to your work. Ultimately, you will be responsible for ensuring compliance.
An approved person will need to certify that your work meets minimum standards before it can be signed off. Your local authority’s building control department should be able to give you more information about the process.
How can I ensure compliance if I’m employing a builder?
The easiest way to ensure compliance is to hire a tradesperson to complete the work who is registered under a ‘competent person’ scheme.
A competent person scheme, such as FENSA, allows tradespeople to self-certify their work without the need for the local council’s assessment.
Once you factor in the hassle and fees associated with multiple council inspections, getting a competent tradesperson to do the work may actually be more cost-effective than doing the work yourself.
What happens if I don’t comply?
Building regulations exist to ensure the safety of a building’s occupants both during and after building work. Any work that is undertaken in breach of building regs may create unnecessary hazards.
Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance said, “If works are in breach, the council may send an enforcement notice that will order you to redo the work. If the proposed work can’t be completed in compliance with the regulations, you could be legally required to undo all the changes.”
“You could also be prosecuted and fined by the local council under sections 35 and 35A of the Building Act 1984. The fine could be up to £5,000, plus an additional £50 per day for each day the work is not corrected after conviction.”
How do I sell my house if it has unauthorised work?
If you’re selling your house and work has occurred on the property without proper authorisation, your conveyancing solicitor may advise you not to contact the council for approval.
Instead, it is often simpler and quicker for your solicitor to arrange an indemnity insurance policy. This will cover you against costs and losses caused by the enforcement action. Crucially, most insurers that provide indemnity insurance will not do so if the council has been notified of the unauthorised work.
If you have any upcoming home improvements on your to-do list, be sure to check what planning and regulations-related rules apply. Alternatively, get a competent person to complete the work.
If you do not check or comply with the restrictions, you could face fines and enforcement action, and your property will be more difficult to sell.