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Home Improvements during Covid-19: Are yours Legally compliant?

September 6, 2020

If you’ve used lockdown as an opportunity to make home improvements, you’re not alone. 

As the amount of time we’ve been spending at home has increased, the appetite for taking on DIY projects has grown. Three-quarters of all homeowners used the time during the coronavirus pandemic to plan or carry out home improvement projects, according to a recent survey. 

However, before you take on a home improvement project, you need to ensure that any proposed work is legally compliant and that you have the appropriate planning permission and building regulations approval from your local authority. 

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Alterations under ‘permitted development’

You may make certain alterations to your property without the need for planning permission; this is known as ‘permitted development’, or ‘PD’. 

Permitted development includes work such as a certain garage or loft conversions, small extensions and internal remodelling. 

There have been recent changes to the scope of PD, which now allows for a wider range of alterations to some properties, such as two-storey extensions to existing post-war homes.

If you are planning on making changes to your property under PD, you will still require building regulations approval in line with existing regulations. There are also certain circumstances under which you may need to get approval for work which would otherwise be considered permitted – for example, installing a roof light, new windows or an external door in a conservation area.

Chris Salmon, Director of Quittance’s Conveyancing Panel said, “Missing building regulations, planning permission and FENSA certificates can throw a spanner in the works when you decide to move home.  The buyer’s conveyancing solicitor will want copies of these certificates to prove that the work is compliant.”

“Although there are ways around the problem, missing permissions add expense and could delay, or even derail, the conveyancing process.”

When do I need building regulations approval?

If the work you’re planning will affect a property’s structure, then it must comply with applicable building regulations, even if the changes are temporary.

You will also need building regulations approval for the construction of new outbuildings, as well as smaller internal changes, such as installing new windows.

Obtaining approval may require on-site inspections by the local authority or an approved inspector to ensure the work remains compliant. 

However, you can often avoid the need for third-party approval by employing a “competent person” to carry out your work.

What is the “competent person” scheme?

If a tradesperson is registered with an approved body as a ‘competent person’, they can sign off their own work without the need for a further inspection. 

Using a competent person can be much quicker, easier and cheaper than organising certification from the local authority. You can check if a tradesman or company is certified on the Competent Person’s Register. 

Do I need planning permission for… ? 

Extensions and major works

Planning permission is required for most large and multi-storey extensions. You will also need it if you’re planning on dividing your property into smaller flats – or converting a number of flats into a single property. 

If you are planning on building on your own land, you will also require planning permission if the structure you are building is taller than 4m or takes up more than 50% of the land around the house.

Doors and windows

If you’re replacing doors or windows with something broadly similar or repairing existing ones, then you will not usually need planning permission. 

Additional doors and windows may also be installed without planning permission, although they must be ‘in keeping’ with the property’s appearance and may be subject to additional restrictions. 

You will not usually need planning permission for standard skylights or roof lights, but there may be restrictions, for example, in conservation areas.

Building regulations approval will usually be required for new windows and doors, but if you use a ‘competent person’ or company then this work can usually be self-certified. 

You should also use a FENSA registered company. FENSA approved installers are regularly assessed to ensure that compliance with building regulations is continually maintained.

Wombourne Windows FENSA Registered Company

Flats and maisonettes

Alterations that would be permitted on larger properties may require planning permission in flats or maisonettes, as the work will potentially impact other properties within the same building.

For example, extensions to ground floor flats and loft conversions in the roof space of top floor flats will require planning permission.

However, it is usually possible to carry out non-structural internal work without planning permission (though building regulations approval will still apply).

Smaller projects 

If the work you are planning does not alter the structure or external appearance of a property, then you will not usually need planning permission, though you may still require building regulations approval.

Where should I start?

If you have already carried out works at your property and did not check whether planning or building regulations approval were required, you can check retrospectively at the Planning Portal.

If the works to the property did require planning or building regs approval, you can:

  • Contact the local authority with a view to obtaining retrospective consent, or
  • Obtain an indemnity insurance policy when you decide to sell your home. However, this will not be an option if you have notified the local authority of the works.

If you are still in the planning stages of your home improvement project, check what permissions will be required to make your work legally compliant.

You can contact your local authority if you have any questions or concerns, and can also contact the Planning Portal for more information.

Choosing a ‘competent person’ to complete the work instead of attempting to carry it out yourself is good practice, as they can self-certify, avoiding the need for arranging a building regulations officer to inspect the work, but they will also follow best practices whilst completing the work and do so in a safe manner.

Breaches of planning permission or building regulation can cost £1,000s, and homeowners can be forced by local councils to ‘undo’ any alterations. 

By getting clear answers before the work begins, you can have peace of mind that the work will be carried out safely and to a legally-compliant standard.

Article by written by Chris Salmon for Wombourne Windows

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