Applying for retrospective planning permission: is it worth the risk?

09-March-2020 18:45
in Development
by Jennifer Stevenson

In the last three years almost 40,000 applications for retrospective planning permission have been made in the UK. You may have made an honest mistake during building works and only realised afterwards that you needed permission. Or you may have discovered that you can’t sell your house unless it matches the land registry records.

Or the local authority may have discovered (or been notified by an unhappy neighbour) that the building doesn’t comply with local regulations - and they’ve ordered you to apply for planning permission retrospectively.

According to research by Churchill insurance, approximately 35 retrospective planning applications are filed every day: 39,200 since 2017.

Will my application be approved?

The Churchill study shows that one in eight applications for retrospective planning permission (12%) are turned down. And that can turn out to be an expensive risk. 

With uncertainty about house prices, and the high cost of moving home, many home owners are choosing to improve rather than move – with loft extensions and kitchen extensions the favourite home improvements.

But is it better to get permission before or after you do the building work?

Let’s find out.


1  Why don’t people apply for planning permission first?

There can be any number of reasons why homeowners decide to make changes to their property without applying for planning permission beforehand, but here are the most common:

I didn’t realise planning rules applied

Some people aren’t aware of the rules or regulations in their area when it comes to adding to or changing their homes, so they don’t even think to find out about permission from the local authority.

It takes too long

Usually, when people want to make changes to their homes, they’ve got a costing from a builder, they’ve got their finance arranged, and they’re looking for a window of time when their builder is available and the weather is halfway decent.

Applying for planning permission may take eight weeks – or up to 13 weeks with complicated cases. Some people just don’t want to miss the opportunity to get started. Or they have a vision that they don’t want to compromise.

I hoped no-one would notice

If you’re making relatively unobtrusive changes, or – for example – converting a barn on your own land, you might hope that no one will object to what you’ve done for four years, by which time you can apply for default planning permission.


2  Is there a statute of limitations on planning permission?

You're probably thinking of the "4 Year Rule", or the "10 Year Rule".

These relate to applying for a Certificate of Lawfulness for your unauthorised use or development. This is a less time-consuming route than applying for planning permission which requires strict compliance with national and local standards. 

The 4 Year Rule allows you to apply for a certificate stating that your use or development is now lawful: not through compliance with space standards but through the passage of time. 

You will not win a Certificate of Lawfulness just by hiding your property changes behind a big hedge for four years: you need to be able to demonstrate that people have been aware of the changes and there have been no objections. For example, you may need to submit utility bills for the past four years, or tenancy agreements, or sworn affidavits. 

The 4 Year Rule applies to Class C3 houses and flats after four years of continuous use. The 10 Year Rule applies to other uses, such as C4 Houses in Multiple Occupation.

But there are situations where action can be taken even after these time limits are up, in accordance with the Town and Country Planning Act.

3  What prompts people to apply for permission retrospectively?

The commonest reason for property owners applying for planning permission after their building work is completed is that they’ve have been approached by the local authority and asked to disclose the work undertaken on their house.

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the planning laws. They may have noticed the changes that have been made, or someone may have told them.

Or a homeowner may have realised they’ve made a genuine mistake, and be wanting to put it right.

Putting-a-stop-to-building works

4  What happens if my retrospective planning application is turned down?

Your local authority may ask for all work to be stopped immediately.

  • They may demand that homeowners reverse any changes that have been made and put things back to how they were originally.
  • Homeowners may be ordered to reconstruct any buildings that have been demolished.

There’s usually a time limit to these orders ("requests"). It is possible to appeal if you believe your works have been carried out according to regulation, but usually there’s not much that can be done to change the planning authority’s decision.

5  What if I don’t comply with the planning authority’s order?

If you fail to meet the requirements within the time limit, homeowners can face criminal charges.

It’s also almost impossible to get any kind of insurance after retroactive planning permission has been denied, and your current home insurance will be invalidated.


So… is it worth it?

The simple answer? No.

Not realistically, anyway. While it could save time if you’re granted permission retrospectively, it’s a gamble.

You will probably have to employ a professional planning consultant to advise you on how to argue your case. And if you can’t afford the substantial reinstatement costs within the time limit you’re at risk of a criminal record.

Playing by the rules does mean you won’t have to spend money reversing building works you weren’t allowed to make in the first place!

Arrange the finance you need for an extension or conversion

Contact Clifton Private Finance for advice on whether you will need a light or heavy refurbishment loan, and the best borrowing terms for your projects:

0203 900 3040 

Our renovation and conversion finance service