AA Legal Documents

Approval for building works

Contents

Meeting the requirements of the Building Regulations (BR) and getting approval for the work is the responsibility of the person carrying out the building work, and if they are not the same person, the owner of the building. The BR apply to most building work, therefore it is important to know when approval is needed.

In England and Wales, Building Control Bodies (BCBs) are responsible for checking the BR have been met. The approval process will depend on whether a local authority Building Control Body or a private sector Approved Inspector Building Control service is being used.

In Northern Ireland, the responsibility for checking the BR lies with the Local Councils.

When you need approval

If you are planning to carry out 'Building Work' as defined in Regulation 3 of the BR or Regulation A2 of the BR (Northern Ireland) 2000 (as amended), then it must comply with the BR, although some kinds of building projects are exempt from the BR. The BR will probably apply if you want to:

  • Put up a new building
  • Extend or alter an existing one
  • Provide services and/or fittings in a building such as washing and sanitary facilities, hot water cylinders, foul water and rainwater drainage, replacement windows, or fuel burning appliances of any type
For more information on the types of building work covered in the BR, see our 'What are Building regulations?' section.

Where to get approval

There are two types of BCBs in England and Wales - a local authority Building Control (LABC) and a private sector Approved Inspector Building Control (AIBC). Customers are free to choose which type of BCB they use on their project. There are voluntary performance standards in place for BCBs.

In Northern Ireland, only the LABC scheme applies.

If you are employing a builder to do your work, you should be clear from the outset whether they are taking responsibility for ensuring that the building work complies with the BR. You should also clarify whether they are taking responsibility for liaising with the relevant Building Control Service. If the builder is registered with a recognised Competent Persons scheme, they may be able to self-certify some or all the work they are carrying out in England and Wales.

An additional reassurance will be to use an installer and/or products that have been certified by a third party organisation as being competent / fit for purpose. These third party certification schemes are not normally an alternative to formal BR approval. See the 'Third party certification' heading below for more information.

You should also bear in mind that your building work may require planning permission and you should know who will be taking responsibility for it if it is necessary. Some types of building development may also be subject to other types of statutory requirements and consents.

Local authority Building Control

Each local authority in England and Wales (Unitary, District and London Boroughs in England, and County and County Borough Councils in Wales) and Northern Ireland has a Building Control section. The local authority has a general duty to see that building work complies with the BR. In England and Wales, the LABC isn't responsible for work formally under the control of an Approved Inspector (see below).

Individual local authorities co-ordinate their services regionally and nationally (and provide a range of national approval schemes) via an organisation called the LABC. Northern Irish local authorities co-ordinate via Building Control NI: Building Control

Approved Inspector Building Control (England and Wales only)

Approved Inspectors are companies or individuals authorised under the Building Act 1984 to carry out Building Control work in England and Wales.

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) is responsible for deciding all applications for Approved Inspector status. You can find out more about the CIC's role (including how to apply to become an Approved Inspector) at the CIC website.

A list of Approved Inspectors can be viewed at the CIC website, or alternatively on the Association of Corporate Approved Inspectors (ACAI) website. ACAI is an independent private building industry organisation.

Building control performance standards (England and Wales only)

Competition between local authorities and Approved Inspectors in the provision of Building Control services provides a stimulus to greater efficiency and higher standards of service to the customer. However, it has been recognised that these same market forces also have the potential to drive down Building Control standards. Because of this, Building Control Performance Standards have been formulated and revised by the Building Control Performance Standards Advisory Group (BCPSAG). This group comprises representatives of all the key Building Control industry stakeholders, including LABC (representing local authorities) and the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI).

There is also a system of Building Control performance indicators (BCPIs) which has also been developed by BCPSAG. The BCPIs must be read alongside the Building Control Performance Standards handbook. This tool enables Building Control bodies to measure the quality of the service they provide to clients.

Competent Person self-certification schemes (England and Wales only)

Competent Person schemes were introduced by the Government to allow individuals and enterprises to self-certify that their work complies with the BR, as an alternative to submitting a building notice or using an Approved Inspector.

The principles of self-certification are based on giving people who are competent in their field the ability to self-certify that their work complies with the BR, without the need to submit a building notice and thus incurring local authority inspections or fees. It is hoped that moving towards self-certification will significantly enhance compliance with the requirements of the BR, reduce costs for firms joining recognised schemes, and promote training and competence within the industry. It should also help tackle the problem of 'cowboy builders', and assist local authorities with enforcement of the BR.

The Gov.uk website has a list of Competent Person schemes.

Third party certification

The performance of an element of a building will depend on several factors, but accreditation schemes focus on:

  • The materials / products making up that element
  • The standard of workmanship used to install / construct the element
Some organisations and companies operate schemes for accreditation of materials, products and/or installers. Whilst these schemes are not an alternative to formal Building Control Approval, they may be accepted by Building Control Bodies as evidence of compliance with the requirements of BR. The Building Control Body may, however, wish to establish in advance of the work that the scheme is adequate for the purposes of the BR.

Materials / Products

There are many UK product certification schemes. Such schemes certify compliance with the requirements of a recognised document which is appropriate to the purpose for which the material is to be used. Materials which are not so certified may still conform to a relevant standard.

Many certification bodies which approve such schemes are accredited by United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

Third party accredited product conformity certification schemes not only provide a means of identifying materials and designs of systems, products or structures which have demonstrated that they have the requisite performance, but additionally provide confidence that the systems, materials, products or structures actually supplied are provided to the same specification or design as that tested/assessed.

Installers

Since the performance of a product, component or structure is dependent upon satisfactory site installation and maintenance, independent schemes of certification and accreditation of installers and maintenance firms of such will provide confidence in the appropriate standard of workmanship being provided.

Confidence that the required level of performance can be achieved, will be demonstrated by the use of a system, material, product or structure which is provided under the arrangements of a product conformity certification scheme and an accreditation from an installers scheme.

Third party accreditation of installers of systems, materials, products or structures provides a means of ensuring that installations have been conducted by knowledgeable contractors to appropriate standards, thereby increasing the reliability of the anticipated performance.

How to get approval

England & Wales

In England and Wales the way to obtain approval will depend on whether you choose to use the Building Control services of a local authority or an Approved Inspector.

If you choose to use an Approved Inspector, you should speak with them about how they wish you to engage them. You and the Approved Inspector should jointly notify the local authority for the location where the building work will be carried out, that the Approved Inspector is carrying out the Building Control function for the work. This notification is called an 'Initial Notice'.

If you choose to use a local authority, the procedures are set out in the BR. Some of them relate to pre-site procedures and others relate to procedures once work is underway on site.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland Building Control Approval is obtained from your local council, the procedures are set out in the BR. Some of them relate to pre-site procedures and others relate to procedures once work is underway on site.

Pre-site approval

If you choose to use a local authority Building Control service or you live in Northern Ireland, there are three types of application for approval you can make:

  • Full plans: Drawings, details and other supporting information are submitted for checking and a formal decision notice (approval, conditional approval or rejection) is given.
  • Building Notice: A less detailed form of application where minimal information is initially required (although the local authority may request further detail) and no formal decision is given. The approval process is much more heavily weighted towards the work in progress.
  • Regularisation: A means of applying for retrospective approval of work that was previously carried out without BR Control approval.
There is a charge payable for these applications, which may vary between local authorities, but is regulated by the Building (Local Authority Charges) Regulations 1998 or, in Northern Ireland, the Building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1997. You should contact your local authority for details of their charges.

Full plans

You can apply for Building Control approval from your local authority Building Control service by submitting a full plans application.

The plans application needs to contain plans and other information showing all construction details, preferably well in advance of the date that work is to start on site.

Your local authority will check your plans and consult any appropriate authorities (e.g. fire and sewerage). In England and Wales they must complete the procedure by issuing you with a decision within five weeks, or if you agree, a maximum of two months from the date of deposit.

If your plans comply with the BR, you will receive a notice stating that they have been approved. If your local authority is not satisfied, you may be asked to make amendments or provide more details. In England and Wales, a conditional approval may be issued. This will either specify modifications which must be made to the plans, or will specify further plans which must be deposited with your authority.

Your local authority may only apply conditions if you have requested them to do so or have consented to them doing so. A request or consent must be made in writing.

If your plans are rejected, the reasons will be stated in the notice. A full plans approval notice is valid for three years from the date of deposit of the plans, after which the local authority may send you a notice to declare the approval of no effect if the building work has not commenced.

Building Control surveyors from your local authority will carry out inspections of the building work once it is in progress. You can request a completion certificate when you first make your application, which the local authority will issue you once they are content that the completed work complies with the BR.

If a disagreement arises with your local authority in England and Wales, the full plans procedure allows you to ask for a 'determination' about whether your plans do or do not comply with the BR. You must request your determination from the Department for Communities and Local Government in England and the Welsh Assembly Government in Wales.

For more information on determination, see the Department for Communities and Local Government pages on the Gov.uk website.

Building notice

You can apply for BR approval from your local authority Building Control service by giving a building notice.

Plans are not required with this process, so it's quicker and less detailed than the full plans application. It is designed to enable some types of building work to get under way quickly; although it's best suited to smaller building projects.

There are also specific exclusions in the BR as to when building notices cannot be used. These are:

  • For building work which is subject to section 1 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 or part II of the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 (England and Wales)
  • For work which will be built close to or over the top of rain water and foul drains shown on the 'map of sewers' (England and Wales)
  • Where a new building will front a private street (England and Wales)
  • Industrial or commercial buildings (Northern Ireland)
If you decide to use this procedure, you need to be confident that the work will comply with the BR. You should also ensure that you employ a builder with a good knowledge of building practices and the BR or you will risk having to correct any work you carry out if your local authority requests this. In this respect, you do not have the protection provided by the approval of full plans.

Once you have given your building notice and informed your local authority that you are about to start work, the work will be inspected as it progresses. The onus is on you to contact your local authority to advise of the commencement of the work and to plan out a schedule of inspections. Inspections are very important because they give the Building Control surveyors a chance to advise of any potential issues. You will be advised by the authority if the work does not comply with the BR. If your local authority requires further information, such as structural design calculations or plans, you must supply the details requested.

A building notice is valid for three years from the date the notice was given to the local authority, after which it will automatically lapse if the building work has not commenced.

A local authority is not required to issue a completion certificate under the building notice procedure, and because no full plans are produced, you can't ask for a determination if your local authority says your work does not comply with the BR. However, in Northern Ireland, once the works are completed to the satisfaction of Building Control, a completion certificate will be issued.

Regularisation

Where works are carried out without Building Control approval being sought, the owner may be prosecuted. However, to encourage people who wish to have unapproved work properly approved, there is a process called 'regularisation'. A regularisation application is a retrospective application relating to work that was unauthorised i.e. carried out without BR consent.

Depending on the circumstances, additional building work may be necessary to establish compliance with the BR.

You should contact your local authority Building Control service to discuss your individual circumstances before submitting a regularisation application.

On site approval

The Building Control service will make statutory and routine inspections as the work progresses to ensure compliance with the BR and other allied legislation.

If you are carrying out building work, you are required under the BR, to give the local authority notice of when the work has reached a particular stage. See 'Site inspections' below for more information on the procedures and notifications required.

When these stages are reached, the work should pause to give the authority time to make an inspection. They will advise you if the work does not comply with the BR.

If the local authority is not informed of relevant stages of work for inspection, it may by notice in writing, require the work to be opened up for inspection so that it can be ascertained whether or not the work complies with the BR.

If a local authority believes that your building work contravenes the BR, they may serve you with an enforcement notice requiring you to alter or remove work which contravenes the BR. If you believe that your work does comply, you may appeal against this notice.

Site inspections

Where a local authority Building Control service is being used or you are in Northern Ireland, the BR require that notice is given to the local authority of commencement and completion of the work and at certain other stages:

  • Commencement: At least two days before the work is commenced
  • Completion: Not more than five days after the work is completed
In respect of other stages, the notice required is (in practice) at least one whole day and relates to:

  • Excavation for a foundation (before covering up)
  • The foundation itself (before covering up)
  • Any damp proof course (before covering up)
  • Any concrete or material laid over a site (before covering up)
When these stages are reached, the work should pause to give the authority time to make an inspection. They will advise you if the work does not comply with the BR.

Where a building is being erected, and that building (or part of it) is occupied before completion, the person carrying out the work is required to give the local authority at least five days' notice before the occupation.

If the local authority is not informed of relevant stages of work for inspection, it may by notice in writing, require the work to be opened up for inspection so that it can be ascertained whether or not the work complies with the BR.

Enforcement appeals (England and Wales)

If a local authority believes that your building work contravenes the BR, they may serve you with an enforcement notice requiring you to alter or remove work which contravenes the BR. If you believe that your work does comply and you wish to appeal against this notice, you can:

  • Advise your local authority that you wish to obtain a written report from a suitably qualified person about the compliance of your work with a view to persuading the authority to withdraw the notice. In this event the 28-day period given by the local authority to rectify the building work is extended to 70 days.
  • Appeal against the notice in the magistrates' court and demonstrate there that your building work complies. This option can be used either as an alternative to the above, or if proceedings under that option have been unsuccessful. You must make your appeal within 28 days of receiving the notice or within 70 days if you have used the above option first.
If you are successful with either option, your local authority may be required to pay your costs.

If, on the other hand, you believe that your work cannot be expected to comply with one or more of the requirements in the BR because they are too onerous or inapplicable, you do have the right to apply to your local authority for a relaxation or dispensation of the requirement(s) in question, in order for your completed building work to be considered to achieve compliance.

Your application must be made within 28 days of receiving the enforcement notice from your authority. If they refuse your application, you have a right of appeal (in England) to the Department for Communities and Local Government or (in Wales) to the Welsh Assembly Government against that refusal, providing you do so within one month of that decision. However, if you take this course of action in response to an enforcement notice, and if you have originally maintained that your work was in compliance, your case is likely to be more difficult to justify.

Contravention Notices (Northern Ireland)

Contraventions of BR are generally in relation to the following:

(a) Failure to deposit plans before commencing building works

(b)Failure by the builder to give the required notice at specified stages of the work

(c) Failure to comply with the requirements of the BR in carrying out work on site

Local Councils have legal powers to deal with each type of contravention. Building Control will firstly seek the co-operation of the builder in order to rectify a contravention, but if the builder fails to comply or co-operate then they will take legal action. Legal action is usually a last resort, and is normally only considered after all other avenues for resolving a contravention have been exhausted.

Where the building work does not comply with the BR, the Council is empowered to serve a BR Contravention Notice. The Notice will specify the contravention and the period of time, normally 28 days, within which work must be made good, altered or removed.

On receipt of a Contravention Notice, there are three courses of action open:

  • Compliance with the Notice – this will involve making good or removing the defective work.
  • Challenging the Notice – this will involve obtaining a report from a suitably qualified person who will set out reasons why the Notice should not have been served. This report should be submitted to the Council. If the Council refuses to accept it, there is a right of appeal.
  • Appealing to the Department of Finance and Personnel – this is a direct appeal to the Department against the service of the Notice of Contravention.
The address for submitting an appeal to the Department is:

Building Regulations Unit

Level 5

Causeway Exchange

1-7 Bedford Street

Belfast, BT2 7EG

You may appeal to the Department of the Finance and Personnel against a decision of the District Council to:

(a) reject plans; or

(b) serve a Contravention Notice in respect of defective work.

An appeal of a rejection of a plan must be lodged with the Department within 56 days of the date of notification of the decision. Appeals against Contravention Notices must be lodged within 28 days of receiving a notice

The Building Control Department will advise you on the procedure to be followed in lodging an appeal.

In order to protect the interests of all people using the property – now and in the future – Building Control must ensure that BR are complied with. Enforcement will be carried out in an open, fair and equitable manner.

Building Control personnel are open to innovative ideas and solutions and are flexible in their approach. Building Control will not, however, compromise on health and safety issues.

Many councils and groups in Northern Ireland have formally adopted the principles of the Enforcement Concordat published by the Cabinet Office. The Concordat sets out principles for fair and efficient enforcement of all aspects of local government's regulatory activity.

Further information

If you are looking for more information, you should visit the Planning Portal website. The Planning Portal is the UK government's online planning and BR resource. Use this site to learn about planning and BR, apply for planning permission and BR consent, find out about developments near you, and appeal against a decision and research government policy.