Blog: Retrospective applications: it simply doesn’t pay any more not to abide by the rules

Alan Jeffrey

Alan Jeffrey outlines the ways in which the Scottish Government is cracking down on retrospective building alteration applications.

Financial incentive is one of the most powerful drivers of change in human activity and the Scottish Government is employing this mechanism quite ruthlessly to bring the use of its building control system into line.

Just last year, it doubled and trebled the fees for dealing with unauthorised alterations to buildings, mostly domestic residences. But that is just part of a cautionary tale about which professionals and the public alike should be aware.

As well as the dramatic hike in fees, people who have not complied with the regulations in force will face substantial costs for professional advice, new drawings, inspections and almost inevitable remedial works.

The costs of not applying for a building warrant up front or obtaining a completion certificate at the right time are now verging on the prohibitive. Non-compliance, not to put too fine a point on it, is a mug’s game.

To be fair, it is understandable why the Scottish Government wants to impose uniformity on a system which currently is undertaken by 32 local authorities in their role as Verifiers, with each authority responsible for verification in its own geographical area.

Prior to May 2005, each authority treated retrospective applications differently, with most demanding plans showing the alterations then issuing letters of comfort or letters with of qualifications.

And there is no doubt that there was a problem to be addressed. When I left Building Control in 1990 to embark on a career in surveying, there were as many people applying for retrospective permissions as there were applying for Building Warrants.

Further, the long-term objective of the government has always been that the fees charged to users of the building standards system should cover the cost to public funds of providing those services. Ideally, the system should be wholly self-funded.

There has been no increase in fees since 2005 and, while the system has washed its face in good times, sharp drops in income caused by external events such as the 2008 recession has resulted in substantial deficits.

The consequences of becoming involved in applying for a Late Building Warrant, where work has been started but not completed, or a Completion Certificate, where the work has been completed but no Warrant has been obtained, can be far-reaching.

Such omissions ping up sharply on the risk radar of lenders and can have major implications for mortgage approval, potentially affecting transactions of several properties involved in a chain.

Home Reports, carried out by qualified professionals, have had the effect of uncovering a greater proportion of uncertificated works and solicitors are seeking more detailed professional advice on whether past alterations have the appropriate warrants.

Surveyors may have to call in expert advice on contentious issues, once again adding to the costs of historic non-compliance.

Each band of submission fees has been increased, with the minimum, for works costing up to £5000, increasing from £100 to £150. The fee for a Late Building Warrant is up to 200% of what appears in the fee scale and a Completion Certificate is up by 300%.

Obtaining permission retrospectively for the most simple warrant applicable alteration will incur a minimum submission fee of £450.

There are exemptions, of course, but the work involved in such exemptions must still comply with the Technical Standards.

In some cases, omitting to apply for the relevant permissions arises from genuine mistakes or misapprehensions about the nature, range and scope of the regulations. But this only illustrates the importance of seeking early, impartial, qualified advice before embarking on projects, however small.

Our Property Services Department provide a full architectural service.

We can help with retrospective permissions and drawings, land registration issues, boundary disputes, Energy Performance Certificates and a range of matters up to and including full SAP Calculations for new build houses.

The rules have changed. It simply doesn’t pay not to abide by them.

  • Alan Jeffrey is an associate in the Property Services department of the Dunfermline office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors. He is an accredited RICS Mediator and is on the Scottish RICS Panel of Mediators.

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