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Lesser-known home improvement fines

Written by
Anna McEntee
Insurance comparison expert
13 JULY 2023
8 min read
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Lesser-known fines to be aware of when making home improvements

With summer in full swing, many homeowners will be taking advantage of the warmer weather by spending time making improvements to their home. From laying a new patio to knocking down walls, these DIY jobs are much more enjoyable when the sun is shining.

But, when it comes to home improvements, there are certain rules and regulations you need to follow. To help homeowners avoid some hefty fines, or potentially needing to undo all of their hard work, we’ve taken a look at some of the lesser-known situations that you might need to gain permission or approvals for.

It’s important to note however, that it is ultimately up to the local council or building control body to decide if permissions and approvals are granted or not, meaning regulations can vary by location. Alongside informing your local authorities about any potential home improvements, you should also let your home insurance provider know about any planned building work, to ensure you’re fully protected throughout the process.

Lesser-known situations you may need planning permission for

Some of the projects that require planning permission may take homeowners by surprise, but failure to follow the correct processes could result in some severe repercussions for the homeowner.

Usually, the council will allow you to submit a retrospective application if you haven’t previously sought planning permission before making the improvements. A retrospective application is simply a way for you to request planning permission after your building work is complete. However, under Section 172 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, if you go beyond your permitted development rights and a retrospective application isn’t sought, or is rejected, the council can issue an enforcement notice requiring you to put things back as they were.

It is generally not a criminal offence to carry out development without planning permission, but failure to comply with an enforcement notice is against the law. The penalty of not complying with an enforcement notice can be an unlimited fine.

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the lesser-known situations that need planning permission below.

1. Putting up decking if over 30cm over ground

While you don’t specifically need planning permission for putting up decking, if your new deck is going to be more than 30cm above the ground, you do actually require planning permission. You’ll also need to acquire permission if your decking is going to cover more than 50% of your garden area.

2. Gate ornaments

While it might be a nice idea to spruce up your gate with ornamental posts, you’ll need to gain permission to do so if they’re over two metres high. If you’re next to a highway used by vehicles, the gate needs to be less than one metre high, and if your house is a listed building you will also need permission before putting in a gate or any additional ornaments, such as a metalwork top or stonecast statues.

3. Paving your front garden

Depending on the type of surface you choose, the rules will differ when it comes to paving your garden. You don’t need planning permission if your new or replacement driveaway uses a permeable surface, for example gravel or porous asphalt, or if the rainwater is directed to a lawn or border to drain naturally.

However, you will need permission if you’re laying a traditional, impermeable driveway, such as concrete or tarmac, that is larger than five square metres, and does not provide for the water to drain naturally. Also note, that there are different regulations to follow for work to  patios and driveways that don’t form part of the front garden. More information on these regulations can be found on Planning Portal.

Surprising situations you may need building regulation approval for

Even when making smaller changes to your home, there may be certain building regulations that you need to follow. If you’re carrying out the building work personally, you are responsible for making sure the work complies with any regulations, and you may need to seek approval from building control bodies, either from the local authority or through an approved inspector. If you are employing a builder they are usually responsible for this, however you should check with them beforehand.

There are several home improvements that fall under Regulation 3 of The Building Regulations 2010. According to sections 35 and 35A of the Building Act 1984, the penalty for not following the rules can result in an unlimited fine, or a fine of up to £50 per day.

Alternatively, you may be issued with an enforcement notice from your local planning authority which would require you to alter or remove the work that goes against regulations. If you fail to comply, the local authority has the power to undertake the work itself, and charge you for the costs.

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the lesser-known situations that you need to seek approval for below.

1. Fitting a new boiler

If you’re installing a new boiler in your home, you usually need building regulations approval because of the safety issues, and the need for energy efficiency. Employing an installer who is registered under an approved scheme, such as the Blue Flame Certification,  should ensure you are following all the rules and requirements.

2. Making doors or windows larger

If you are installing windows and doors in new or widened openings, they need to comply with building regulations in terms of the amount of heat that can pass through the glass and framework. You’ll need to make a building regulations application for the structural opening, as well as for the window itself.

3. Removing a chimney breast

Building regulations state that buildings must remain structurally sound after alterations have been carried out. If you need to remove a chimney breast at ground or first floor level, you need to make sure the chimney is supported adequately. Usually, an application to a building control body is required before you undertake any work on your chimney.

4. Replacing roof coverings

Normally, you don’t need to submit a building control application if you want to carry out repairs on an existing roof. As a general rule, if you are re-covering more than a quarter of the roof area, or if elements such as insulation or ventilation are being changed, building regulations approval will be required. You may also need approval if the changes you make to the covering aren’t like for like, for example if you are replacing slate with concrete tiles.

Other rules and regulations to be aware of

Some home improvements don’t require planning permission or building regulations approval, but do have their own rules to adhere to. We’ve taken a closer look at some of these situations, and the requirements and penalties to be aware of.

1. Having skips without a licence or necessary lights and markings

Regulation: Skip Licence

Penalty: Fine of up to £1,000

In most areas, skip hire companies are responsible for getting skip licences, but there are some areas in which you’ll need to apply for a permit yourself. If you are keeping your HIPPOBAG or skip entirely on your own driveway or private property, you will not need a permit. If your HIPPOBAG is placed on a public highway (including pavements) or road, it’s likely you will need to apply for a skip permit from your local council. When you hire a skip from HIPPO, you can purchase a skip permit at the point of purchase and HIPPO will liaise with your local council to obtain it. If you don’t put the required safety lights and markings on these, you could be fined up to £1,000.

2. Trailing a cable for EV charging point for on-street parking across pavement

Regulation: Highways Act 1980 Section 162

Penalty: Fine up to a maximum of £1,000

With electric vehicles continuing to gain popularity, many homeowners will be looking to install charging stations close to their property. According to Section 162 of the Highways Act 1980, you must make sure that you don’t trail a cable for your on-street EV charging point across the pavement. Doing so could land you with a fine of up to £1,000.

3. High hedges

Regulation: Part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003

Penalty: Fine up to £1,000

It’s your responsibility to keep your hedges maintained, and should a neighbour have an issue with your overgrown hedges, you should try to settle the dispute between yourselves. As with any neighbourly disputes, they should try to speak with you in the first instance, and if that doesn’t work then they can ask for an independent mediator’s help. You should then both agree on what the solution is going to be, and set a date for when you plan on rectifying the issue by. If none of this works though, or if you don’t hold up your end of the deal, your neighbour is within their rights to make a complaint to the local authority.

If the local authority finds that your neighbour’s enjoyment of their property is negatively affected by your hedges, they could issue a formal notice. Failure to carry out the work required by the authority is a criminal offence, and could lead to a fine of up to £1,000 if you are prosecuted.

How to ensure your home improvements are legal

Follow the top tips below to ensure you are adhering to planning permission, and other regulations, when making improvements to your home.

1. Check if you need permission or approval

Before you start any kind of work on your home, no matter how small, you should check whether you need planning permission or building regulations approval. You can find more information on government websites, and to find out if your project will need specific planning permission, you can also contact your local planning authority, through your local council.

2. Find a good builder or contractor

It’s worth bearing in mind that you won’t have to apply for building regulations approval yourself if you hire a contractor who is registered with a ‘competent person scheme’.

Recommendations from friends and family are always a useful way to find reliable contractors, and if you can’t get personal recommendations, then ask for references from the trader themselves to ensure they are trustworthy.

It’s also important to consider that poor or faulty workmanship isn’t usually covered under a home insurance policy, so it’s really vital that you do your research ahead of time

3. Make sure there is insurance in place

It’s worth asking contractors if they have insurance to cover both you and them if someone is hurt, or if your property is damaged. If they don’t have any, you should think about getting your own cover.

If you already have home insurance and plan on making some major changes to your home, you need to inform your insurance provider before you start the building work. They also need to know about potential security risks such as changes to windows and doors, or the fact that a larger range of people will have access to your property while work is being done.

If you’re doing the work yourself, you should think about getting accidental damage insurance too, which could cover you, should something go wrong.

Sources and methodology

Compare the Market put together a seedlist of common home improvement projects, and analysed government guidelines and regulations to determine the planning permissions, building regulations, and approvals needed for each project, if applicable.

Sources used include:

House of Commons Library
The Building Regulations
Highways Act 1980
Planning Portal

Anna McEntee - Insurance expert

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