Unauthorised Work

When it comes to undertaking work on a listed property, extra consideration needs to be given to the consent required for renovation and maintenance work, no matter how big or small the project.

The Club receives calls from members on a daily basis requiring help on understanding just this. However, what if you knowingly undertake work without consent, discover you have not applied for consent after the work is complete or are buying a listed home and are concerned that unauthorised work has been carried out by previous owners? Here, the Club explains all you need to know about unauthorised work and the support our experts can offer you to find solutions to any problems that arise.

What is unauthorised work?
Unauthorised work is any work carried out to a listed building, after the date of listing that has taken place that should have had listed building consent or planning permission. If you are unsure which works require listed building consent or planning permission, from window repairs to repointing bricks, new kitchens to new rooms, please speak to an expert at the Club before you begin to undertake any work – no matter how major or minor it might seem – by calling 01795 844939.

What are the consequences of not applying for listed building consent and planning permission?
Altering a listed building in a way that affects its character is a criminal offence. The maximum penalty is two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine. It is also an offence to fail to adhere to a condition attached to a listed building consent. The Club would recommend working with an architect, builder or tradesman who has experience of working on listed buildings who understands not only the correct materials to use but also the legal requirements of obtaining consent. For details of companies, visit our Suppliers Directory

Who is the offence committed by?
The offence is committed by the person who carried out the works and by anyone who caused or instructed the work to be carried out. Have you relied on your architect or builder to apply for consent? Make it your responsibility to check that all relevant consents have been applied for, and that your builder does not deviate from the terms set in the consent. As an example, if during one job further works come to light, you will need to check whether these further works do or do not require listed building consent. A quick call to our experts will check this for you.

When you buy a listed building, you inherit any unauthorised work undertaken by previous owners. As there is no time limit on enforcement action you may be required to reverse the alteration. (See below ‘I am buying a listed property…’ if you are in the process of buying a listed home for more information that is helpful.)

Can I apply for retrospective consent?
Existing works that required listed building consent may be given consent after they have occurred – known as retrospective consent. The Club often takes calls from worried owners who have applied for listed building consent only for it to reveal previous changes made without consent – however innocently. Our in-house Conservation Advisor Peter Bell can offer advice on this scenario, from understanding what work required consent to creating a dialogue with the local council to find a solution.

In one example, a member looking to sell their listed home contacted the Club with their concerns. They stated, “We have made a number of alterations over the years and it now transpires that we possibly should have obtained Listed Building Consent for almost any alteration, however minor. We hope to be selling our listed home in the near future so as you can imagine, we are anxious to know the procedures to be followed in order to regularise any lack of Building Consents for our property.” Working with the member, Peter was able to investigate the planning history for the property and found applications of listed building consent had indeed been submitted. Peter was also able to help the member determine which minor works already undertaken did or did not require consent, putting their mind at rest.

It is always best practice to apply for listed building consent before work commences on the property, rather than take the risk of applying for retrospective consent, to avoid potentially costly reversals and fines. For more information on listed building consent click here, or to speak with one of our experts for impartial help and advice call 01795 844939.

I am buying a listed property, should I proceed if unauthorised works by the previous owners are discovered?

As the buyer you will need to explore the extent of any liability you might be taking on before proceeding with the purchase. If the extent of the alteration is small, such as a poor replacement window, you may consider that you can proceed on the basis that you would need to replace the window anyway and so this can be easily resolved. However, if an extension or a conservatory has been added without consent the situation could be much more serious. If you proceed at risk, you may be taking on a property that you cannot sell at a future date.

The only way to remove the risk is to reverse the alteration (if possible) or for you or the vendor to apply retrospectively for consent for the alteration. Only when granted would it be safe to proceed with the purchase. It would be wise to factor the costs involved with obtaining consent and the reversal of the work into your offer. Remember, becoming a member of the Club during the buying process means you have access to our team of experts including legal and conservation advisors, who can put your mind at rest. Click here to join today!

Are there ways I can protect myself against authorised works by previous owners?

Provided you have made suitable enquiries through your surveyor and solicitor at the point of purchase, and they are happy that all alterations have the correct consent, there are household insurance policies available that would cover you against the cost of rectifying unauthorised alterations if they are discovered some time in the future. Provided that you were not aware of these changes prior to taking out the policy and as long as the works were carried out by a previous owner, you will not have to foot the bill for putting things right. Recently an LPOC Insurance Services client succeeded in claiming £65,000 addressing unauthorised works carried out by a previous owner, highlighting the importance of making the necessary checks to ensure you are adequately protected. If you would like to discuss your policy or receive a quote from LPOC Insurance Services, contact the Club on 01795 844939 and we will pass you through to the team.

What is a listed building enforcement notice?
A listed building enforcement notice is a statutory notice served by the local planning authority on the owner of the building or anyone that has an interest in the building. The notice has the sole purpose of restoration or alleviating the effects of any unlawful works. Failure to comply with a valid listed building enforcement notice is itself an offence with potentially an unlimited fine that must take into account any financial gain. In this case it is the owner who has committed the offence, not the person who has undertaken the work. Owners must either appeal or comply with a listed building enforcement notice even if the works were carried out by a previous owner.

Taking all of these things into account you can see why it is always best to undertake the relevant searches during the buying process, or to apply for the correct consent in the first instance. Undertaking work, listed building consent, or buying a listed home need not be a scary process! For our members, the Club is here to alleviate any stress and to save you time and money in the long-run.

If you are not already a member of the Club joining is quick and easy. From as little as £48 a year, or £4 a month, you can access a whole host of useful benefits, including our knowledgeable team of experts. Click here to join today or to speak with an expert please call 01795 844939.

The Listed Property Owners’ Club guide to finding out if existing alterations have consent

  • Ask the vendors if they have made any alterations and whether they have copies of any consents. Your solicitor will do this formally in the standard Law Society ‘questions to the vendor’.
  • Check the planning register online at the local planning authority website. Any planning or listed building consents will be recorded and the drawings, reports and decision notices are normally all available to view.
  • If consent has been granted, make sure that the alterations have been carried out in accordance with the approved plans. Your surveyor could assist with this if it is a complex case. Also check that any conditions attached to any consents have been complied with. Applications to discharge conditions will normally be listed on the planning register.
  • Historic maps and aerial photographs can sometimes be used to date extensions to establish whether they were built before or after the date of listing.
  • Speak with the local conservation officer who may have personal knowledge of the building and any alterations.
  • Applications made under the Building Regulations can sometimes be used to confirm the date of alterations. Building Control records are normally available at the local council offices.
  • Some building products such as roof lights or double glazed units may include a date or a dateable serial number which can assist in dating an alteration.