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Buying a House Without Building Regulations Approval

Adele MacGregor

Written by Reviewed by Gareth Brooks

4th Feb 2021 (Last updated on 21st Sep 2021) 7 minute read

If you are searching for a house to buy in the UK, you will need to be aware of building regulations approval. Building work and extensions which are completed on a property must follow certain standards.

When buying a home that has had work completed on it, the seller should produce a Building Regulations Certificate. However, it is not uncommon to find that work has been carried out on a home without the necessary approval.

Compare My Move has worked alongside property experts to explain everything you need to know about buying a property without building regulations approval. In this article, we will review what these regulations are, what the risks of not having building regulations approval and what you can do about it.

This article will cover the following:
  1. What are Building Regulations?
  2. What Renovations Need Regulatory Approvals?
  3. What If Work Has Been Carried Out Without Approval?
  4. Risks of Buying a Home Without Building Regulations Approval
  5. How Can You Protect Yourself?
  6. Why Would Someone Not Get Permission?
  7. Building Regulations Approval or Planning Permission?
  8. Applying for Building Regulations Approval
  9. What is a Competent Person Scheme?
  10. Next Steps of Buying a House

What are Building Regulations?

Building regulations approval is one of the first steps to take when it comes to certain home improvements. This is what the homeowner needs after acquiring planning permission but before work can go ahead or a builder can be appointed. It is important to note that buildings regulation approval is different from planning permission.

Obtaining building regulations approval is a statutory requirement set by the government. This is to ensure buildings are designed and constructed in accordance with the Buildings Regulation and Associated Legislation. This is to ensure the health and safety of those occupying the property, fire safety and the structural integrity of the building. It is also to ensure long term environmental benefits, such as energy efficiency and sustainability.

Building Regulations in Scotland

In Scotland, Building Standards ensures building work is safe and complies with building regulations. For minor work on the home, such as installing a bathroom, it will need to make Scottish Building Standards. You won’t normally need council permission for this but it is always worth checking to be sure. For major work, you will need to apply to your local council for a Building Warrant.

Building Regulations in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Building Regulations (2012) are a legal requirement by the Department of Finance and Personnel. This is administered by 26 District Councils. Like the rest of the UK, the regulations are in place to ensure the health, safety, welfare and convenience of people living in and around buildings.

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What Renovations Need Regulatory Approvals?

The construction and extension of buildings are covered under the Building Regulations 2010, which we’ve mentioned above. This includes adding a new building or extension, alteration of an existing building or a loft conversion. You may also need building regulations approval for smaller changes made on the property, such

  • Replacing fuse boxes and connected electrics
  • Changing any electrics near a bath or shower
  • Installing a bathroom which will involve plumbing
  • Installing a fixed air-conditioning system
  • Installing or replacing a heating system
  • Adding radiators to a heating system
  • Replacing windows and doors
  • Replacing roof coverings on a pitched or flat roof

You can also research your particular project if you are unsure whether you need building regulation approval.

What If Work Has Been Carried Out Without Approval?

If work has been carried out without approval, the homeowner could be prosecuted and fined. Furthermore, they could be made by the local council to pay for any faulty work to be fixed. A local authority can take out enforcement action against the owner of the property, even if the person did not undertake the work themselves.

As a result, buying a property without building regulations could end up a costly endeavour. The property owner may be required to either undo the work or carry out rectification works so that the property complies with Building Regulations.

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Risks of Buying a Home Without Building Regulations Approval

Ideally, a seller should be able to provide a Building Regulations Certificate as proof that Building Regulations Approval was obtained for work on the house.

In the event that there is no certificate (or indeed, no building regulations were obtained), it is essential that you are aware of the risks involved before proceeding with the purchase of the home.

First of all, there is the risk that an insurance company could refuse to payout on a claim under buildings insurance if there is inadequate building regulation consent for work and alterations for the property. Legal implications aside, from a safety point of view, work that has gone ahead without approval could potentially be structurally dangerous.

You could also be left with the cost of the remedial works or enforcement action if the local authority deems any alterations or building works are unsafe or do not comply with building regulations.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

The seller can apply for Retrospective Building Regulation from the local authority before the sale is completed. This is acquired through a regulations inspector who will visit the home to carry out an extensive assessment. Providing the property meets regulations, a regulations compliance certificate can be issued.

This can only be applied for via a local authority building control body and only work carried out after 11 November 1985 can be approved in this way.

When buying a house without a buildings regulations completion certificate, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your investment.

Indemnity Insurance

If the previous owner has had work done without building regulations, taking out indemnity insurance could be an option if the risk of enforcement action by the local authority is low and the homebuyers survey has not revealed any structural concerns with the property. This can protect you from legal action and from local authority enforcement once the property is under your ownership.

Be aware that this insurance only covers the losses from action against you by the local authority. Any repair costs or losses arising from defective building works are not covered by this policy.

Organising a Building Survey

If you are aware of any work that has been undertaken, it would be advisable to have a building survey completed on the property. This will give you peace of mind that the structure is sound and will highlight any concerns or problems with the property. This gives you all the information you need to make an informed decision on the property purchase before completion.

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Why Would Someone Not Get Permission?

One of the reasons for not seeking the correct building regulations approval is ignorance of the law. Some individuals may simply not be aware they need approval for the work being undertaken. This oversight can cause issues further down the line, including potentially large fines. You will need to research all rules and regulations before making any changes to your home.

In some cases, it may be a deliberate decision not to apply for consent. This can happen in instances where it is clear that Building Regulation Approval has not or would not have been granted for the works. In this case, the person wanting the work carried out is taking a chance that they won’t be caught out, which is a risky move.

Building Regulations Approval or Planning Permission?

Building Regulations Approval and Planning Permission are separate processes which need separate approval. Planning Permission concerns the nature of the development of towns, cities and countryside. Building regulations differ as it concerns only the individual property.

Applying for Building Regulations Approval

According to the UK Government website, in England and Wales, you will need to contact a 'building control body' (BCB) to check the building regulations or apply for approval. The government states that there are two types of BCB and it is up to you which one you use.

The first is local authority BCBs and you can apply for approval from your local council. The second is private BCBs, meaning you would apply through a private approved inspector. In this case, they will inform your local authority about the work on your behalf. This is known as giving "initial notice".

You must also choose the type of application for your planned extension or work. You can either opt for:

  • Full Plans
  • Buildings notice (suitable for smaller projects)
  • Regularisation (for work carried out without consent)

This is approval for work already carried out without consent and can only be applied for via a local authority BCB. Only work carried out after 11 November 1985 can be approved in this way.

What is a Competent Person Scheme?

The competent person schemes are a way for tradespeople to prove their ability to carry out certain work to required standards. This can take the place of applying for building regulations approval.

Next Steps of Buying a House

This article is part of our home buying guide. Once you know where you stand with building regulations on the home, you'll need to look into how you plan to buy the property. In the next article, we explain what it means to buy a property with cash. To find out more read how to buy a house with cash.

Adele MacGregor

Having written for PerformanceIN, WalesOnline, Grazia Magazine and The Olive Press, Adele now writes advice articles for home movers, first-time buyers and house sellers alike.

Gareth Brooks

Reviewed by Gareth Brooks

Solicitor and Partner at RMNJ Solicitors, RMNJ Solicitors

With 19 years of experience in the residential conveyancing industry, Gareth Brooks is a partner and head of management for the conveyancing department at RMNJ Solicitors.