Certificate of Lawfulness

When preparing for the renovation, extension, change of use class or any other particular adjustment of an existing development, you may well come across references to a “Certificate of Lawfulness”.

So, what is the documentation to which this terminology refers? Where are Certificates of Lawfulness applicable, and do you need one?

In this article, we’ll explore what are sometimes also called Lawful Development Certificates, the outline rules surrounding permitted development rights and other types of planning legislation overseen by your local planning authority.

What is a Certificate of Lawfulness?

A Certificate of Lawfulness is a legal document confirming that either a proposed development or a proposed use change does not require planning permission.

To obtain one, you will have to fill in a Certificate of Lawfulness application form, accessible via the Planning Portal (here), and pay a fee – usually dictated by your local council.

Your form should include sufficient factual information and supporting evidence of a lawful proposed use or development.

You can find out whether your development requires planning permission by exploring the “Do I Need Permission?” section, also via the Planning Portal.

It is worth noting that Lawful Development Certificates are not mandatory – however, they can be very useful for certain planning purposes.

For example, they may prevent you from having to prove that the work you are doing constitutes a “permitted development”, and may also protect you in the event of a change in planning law.

Certificate of Lawfulness

What is a Permitted Development?

Simply put, permitted development rights (PDRs) allow property buyers or owners to make certain changes without the need for planning permission. They cover various types of development carried out on a property, including:

  • Enlargement, improvement or alteration of a property
  • The building of a porch
  • The construction of outbuildings
  • Alterations to a roof
  • Conversion of a commercial property into residential use

To ensure that your intended work does not require planning permission, and in order to avoid a planning breach, it is vital that you read into your permitted development rights in detail. Other times, property and land sellers seek out PDRs prior to marketing in order to seek a higher price on the open market or at auction.

For more complex changes, or adjustments to a listed building, it may well be worth applying for a Lawful Development Certificate.

When to Apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness

Applications for Certificates of Lawfulness may take up to eight weeks to be approved. This means that you will need to allow at least this much time before you begin the process of making your desired changes.

What if My Application Form is Rejected?

Once you apply for a certificate of lawfulness, it is possible for your proposed development to be rejected. However, you may appeal to your local planning authority or council if you feel that this decision was incorrect, or that it was not made within eight weeks.

If the application was for a listed building, you will have up to six months after the decision was made in order to appeal. Otherwise, there is no deadline.

Does My Property Qualify for a Particular Planning Condition?

There are a range of conditions that may permit you to qualify for a Certificate of Lawfulness where you may otherwise have required planning permission.

These include the four year rule and the ten year rule.

Certificate of Lawfulness 4 Year Rule

Planning applications may not be required if you have not complied with a certain planning condition for more than four years without any intervention or enforcement action from the local planning authority or planning inspectorate.

To this end, owners of an unauthorised development may apply for formal conformation in the form of a Lawful Development Certificate if four years have passed since it has been “substantially completed” without any enforcement action.

The four year rule covers:

  • Activities such as building, mining or engineering
  • A change from a property’s previous “existing use” to a new use class

You can learn more about the four year rule right here, via the Planning Portal.

Certificate of Lawfulness 10 Year Rule

When it comes to the construction of an entirely new residential property without planning permission or a Lawful Development Certificate, local authority planning control has a time limit of ten years to serve an enforcement notice.

After this has lapsed, the owners of the property may be granted a Lawful Development Certificate.

Is a Certificate of Lawfulness the Same as Planning Permission?

Lawful Development Certificates and planning permission serve different purposes within UK planning legislation.

A Lawful Development Certificate will serve as proof that your proposed or existing development is permitted under all relevant planning law.

On the other hand, planning permission constitutes formal confirmation from your local authority that your property’s proposed use or development is acceptable in terms of their particular planning legislation and meets all legal requirements.

When Might I Require Planning Permission?

Most commonly, planning permission is required to cover operations proposed in order to construct a new building, significantly extend an existing building or convert a building from its existing use.

In terms of listed buildings, special permission may need to be requested when considering a material change or other adaptations that may require special consent from the local council.

This falls under Listed Building consent, which is discussed further here.

When preparing to make changes to your property, your first port of call should be to confirm whether or not you should be applying for planning permission for your property’s new proposed use or development.

Once you have looked into this, you can then apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness to confirm that:

  • Your property’s existing or proposed use is lawful and does not need to have official planning permission granted
  • The work you have carried out will not be subjected to enforcement action should a change in planning law occur

To cement your project’s planning merits and ensure that you are adhering to your local authority’s planning terms it is always an excellent idea to look into Certificates of Lawfulness sooner rather than later.

April 3, 2023

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