about warrants & building control approval

This briefing note describes the processes surrounding building warrant and building control approval in the UK. Please note the following:

  • a ‘building warrant’ applies only in Scotland. ‘building control approval’ is the name of the equivalent permission in England and Wales
  • planning permission (the pre-warrant or pre-building control approval stage of a project) is a different subject. Please consult your agent or your local authority planning department for guidance on this before considering warrants and building control approval

Do I need a building warrant/building control approval at all?

Some types of structure are entirely exempt from the Building Regulations and therefore do not need a building warrant or building control approval in order to be built. Here in Scotland these structures are listed in Schedule 1 of the Scottish Technical Standards. There are also some other buildings and types of work which, while not exempt from the Building Regulations, do not in fact require a warrant or approval in order to be built. These are listed in Schedule 3 of the Scottish Technical Standards. Here are links to those schedules on the Scottish Government website for the two main categories of project:

The wording of these documents can be a little hard to grasp, so if you would prefer to discuss your project, please call us.

For work in England and Wales there are similar exemptions. Exempt classes of building can be found described in seven classes here and there is additional guidance on some exempt activities presented in a helpful format here. If you think you work may be exempt but are unsure, please feel free to call us for advice.

Assuming you do need a warrant/building control approval:

What is a building warrant?

It’s a legal permit applicable in Scotland, demonstrating compliance with the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004. You need one before starting most types of new building, alteration or demolition work.

Why do I need a building warrant?

They tell you you have met the legal standards that buildings must meet to protect people’s health, safety and welfare. The standards promote ways of conserving fuel and energy and having a warrant also says you have achieved this. Ultimately you need one because you will be prosecuted if you carry out building work controlled by the Building Regulations without one.

How do I get a building warrant?

You or your agent need to send plans for the work you propose to your local authority, along with an application form and fee.

What happens if I don’t get one?

It’s an offence to begin work for which a warrant is needed without first getting one. You could face the expense of a fine or having to have the building work redone. If you go to sell the property you could face extra paper work, which could lead to delays and extra expense.

Does the warrant cover planning permission or other consents?

No. You or your agent are responsible for getting any other permits or consents that your proposal needs to have, such as planning permission, road-opening permits, road construction consents and fire certification. You or your agent are also responsible for contacting suppliers of services such as gas, telephone, electricity, public water and sewerage for permission to connect to their services. You’re not required to inform neighbours when you apply for a building warrant, but we still advise you or your representative to let your neighbours know, especially if the work will affect or involve their property. Generally you are required to tell you neighbours about applications for planning permission.

Do I need a building warrant for conversion work?

You may need a building warrant because conversions come under building regulations, even if they involve no building work. If you’re unsure about whether the work you propose constitutes a conversion, please ask your local building standards team for advice.

Can I change my design while the building warrant application is being processed?

Minor clarifications and corrections are generally tolerated. Other than this, no. You can withdraw your application and make a new one instead but the fees you have paid are non-refundable and you will have to pay new fees for the new application. Amending the warrant once it is granted could be a better option and your agent and your local building control department can advise you.

Can I change my plans after I’ve received a building warrant?

Yes. We’d advise you or your representative to discuss amendments with the building standards surveyor dealing with your application before acting. Generally you will have to file a revised set of paperwork as a formal amendment to your original warrant. The process is similar to applying for a building warrant in the first place and there are fees associated with the process. The fee depends on any extra costs but the accompanying plans just need to show the proposed changes.

If it’s a major project you might consider a staged warrant.

What is a staged warrant?

It’s where the local authority approve a building warrant in stages, using the amendment to building warrant process outlined above. Staged warrants are most appropriate for large, complex projects.

What if I need a warrant for work that has already started?

You or your agent can apply for a warrant up to any point before a completion certificate has been accepted by the local authority. However this doesn’t remove the fact that an offence has been committed if you start work without a warrant and you may face legal action.
You or your representative need to submit full drawings and the local authority have to apply the same standards as they would if the work hadn’t started. You may have to make alterations if the work doesn’t meet building standards. If building work is well advanced the local authority may need parts to be exposed for inspection and they will increase their fee to cover any extra inspections. This situation is best avoided.

What if work has been done in the past without a warrant?

You don’t have to do anything but when you sell your property you could be asked for a completion certificate to cover differences between the plans in the deeds and the current plans. If so, you’ll have to:

  • send the local authority a completion certificate which they’ll only accept if it confirms the work met the standards that applied when the work was done
  • send the local authority plans and specifications similar to those needed for a warrant application to enable them to assess whether to accept the completion certificate
  • pay a fee

What happens after my building warrant’s approved?

Work can begin on your project. Local authority surveyors may inspect the work. When it’s finished you or your agent must send the local authority a completion certificate. They’ll accept this if it appears that the work complies with the warrant and the building regulations.

Can I challenge the contents of a building warrant?

You can apply to Scottish Building Standards to relax or dispense with an aspect of the warrant. Their website is www.sbsa.gov.uk.┬áIf you’re considering this, please contact your local building standards office for further advice first.

England and Wales

The situation in England and Wales is slightly different in that a project can be granted building control approval (permission to build) either:

  • in advance based on a full package of information submitted to the local authority – called a ‘full plans application’
  • progressively, based on inspections of the works by an appointed building inspector – called a ‘building notice application’ (small projects only)
  • retrospectively for projects that are complete – called a ‘regularisation application’

The latter course of action contains significant risks as it has to be proven that the building is compliant without it being possible to view how it has been assembled. Significant opening-up works may be required to demonstrate compliance. Not all local authorities offer this route to approval. It is not recommended for new project and is intended for bringing non-compliant ad-hoc building works within the regulations only.

Aside from the differences in terms, the general principles contained above in the information on building warrants also apply to building control approval in England and Wales. However, it’s always worth checking for local variations in practice, particularly in and around London. It is also worth noting that local authorities in England and Wales can nominate agents to handle applications on their behalf, which leads to faster turnaround times on applications. However, the point of contact for the application may not be the local authority for the area in which the property is located.