Use the drop-downs to find out more about Lawful Development Certificates.

WHAT ARE LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATES?

Lawful Development Certificates are issued by local councils. They provide formal confirmation that:

  • an existing or proposed building/site is lawful
  • an existing or proposed use of a building/site is lawful. 

Local councils cannot take enforcement action against matters that are established to be lawful. You can find out more about enforcement action using the button below.

Lawful Development Certificates are also commonly known as Certificates of Lawful Use/Development and Certificates of Lawfulness. 

HOW DO I OBTAIN A LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATE?

You must make an application to your local council in the same manner as a normal planning application.

Your application must include enough varied evidence and information to convince your council that the site, building and/or use is lawful. Planning Direct can assist you to gather the right evidence.

HOW DOES AN APPLICATION FOR A LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATE DIFFER TO A NORMAL PLANNING APPLICATION?

Normal planning applications seek the council’s consent to undertake development. A planning application will aim to convince the council that the development deserves their approval. The council will carefully assess the merits of the development and then decide whether it should be approved or refused. In other words, the council will ask itself, “does the development comply with our requirements and does it deserve to be made lawful?”. If the answer is “yes”, they will approve the application.

In the case of Lawful Development Certificates, the question is not whether a development deserves to be lawful. The question is simply whether – all judgements aside – the development is (or would be) lawful as a matter of fact. 

A development might be lawful because the works did not require planning permission at all (like siting a caravan in a garden) or because the works have become lawful due to the passage of time.

Unless your local council has already taken enforcement action against it, most development will become lawful after 4 or 10 years. Find out more about enforcement and the 4 & 10 year rules using the buttons below.

This means that the council cannot refuse to issue a Lawful Development Certificate simply because they would not approve a planning application in respect of the same development.

By the same token, if a development is not lawful as a matter of fact, a Lawful Development Certificate cannot be issued even if the council is satisfied that they would grant planning permission for it*.

*If this is the case, you should consider making an application for planning permission as this is highly likely to be approved.

WHEN IS A LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATE USEFUL?

There are many circumstances in which a Lawful Development Certificate is a very useful document to obtain.  Here is a non-exhaustive list:

  1. You did not receive the necessary planning consent(s) for your development but it is now automatically lawful due to the passage of time. After a certain period – 4 or 10 years, depending on what it is – most developments automatically become lawful. You still need formal confirmation of this if you want to remove the risk of enforcement action. You can find out more about the 4 & 10 year rules using the button below.
  1. You are planning to undertake a permitted development and would like formal confirmation that it complies with all relevant permitted development rules (i.e. it is lawful) before you commence works. We always recommend that you seek a Lawful Development Certificate prior to exercising your permitted development rights – you can find out why using the button below.
  1. You are selling a property and past developments need regularising. When you come to sell your home, for example, your solicitor will require confirmation that any extensions or other additions to the property are lawful. If no evidence of relevant planning consents can be found, you’ll need to try to regularise them by applying for a Lawful Development Certificate. 
  1. It is unclear whether planning permission is required or not. Unfortunately, sometimes the answer to the question “do I need planning permission?” is that it depends. For certainty, you should apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. 

IN WHAT CASES IS IT UNCLEAR WHETHER OR NOT PLANNING PERMISSION IS REQUIRED?

Sometimes the need for planning permission is obvious. However, this is not always the case.

In the below circumstances, there’s likely to be a question over the need for planning permission. The need for planning permission will vary in each case, depending on the specifics of the building/activity and its impacts.

The only way to be certain that your development does not require planning permission (in other words, it is lawful) is to make an application for a Lawful Development Certificate.

Working from home

You can often work from home without seeking planning permission but not always. The key test is whether working from home would cause the domestic character of your property to change. Amongst other matters, the council will pay regard to:

  • Is there an increase in vehicle movements? Are the number of vehicle movements more than would be expected for a house of its size and location?
  • Is the business intrusive in the residential area? For example, does it give rise to smells, noises or other pollutants that would not normally be expected? 
  • Is harm caused to the local area or its residents? For example, due to increased traffic, parking pressures, night working, noise or other disturbance? 

What is appropriate in one situation may not be suitable in another. For example, if you lack a private driveway, the council may resist any increase in vehicle movements.

Similarly, where a dwelling is relatively far from any neighbouring property, the council is likely to support a greater level of noise or disturbance than they would along a terraced street. 

The only way to be certain that you won’t face enforcement action for working from home is to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate.

Exercising permitted development rights

We are often instructed by clients who have conducted works (like domestic extensions and outbuildings) that they believed were permitted developments (i.e. not requiring planning permission) only to later be requested to tear them down by their local council as planning permission was, in fact, required.

Find out more about permitted developments and permitted development rights using the button below.

When it comes to permitted development, there are multiple pitfalls and even the most experienced planners and architects get it wrong sometimes.

Here are some common pitfalls to be aware of:

  • Not all types of sites have all permitted development rights (e.g. flats have none and sites in Conservation Areas have reduced rights)
  • Permitted development rights might have been removed or restricted on your specific site (e.g. as a condition on a previous planning consent)
  • Some permitted development rules are difficult to understand or apply to certain sites (e.g. rules on measuring height are different if your site is not level).

Because of the considerable risk of misunderstanding or misapplying permitted development rights, we always recommend that you seek an inexpensive lawful development certificate before you commence any works. If your local council agrees the works are permitted development, they’ll promptly issue the certificate. You can then conduct the works safe in the knowledge there is no risk you will have to tear it all down later.

Domestic outbuildings: incidental use?

Most householders will have a permitted development right to construct domestic outbuildings. This means you can construct a variety of outbuildings – including sheds and garages – without any need to apply for planning permission. However, the permitted development right only applies to outbuildings used for incidental purposes.

Find out more about householder permitted development rights using the button below.


Incidental purposes do not cover all the usual domestic uses of outbuildings. Granny annexes, for example, are excluded.  


Working out what is an incidental purpose is not always straightforward. For example, home gyms are commonly agreed to be an incidental purpose. However, if a home gym is very large – especially by comparison to the main house – it is unlikely to be considered incidental.

At the end of the day, what is incidental (i.e. lawful) in one scenario may not be considered incidental in another. 

If you construct a permitted development outbuilding for a purpose that your local council thinks is not incidental (like an additional bedroom), you could be required to take it down.

It’s always best to seek a Lawful Development Certificate before you spend time and money constructing something that you may not ultimately be allowed to keep.  

WHAT DO I NEED TO SUBMIT WITH MY APPLICATION FOR A LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATE?

It really depends on what grounds you are arguing that your development is lawful. 

In all cases, the onus of proof is firmly on the applicant. If the council considers there is insufficient evidence to establish the lawfulness of a development, they will not issue a Lawful Development Certificate. 

If you are arguing that your development is automatically lawful due to the passage of time, you’ll need to provide sufficient evidence that the development has existed for at least 4 or 10 years, as appropriate. Your evidence should be varied and robust. It can include photographs, sworn affidavits, invoices and bills. 

Find out more about the 4 & 10 year rules using the button below.

If your council refuses to issue a Lawful Development Certificate, you can always reapply with more evidence. 

You should be aware that it is an offence to make a false or misleading statement, to rely on false or misleading information or to withhold any important or relevant information when you apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. If you commit any of these offences, you risk your Lawful Development Certificate being revoked. You could also face an unlimited fine and up to 2 years’ imprisonment. 

HOW CAN PLANNING DIRECT ASSIST YOU TO OBTAIN A LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATE?

Firstly, Planning Direct will investigate your case to confirm that the best course of action is to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. 

If this is agreed, we will work alongside you to identify and collate the evidence required to support your application. We will advise you what evidence is required and assist you to supplement your existing evidence where it is lacking. 

We will prepare a comprehensive written statement that sets out your grounds for a Lawful Development Certificate in the appropriate planning terms. The statement will include thorough explanation of the accompanying bundle of evidence. 

Find out more about our written statements using the button below.

We will submit the application on your behalf and liaise with the council until a decision is reached. 

If you’ve recently had a Lawful Development Certificate application refused, you still have options. We can assist you to either appeal the council’s decision or reapply to the council with more evidence. You can find out more about planning appeals using the button below.

If you need assistance with your potential Lawful Development Certificate application or appeal, please get in touch using the button below. Our initial advice is always free of charge.

Contact us

Appeals

CAN A LAWFUL DEVELOPMENT CERTIFICATE BE REVOKED?

Not easily. A Lawful Development Certificate can only be revoked if the applicant provides false or misleading statements or evidence or withholds relevant information.

A Lawful Development Certificate cannot be revoked because the council made a mistake. 

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