Written by Nikki O’Hagan, 12th April 2024

On the 2nd of April 2024, the government announced the date on which the 4 year rule will end in England. That date is the 25th of April 2024. From this date, all development currently subject to the 4 year rule will become subject to the 10 year rule instead.

There is no change to the rules for Wales.

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Here’s a basic summary of how the 4 and 10 year rules currently work:

It is established by UK law that breaches of planning control – i.e. unauthorised development – become immune from enforcement action after a specified period. This means that once the specified period has expired, it is as though planning permission had been granted for the breach.

At the time of writing, the specified periods for England are:

  • 4 years for building and engineering works
  • 4 years for the use of any building as a single dwellinghouse
  • 10 years for everything else, including most changes of use and breaches of planning conditions.

Once the relevant period has expired, you are entitled to apply for a lawful development certificate for the unauthorised development. If issued, this certificate will confirm the development is lawful and will always be immune from enforcement action. It is your responsibility to prove to your local council that the development has been in place for at least 4 or 10 years, as applicable. So you will need to be able to produce some evidence of its existence in the form of dated photographs, aerial views, council tax records, utility bills, affidavits etc.

For more information about the recent changes to UK planning legislation involving the 4 year rule, read our previous updates here:

Find out more about lawful development certificates and the 4 and 10 year rules here:

What is changing?

The change is straightforward. From 25th April, all breaches of planning control in England will be subject to the 10 year rule. This means there will no longer be a 4 year rule in England.

What type of developments will be affected?

Building works

All building and engineering works that require planning permission will become subject to the 10 year rule. That includes works such as new buildings and extensions to existing buildings. It may also include minor works such as new walls, fences and hard landscaping. Of course, this only applies to works that require planning permission so you don’t need to worry if:

  • your building works do not require planning permission. For instance, they only affect the interior of the building or they do not materially affect its exterior. “Like-for-like” door and window replacements are a good example of this
  • your building works are “permitted development”. This is the case for various building works, including certain minor operations such as fences and walls of a specified height. There is also a wide range of permitted development rights for householders, including certain rear, side and upwards extensions, porches, rooflights and outbuildings amongst many more.

Use as a single dwellinghouse

The unauthorised use of any building – or part of a building – as a “single dwellinghouse” will also become subject to the 10 year rule. Standard flats, houses and small HMOs (up to 6 residents) are all usually “single dwellinghouses”. “Single dwellinghouses” can also include holiday lets, second homes and some care facilities, although not traditional care homes.

All other breaches of planning control are already subject to the 10 year rule so there’s no change there.

What does this actually mean?

From the 25th of April 2024, new, unauthorised development of any kind will need to be in place for a minimum of 10 years before it can become immune from enforcement action. If your local council takes enforcement action within the 10 year period, you will not be able to gain immunity.

It is important that you do not attempt to deliberately conceal the development within the 10 year period as this will also prevent you from gaining immunity.

There is one important exception – a small number of unauthorised developments will be able to take advantage of the transitional provisions outlined below.

What are the transitional provisions?

The government has followed through on its promise to include transitional provisions for the 4 year rule. Unfortunately, you will only be able to benefit from these provisions if your breach of planning control is already in place on the 24th of April 2024.

In these circumstances, you will still be able to take advantage of the 4 year rule and apply for a lawful development certificate to regularise the breach. As at present, you will still have to wait for 4 years to expire before you can apply for a lawful development certificate.

The government has not currently set any time limit for these 4 year rule applications so, in theory, 4 year rule cases could still be brought forward for many years to come. However, you should bear in mind:

  • It is possible the government will revise the legislation in future to set a firm time limit for applications seeking to rely on the 4 year rule
  • It is important that the unauthorised development is still ongoing or in existence on the day you make your application.

So if your unauthorised development has been in place for at least 4 years on the 24th of April 2024 and you have good evidence of its existence over that 4 year period, our advice is to apply for a lawful development certificate as soon as possible.

If your development is in place on the 24th of April 2024 but has not yet been in place for 4 years, you should continue to gather evidence of its ongoing existence. Once it has been in place for 4 years, you can apply for a lawful development certificate. Bear in mind, your local council could still take enforcement action within the 4 year period.

Do I need to take any action before the 25th of April 2024?

If the transitional provisions apply to you then it is vitally important that you gather as much evidence as possible of the unauthorised development’s existence on or before the 24th of April 2024. It would be a good idea, as a minimum, to collect a range of properly dated photographs*. This is even more important if you intend to wait until after the 24th of April to make your application.

*we recommend using a smartphone or adjusting the settings on your camera so that the time and date of capture appear over or adjacent to the image. See example below.

4 year rule evidence

If you are unable to prove to your council that your development was in place on or before the 24th of April 2024, then you will likely be expected to meet the 10 year rule instead.

TL;DR: The date announced for the end of the 4 year rule is 25th April 2024. On this date, the 4 year rule will be replaced by the 10 year rule. If your development is already in place on 24th April 2024, you can still make use of the 4 year rule.

If you need advice concerning your unauthorised development or require assistance with a lawful development certificate application, please contact us today. Our initial advice is always free of charge.

Prefer to go directly to the source? Follow the link below to access an online copy of The Planning Act 2008 (Commencement No. 8) and Levelling-up and Regeneration Act 2023 (Commencement No. 4 and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2024. This contains the date of the 4 year rule’s cancellation and all transitional provisions.

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