09 Apr 2015

Analysis: What documentation is required when altering your home?

Analysis: What documentation is required when altering your home?


Fiona Wildgoose, Partner, looks at the documentation required when altering your home.

When as a home owner you wish to make alterations to your home, it is important to assess whether Planning Permission or Building Warrant approval, or both, are required in respect of the intended alterations. Failure to comply with the legislative framework that regulates alterations and developments to property is in itself an offence and can lead to complications, delays and additional costs when selling your property in the future.  

Do I Need Planning Permission?

Planning Permission is the formal permission you require from your Local Authority to allow you to build on land or change the use of land or buildings. As a general rule Planning Permission is required if you intend to: build something new, make a major change to a building, or change the use of your building. There are, however, certain building projects that are categorised as ‘Permitted Developments’ and these projects do not require Planning Permission. The legislative framework that sets out the Permitted Development rights is the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Order 1992 as amended. The introduction of Permitted Development rights allows you to carry out certain types of minor changes to your home without the need to obtain Planning Permission.

Importantly, there are now certain exemptions in place for rear single store ground floor extensions. Many rear single store ground floor extensions will be classed as Permitted Developments provided they are of a certain and height and are located in a certain position. Furthermore the construction of a porch, the installation of roof lights and dormer windows and the construction of certain outbuildings will also be deemed to be Permitted Developments. There are further exemptions for alterations or additions to houses if within a 1 metre ‘bubble’ of the walls or roof of a house. This will encompass the addition of solar panels or satellite dishes.  Therefore there is now a wide range of alterations or additions you can carry out to your property without the need to obtain Planning Permission.

It should be noted that the general Permitted Developments rights do not apply to flats, maisonettes or other buildings, only to houses. Furthermore the Permitted Developments rights are more restricted where properties are located in ‘designated areas’, in particular properties contained in Conservation Areas. If your property is a listed building you will also likely require Listed Building Consent. If Planning Permission is not required but the work is structural or involves building work, Building Warrant approval is likely still required. It is always advisable to confirm the position with the planning department of your Local Authority before commencing the intended works.

Do I need a Building Warrant?

A Building Warrant is the permission you require from your Local Authority before commencing “building” works to your property. This covers the majority of alterations, conversions and demolition work, certain exemptions do exist however. The Building Warrant is applied for via your Local Authority and requires the submission of plans and the completion of the required forms. It is important to ensure you have the Building Warrant in place before starting work on your property or the works carried out will be unauthorised and in breach of the legislative framework.

There are a number of alterations that are exempt from the requirement to obtain a Building Warrant, namely: replacement windows; internal works carried out to houses provided they do not relate to load bearing elements, external works, or the roof; raised decking under 1.2 metres high that are not part of an access route; and certain domestic garages under 30 square metres in area. 

It should be noted that exemptions afforded to internal alterations only apply to houses and not to flats. Any internal alterations carried out to flats will require Building Warrant approval. This includes the removal of a partition wall or the creation of a new opening in a wall. For the avoidance of doubt a flat is a property that is divided horizontally, unlike a house that is only divided vertically. Again it is best to confirm with your Local Authority as to whether Building Warrant approval is required or not.

When the building works carried out under the Building Warrant are completed it is important that you apply to your Local Authority for a Completion Certificate. This application must be made before the Building Warrant expires. If the Building Warrant has expired you will have to apply to have it extended which will incur costs. The Completion Certificate confirms that the works have been carried out to the necessary standard and in line with the Building Warrant that was granted.

Alterations Completed without the Necessary Building Warrant Approval

If you have carried out alterations to your property that required Building Warrant approval, which you did not obtain, there are courses of action you can take to remedy the situation. 

If the works were carried out prior to 1 May 2005 they are governed by the old statutory provisions and therefore you can apply for a Letter of Comfort. This involves submitting an application form and fee to your Local Authority. They will then inspect the property and if satisfied with the works carried out they can decide to issue a Letter of Comfort. This Letter of Comfort states that the Local Authority does not intend to take statutory action over the unauthorised works. If the Local Authority are not satisfied with the works carried out they can require you to carry out remedial work. It should be noted that the Local Authority are not obliged to issue a Letter of Comfort.

If the works were carried out after 1 May 2005 they are governed by the new statutory provisions contained in the Buildings (Scotland) Act 2003 and association Regulations. Any works carried out after the introduction of the new statutory framework cannot be covered by the Letter of Comfort procedure. Instead you are required to apply to your Local Authority for a Late Completion Certificate, otherwise known as an application for a Certificate of Completion where no Building Warrant has been obtained. The application will have to be accompanied by plans and detailed construction information. The fee payable will be based on the cost of the works carried out. Again the Local Authority may require further works to be carried out before granting the Late Completion Certificate.


It is therefore very important to thoroughly investigate what Local Authority documentation you will require to carry out any intended alterations or additions to your home. It is always worth seeking professional advice and confirming with your Local Authority before commencing any works. Failure to do so can amount to a statutory offence and will cause difficulties for you when you come to sell your home. Unauthorised alterations can also impact on the valuation of your property.

Fiona Wildgoose, Partner
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