Recent stories in the press suggest that local councils are taking to the skies to help them in their efforts to investigate, and take action against, unauthorised home improvements.
The idea of drones being used as surveillance, keeping an eye on people’s homes, may sound like something out a sci-fi novel or TV show. But in April The Telegraph reported that more than 20 councils had been granted approval by the Civil Aviation Authority to use them for commercial purposes! Drones have even been used for monitoring extension works and other exterior alterations, including those to listed buildings, in rural areas. There is also anecdotal evidence that websites like Google Maps and Rightmove provide useful resources for an enterprising local authority enforcement officer (as well as our own underwriters!), so it is becoming increasingly likely that even modest, established works could suddenly face enforcement action.
In particular, attention seems to have turned towards listed buildings. As such, it’s not surprising that we have seen a corresponding growth in claims on Lack of Listed Building Consent policies. These claims can prove to be more time consuming and expensive than they first appear, and unlike other policies that cover lack of consent, the chances of defending local council action doesn’t improve with time, as there is no limitation period. Local authorities can decide to take enforcement action for breaches of listed building control whenever they find them, regardless of how old the alterations may be.
Throughout our 25 years, we have regularly provided Lack of Listed Buildings Consent cover, when evidence of listed building consent for past works can’t be produced at the time of a purchase. Our policy provides an excellent alternative to approaching the local authority, not only preventing the transaction from being delayed, but also providing protection for the innocent buyer against losses incurred from future investigation and possible enforcement action.
As with other lack of consent risks, cover is provided as an alternative to approaching the local authority to obtain retrospective consent, and on the assumption that an application was not previously refused.
So, given the nature of what’s involved and the higher risk around listed buildings, how do our underwriters approach an enquiry? Quite simply, they’ll focus on the property’s history and practical factors.
Firstly they’ll look at the type of works, where they are on the property and whether they are in-keeping with the rest of the building. The majority of the works requiring cover currently fit into three categories; replacement doors and windows, modest internal works and external works, such as small extensions or conservatories.
Secondly, they will consider how long ago the changes were undertaken. While there is no limitation to action being taken, we do take comfort from some significant time having passed without any action by the local authority. The underwriters will also want to know if there has been any contact with the local authority, as that would be likely to highlight any possible issues and increase the risk of enforcement action.
Finally, they’ll check whether surveys have revealed any structural issues, as again these would increase the potential involvement of the local authority and further raise their awareness of the works.
And even if your case is a little unusual, don’t assume that we won’t offer cover; our underwriters will just need some additional information before considering a quote.
Unfortunately, when there is a claim, resolution is often more than just a simple legal process. Our claims team can end up taking on a project management role, as dealing with the enforcement action and any works to comply with the notice can be very exacting. Our cover provides more than just peace of mind; it makes a stressful and protracted situation easier to handle. Read our case studies to find out how we tackle these claims, and just how costly they can be.