Local Government Ombudsman
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Complaints about building control

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at householders who have problems with a building control issue and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with the council’s handling of a building control matter. Can the Ombudsman help me?

If it appears that the council made an error and wrongly approved building work which has caused problems for you, we may be able to investigate your complaint. But we will not generally do so if the complaint is about financial loss, because the courts have held that councils are not liable for such loss and the Ombudsman would be imposing a penalty the courts have said should not apply. If your complaint concerns one of the following we are also unlikely to be able to help.

  • A decision where you have a right of appeal (for example, against the refusal of a Building Regulations application). We would expect you to do that and we would not normally investigate those matters. 
  • Personal injury. We would normally consider it reasonable for you to take legal action for negligence. 
  • Damage to your property caused by a neighbour’s building work which had been properly approved. It would normally be a matter for private legal action against your neighbour. 
  • A defect to your property which already existed when you bought it and is something which could have been identified by a survey, or is something you could reasonably be expected to have been aware of. We would not normally consider this to be the council’s responsibility and we are unlikely to investigate such complaints.
  • A dispute about the quality of work. That is the builder's responsibility, and the building control officers are not supervising the work generally when ensuring compliance with the Building Regulations.

How do I complain?

  • You should normally complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.
  • Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.
  • You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong.
  • To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 480 3014.
  • You can complete an online complaint form.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider complaints that the council has done something wrong which has caused you problems. So we look at what effect the council’s error has had and what problems this caused for you. Some faults we might find are that the council:

  • wrongly said that consent under Building Regulations was required
  • wrongly suggested a form of construction that does not comply with the Building Regulations
  • failed to notice significant non-compliance with Building Regulations, and
  • did not take enforcement action against a significant breach of the Building Regulations.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

  • It depends on the fault and what the consequences are for you. If problems were caused by the council’s error, we may recommend steps that the council should take to put things right.
  • In the case of buildings which are not finished, this might include the council agreeing minor changes to overcome problems. This may not be possible, in which case we may ask the council to make you a payment to cover the cost of remedial work to your property. In exceptional cases, where it is not possible to remedy the problem, we may ask the council to pay you compensation.
  • We may also ask for compensation for the time, trouble or expense you were put to in pursuing your complaint.
  • Where we find fault with the council’s procedures we will often recommend that the council introduces changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr A complained that the council wrongly approved a structure supporting the roof of a conservatory extension at his home. Some years later the structure was found to be defective and Mr A needed to carry out remedial work. He felt the council should pay towards those costs. The council accepted that its building control officer failed to notice that the ring beam or roof collar had been constructed in the wrong place, which meant the structure could not comply with the Building Regulations, in which case a completion certificate should not have been given. Only rarely should the Ombudsman impose duties where the courts have held, mainly for reasons of public policy, that there is no legal liability. But in this case the council admitted fault and there were clear adverse consequences which could have been avoided, so the Ombudsman concluded that the officers’ error was maladministration. If the defect had been spotted at the time, Mr A could have arranged for it to be rectified and saved the later repair costs, aggravation and worry. The Ombudsman recommended that the council pay Mr A one third of his reasonable costs in reconstructing the conservatory extension and in professional fees. This reflects the council’s partial responsibility for the consequences of the error (in addition to that of Mr A and his builder).
Ms B bought a house and later had to carry out remedial work on an extension. She complained that the council had failed in a duty to inspect the foundations when the extension was built and was, therefore, responsible for the problem. At the time the foundations were constructed and covered the extension was exempt from building control. Later work brought the building within control, but the building control officer took the view that by this time the council had no power to require that the foundations be exposed. The council did not issue a completion certificate. The Ombudsman found fault in that the officer’s understanding of the law was conceivably flawed and that he should have sought legal advice. But the Ombudsman said that Ms B and her solicitor had been given the clear opportunity when buying the property to check if Building Regulation approval had been given and that opportunity was not properly taken. The Ombudsman also doubted whether it was the construction of the foundations or subsequent deterioration which were responsible for the problem. So the council’s error could not be shown to be the cause of the problem for Ms B. The council was therefore not asked to provide any remedy.

Other sources of information

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please phone 0300 061 0614.

The Local Government Ombudsmen provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsmen aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

Date Updated: 27/03/13