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?

Only rarely:

  • Council officers will not be present for the great majority of the building project and do not act as a ‘clerk of works’. The council will issue a completion certificate when satisfied, after taking all reasonable steps, that the requirements of the Building Regulations have been met. A certificate is not a guarantee that all works have been done to the required standard. Primary responsibility for the building work rests with those who commission it and those who do the work.
  • The courts have held that the expense incurred by a subsequent purchaser of a house in putting right a construction defect which is discovered where there was no injury to a person or property (other than the defect itself) was pure economic loss and could not be recovered. This decision was partly based on public policy considerations.

If your complaint concerns one of the following we are also unlikely to be able to help.

  • Personal injury or damage to belongings. The courts may award compensation and we would normally consider it reasonable for you to take legal action.
  • Damage to your property caused by a neighbour’s inadequate building work. This would normally be a matter for private legal action against your neighbour.
  • A decision where you have a right of appeal (for example, against the refusal of a Building Regulations application). We would normally expect you to appeal and would not normally investigate those matters.
  • A dispute about the quality of work. The quality of work is the responsibility of those who commissioned it and those who do the work. Building control officers are not supervising the work generally when ensuring compliance with the Regulations.

What we might investigate

  • The council providing factually incorrect information about the requirements of the Regulations, so that unnecessary works were undertaken.
  • Where the council has decided a structure is dangerous and has demolished it without giving the owner an opportunity to carry out the work.
  • A complaint from an affected neighbour about the council failing to take enforcement action against a significant breach of the 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.

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

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

First, we must consider whether your complaint is one we can investigate. If it is, we must then consider whether we should do so or whether there is an alternative which would be more appropriate

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 exceptional cases, where it is not possible to remedy the problem, we may ask the council to pay you a financial remedy.

We may also ask for a financial remedy 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

Mrs X complained her council failed to properly carry out building control inspections on her loft conversion. The work was poor and the cost of rectifying it was substantial. Mrs X was considering legal action against the builder, but there was no guarantee she would recover the cost. We would not pursue this complaint. While the council had carried out inspections, meeting the requirements of the Regulations is primarily the responsibility of the builder and the property owner. Mrs X had employed the builder and the Ombudsman we would not seek  a financial remedy from the council for fault in their work.

Mrs X complains a building control officer wrongly advised that the proposed extension to her property should have a raft foundation. Mrs X submitted a full plans application and the council told her the ground conditions in her road were notoriously bad and an engineered designed raft foundation was more appropriate. When the council subsequently inspected the site, they confirmed the ground had good load bearing capabilities and did not need a raft foundation. The Council's requirement that Mrs X build her extension with raft foundations even though the precise ground conditions were unknown meant Mrs X incurred unnecessary costs for the extra work and materials involved in a raft foundation. The Council agreed to reimburse these additional costs.

Other sources of information

Government website www.gov.uk/government/topics/planning-and-building.

Local Authority Building Control Departments membership organisation's LABC website: www.labc.uk.com

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 contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides 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 Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

September 2019