Community Infrastructure Levy

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at planning applicants who have concerns about the way the council has dealt with the Community Infrastructure Levy in relation to their planning application and is considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman. 

I have a problem with the Community Infrastructure Levy. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Sometimes, yes. But there are some matters the law does not allow us to look at:

We cannot deal with a complaint about something that affects nearly everyone living in a council’s area, such as the rates of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charged.

We cannot normally deal with complaints about issues where there are appeal rights.

There is a right of appeal to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), once a review request has been made to the collecting authority:

  • on the grounds that the chargeable amount has been calculated incorrectly
  • against an apportionment of the liability
  • that the collecting authority has incorrectly determined the value of the interest in land used in an apportionment assessment, when claiming charitable relief

There is an immediate right of appeal to the VOA on the grounds that the collecting authority has incorrectly determined:

  • that a residential annexe is not wholly within the grounds of the main dwelling
  • the value of the self-build exemption allowed
  • the value of the notional relief (for pre-CIL planning permissions amended when the CIL came into effect)

There is also a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate:

  • against a decision to impose a surcharge
  • against the issuing of a stop notice
  • on the grounds that the commencement date has been wrongly determined

If you have already appealed to the VOA or the Planning Inspectorate before contacting us, or make an appeal during our investigation, we will not be able to consider your complaint, and will have no discretion to do so.

However, there are some circumstances in which we may investigate your complaint. Sometimes something happens which cannot be remedied by an appeal or it would not be reasonable for you to be expected to have pursued an appeal. In such cases, we have discretion to consider whether to investigate your complaint. 

We might also consider matters for which the law does not provide a right of appeal, such as disputes over the way a collecting authority has considered some exemptions and reliefs, such as:

  • the exemption for minor development (development of less than 100m² which does not involve the construction of a new dwelling)
  • the level of social housing relief, or discretionary relief for exceptional circumstances

How do I complain?

If there is a right of appeal, we would normally expect you to use that appeal right. However, there are strict time limits for appealing. So, if you are unclear about your appeal rights, you may first wish to contact the council or seek independent advice.

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.

You can complete an online complaint form or phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614. You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. 

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

We can consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with your complaint. Some of the issues we can look at are:

  • inaccurate information about procedures or appeal rights
  • misleading advice
  • no or an inadequate response to correspondence

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

It depends on what the fault was and what consequences it had for you. Sometimes things go wrong but do not affect the outcome. 

In general, we will seek to put someone in the position that they would have been in if the fault had not occurred. Where the consequences have been quite significant, such as the loss of an appeal right, we can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right.

Sometimes it will be appropriate for the council to pay a financial remedy for the distress its actions have caused, for the impact of unreasonable delay or your time and trouble. 

Where we find fault with the council’s procedures, we will often recommend that it makes changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr X complained that the council gave him wrong advice when he called to check if he would be liable for CIL when converting a retail unit to a dwelling for him and his family. The council advised him he would have no CIL liability as it assumed that he already had planning permission before the CIL scheme was introduced. However, it later sent Mr X a CIL demand.
After Mr X contacted the Ombudsman, the council accepted that it was at fault. Had it realised that Mr X was planning works under permitted development rights, using the ‘prior approval’ process, it would have advised him that the commencement date of the works was the ‘applicable date’ for the CIL. As this was after the CIL scheme came into force, it would have advised him that he would be liable for a CIL charge but could apply for a ‘self-build’ CIL exemption.
The council could not remove the CIL liability charge from the Local Land Charge Register, unless it was first paid in full. However it agreed that, if Mr X could provide the information needed to qualify for a CIL self-build exemption and he satisfied the other requirements, it would ensure he was not disadvantaged by its failure to inform him of the CIL self-build exemption scheme. It also agreed to pay Mr X’s reasonable legal costs if it was necessary to enter into a legal agreement
Mrs B complained that the council failed to notify her that she was no longer eligible for a ‘self-build’ exemption from the CIL. The council had initially awarded a self-build exemption from the £80,000 charge after she was granted planning permission to demolish an existing house and build a new house. However, the CIL exemption letter advised her that failing to implement the planning permission in accordance with the approved plans might invalidate any exemption.
After demolishing the house and starting works on the new house, Mrs B applied to vary a condition on the previous application to increase the footprint of the basement. She submitted a notice assuming the CIL liability for the new application. The council then issued a new liability notice for a CIL charge of £85,000, advising her that she was no longer eligible for the exemption as development had commenced, and setting out her right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate about the commencement date.
Mrs B complained to the council and then to the Ombudsman that she had not received the liability notice offering her the right to appeal. She also considered that, after receiving a demand notice, the council had not responded appropriately when she contacted it shortly before the 28-day appeal deadline,
The Ombudsman found no fault by the council in the notification process or the information the council provided on appeal rights. As there were appeal rights available which we consider that Mrs B could reasonably have used, we considered that any dispute over the liability for the CIL or the amount due were therefore outside the Ombudsman's jurisdiction.

Other sources of information

Councils provide information on their websites about the CIL and the associated procedures and appeal rights.

Detailed advice is available on the Gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/community-infrastructure-levy

Summary advice is also available on the Planning Portal, which is a joint venture between the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and TerraQuest Ltd: https://www.planningportal.co.uk/info/200136/policy_and_legislation/70/community_infrastructure_levy

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.

We 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 we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

November 2020

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