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General planning advice (complaints about)

This fact sheet is aimed mainly at people who have received advice from the council about planning matters and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I asked the council if I could object to the works happening across the road. The council said the works did not need planning permission. I do not think this is right. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in certain circumstances. If the advice was wrong and it led to you being caused significant problems then you can complain to us. 

But we are unlikely to investigate your complaint if it relates solely to private matters between you and your neighbour like a dispute about land ownership. Similarly, the council normally has to treat discussions with applicants before an application is submitted as confidential.

We cannot usually consider a complaint which involves a planning application unless the Local Planning Authority has decided the application. This is because until then, even if a council has done something wrong, we do not know how it will affect you.

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 us page or complete an online complaint form.

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

We look to see what effect following the advice has had on you and what would have been the outcome if the council had given you the right information in the first place. Some of the faults we might find are  the council:

  • did not ask you for information which would have ensured you got a more accurate answer
  • did not have a system in place for ensuring it properly recorded the advice it gave
  • failed to make it clear its advice was informal, ie that it did not bind the council to make any particular decision in the future, or
  • wrongly told you that your neighbour did not need planning permission so  you lost your opportunity to object to a planning application.

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

Where it was at fault and you have suffered as a result, we can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right. Depending on what the complaint is about, we may ask the council to:

  • ensure proper procedures are in place to provide advice to the public. For example, we might ask the council to introduce a written checklist or form which ensures it addresses all the right questions at the outset
  • ensure there is an agreed interpretation of the law so the council gives the same advice whichever member of staff answers the question
  • pay for the remedial works you had to take to reduce harm to you which arose because your neighbour was given the wrong advice, or
  • pay a financial remedy for your time and trouble in making the complaint.

Examples of complaints we have considered

Mr R complained  the council told his neighbours that they didn’t need planning permission for their conservatory which overlooked his property. The council accepted that it was in error and that permission was needed but said, if an application had been made, permission would have been granted with a condition requiring obscure glazing to protect Mr R’s amenity. There were two possible ways of putting right the situation. Either the wall between the two properties could be raised or obscure glazing could be fitted in the overlooking windows. The neighbours agreed to insert obscure glazing in the windows which overlooked Mr R’s; this was paid for by the council. The council also paid Mr R £250 for his time and trouble in making the complaint.
Mr B complained that pre-application planning advice given to a developer did not mention his property, which was adjacent to the access drive to the potential development. The Ombudsman chose not to investigate, because there is no significant injustice caused to Mr B. Should the developer put in a planning application, Mr B’s amenity would be considered as part of that application. Mr B would have a chance to comment on the proposals and the Council would consider his comments before deciding whether to grant planning permission to the developer

Other sources of information

The Government’s website at

Planning Aid’s website is at


Your local council’s website will contain information about some planning matters.

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..

October 2021