Complaints about how your planning application is dealt with

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

I have a problem with my application for planning permission - can the Ombudsman help me?

In many cases, no. This is because, by law, we cannot normally investigate a complaint where there is or was a right of appeal to a government minister. If you are someone who is affected by a decision to refuse you permission for development, or for other works where consent is required by planning law, in most cases you have a right to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

If you have already made an appeal to the Inspectorate before contacting us, or make an appeal during our investigation, we will not be able to consider your complaint.

But sometimes something happens which cannot be remedied by an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate and it would not be reasonable for you to be expected to pursue an appeal. In such cases we have discretion to consider whether to investigate your complaint.

Every case is different and it is not possible to give a specific list of the type of cases we can investigate. Generally, though, the key factor is whether you have been affected by a decision where you have or had a right of appeal capable of putting things right for you – if you have, we will generally not be able to help you.

This includes cases where you think the council has behaved unreasonably; any appeal costs you have incurred which you think were avoidable can be the subject of a claim to the Planning Inspectorate at the time of your appeal.

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.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process.

If you 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.

In those complaints by people who have made planning applications which we can investigate we would consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with certain aspects of the situation which have caused you problems.

Some of the issues we can look at might include whether you have been given:

  • inaccurate information about procedures or planning law
  • misleading advice in advance of making an application, or
  • no or an inadequate response to correspondence about your development proposals before an application is made or determined.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds 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. And sometimes the faults might mean that someone has been treated wrongly or has not had access to the planning or appeal processes as they ought to have done.

Where we find fault with the council’s procedures we will often recommend that the council makes changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future. And where the consequences of what happened have been quite significant, we can recommend that the council takes action to put the matter right.

Sometimes, delay can make a situation worse, so we can ask the council to take some extra action which wouldn’t have been needed if everything had been done as it should in the first place.

Sometimes it will be appropriate for the council to pay a financial remedy for the distress its actions have caused, and for the impact of unreasonable delay. The amount we ask for would depend on exactly how you have been affected, and we can also take account of whether there was any action you took which made the situation worse, or action you could have taken to improve matters.

Examples of complaints we have considered

Mr and Mrs X applied for planning permission after receiving pre-application advice from the Council about their proposed development. The Council considered the planning application and then asked Mr and Mrs X to change the development, which they did not want to do. Mr and Mrs then removed part of their development from the application and the Council granted planning permission for the revised proposals. Mr and Mrs X complained to us about the Council’s changed view of their proposals after it had given them pre application advice. They said what happened caused trouble and financial loss and they might not have applied for planning permission if they had known the Council would ask them to change their proposals.
We did not investigate the complaint. We found pre application advice was not binding and Mr and Mrs X could have refused to change their proposals if they disagreed with the Council’s request. They could then have challenged any refusal of planning permission on appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.

Mr B asked the Council for pre application planning advice about different developments on his land. The contact that followed between Mr B and the Council led him to make several planning applications. Eventually, the Council granted planning permission for development in two of Mr B’s applications. Mr B complained to us about how the Council handled planning matters affecting his land.
We found the Council had provided Mr B with wrong advice about the types of application he needed to make. This had led Mr B to pay more in planning application fees than would have been necessary if he had received correct advice. The Council agreed to apologise to Mr B and refund the difference between the application fee he ought to have paid and did pay.

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 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 2023 

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