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.

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 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.

Example of a complaint we have considered

Mr Q researched existing local house extensions and then applied for planning permission for an extension. After advice from a planning officer, he amended the plans. The planning officer then told him he could amend the plans again or the council would decide his application. Mr Q did not want to change the plans again, and the council refused planning permission. He complained to us and said the council had wasted his time and raised his hopes in asking for changes to his plans.We did not investigate Mr Q’s complaint. We found the key issue was the council’s refusal of planning permission, for which there was a right of appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, and it would be reasonable for Mr Q to use his appeal rights. On appeal, Mr Q could give evidence the council had approved similar extensions and explain why he considered the council had not followed its own planning policies in refusing his planning application.

Mr X wanted to change a scheme for which he had planning permission. He contacted the council about the changes, including making an application to vary or remove a condition on the planning permission. Later, he chased the council, by email and telephone, for progress and says he was told the proposed changes were being considered. But, several months later, the council told him it had used its powers to dispose of his application because he had not been in touch and the time limit for him to appeal against its failure to determine his application had passed.
Mr X complained to the Ombudsman saying the council had improperly disposed of his application.  During our investigation, the council accepted it had acted with fault, as Mr X had been in touch, and it reopened his application. It agreed to apologise to Mr X; waive its fee for the new planning application Mr X needed to make; and pay Mr X £150 for his time and trouble in complaining to the Ombudsman.
 

Other sources of information

The Planning Inspectorate http://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/planning-inspectorate or telephone 0303 444 5000

Royal Town Planning Institute provides information about advice and consultancy www.rtpi.org.uk

Planning Aid – information for local communities www.rtpi.org.uk/planningaid/

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

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.

September 2019