• How can I get on a local authority’s Right to Build register?


    I’m hearing a lot about this new Right to Build. We’d like to build a home in the South West but don’t live there currently. Can we register with a local authority in that area?


    Yes, you can. Use our local authority register search, tell us where you’d like to build, and we’ll give you the six nearest / neighbouring local authorities. You can then choose which council is going to be most appropriate.

    We’ll show you if the council’s Right to Build register is live yet. If it is, you can follow the link to go straight to it, and put your details on that register. If it isn’t, come back and check here again soon – our search engine will be updated daily.

    Read more about Right to Build here. You can also keep updated by subscribing to the NaCSBA newsletter and we’ll keep you informed on how the Right to Build legislation affects you.


  • What is the difference between custom and self build?

    Until recently the process of building your own home was almost universally referred to as ‘self build’.

    In 2011, the Government’s Housing Strategy for England introduced the term ‘custom build housing’. Since then there has been some debate about what the term ‘custom build’ means, and after a lot of discussion, the definition is now beginning to settle down.

    We define self build as projects where you directly organise the design and construction of your new home. This covers quite a wide range of projects

    • The most obvious example is a traditional ‘DIY self build’ home, where the self builder selects the design they want and then does much of the actual construction work themselves.
    • But self build also includes projects where the self builder arranges for an architect/contractor to build their home for them.
    • And those projects that are delivered by kit home companies (where the self builder still has to find the plot, arrange for the slab to be installed and then has to organise the kit home company to build the property for them).
    • Many community-led projects are defined as self builds too – as the members of the community often do all the organising and often quite a bit of the construction work.

    Some people have summarised self build homes as those where people roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty by organising or doing the physical work themselves.

    Custom build homes tend to be those where you work with a specialist developer to help deliver your own home. This is usually less stressful as you’ll have an expert riding shotgun for you.

    A new breed of custom build developer has emerged over the last two years, and these organisations take on most of the gritty issues for you – everything from securing or providing a site in the first place, through to managing the construction work and even arranging the finance for you. This is more of a ‘hands off’ approach.

    It also de-risks the process for the person who is seeking to get a home built. Some people are concerned that by going to a custom build developer you’ll get less of a say in the design and layout of the home you want. But this shouldn’t be the case; a good custom build developer will be able to tailor it to perfectly match your requirements.

    One or two custom build developers also provide a menu of custom build options – for example, they may offer to just sell you a serviced building plot (that you then take over and organise everything on); or they might offer to build your home to a watertight stage (so that you can then finish it off and fit it out to your requirements).

    We usually see two main types of custom build project:

  • How can I find out who owns a plot of land?


    I have found a plot of land that is at the edge of a housing estate. It is currently an overgrown and disused children’s playpark and no one seems to know who owns it or who is responsible for it. The Land Registry shows no obvious owner, and the builders involved in the sale of the houses in the housing estate have since gone into liquidation. I know residents in the estate next to the land in question, and they do not seem to have anything in their deeds about factors or they themselves being responsible for the land. I have spoken to the local council and they do not own this plot of land either. I need advice on how to take this to the next stage in trying to find out who owns this land (if anyone), and then what to do next to attempt to buy or take ownership of this land for possibly building our own home.


    I believe that, in England, any land owned by a company which has been dissolved automatically goes back to the Crown. I do not know much about how, but I believe it is possible to buy such land from the Crown.

    Assuming it hasn’t gone back to the Crown, I believe it is possible to apply for possessory title after 12 years if you treat the land as though it is yours (strict rules apply). Shortly after it might be possible to get absolute title.

    I believe it isn’t possible to insure against the owner coming out of the woodwork until you have possessory title, so building anything in the first 12 years is very risky.
    Andy Palmer

    You say you`ve spoken to the council – have you tried the head of the planning department? In most cases if you get through to the right person they may be aware of it. If that doesn’t help, try looking up the local community council, or visiting the local library.
    Kenny Telfer

  • Can I use a friend’s self build architectural plans?


    Our friend’s house has already been built and we love it so much that we want to have a go building the same house on our own plot, 6 miles away. We hope to save money by doing this and that planning may be approved. We have all of the drawings with calculations, elevations, services and markups. Can we use these plans?


    You might get away with it, but there are two potential problems I foresee:

    First, if the plans were drawn up by an architect, there’s a good chance the architect owns the copyright to the design. If so, the architect might charge you to use them again.

    Second, planners need to be able to see that you’ve gone through a proper and rigorous design process to ensure your proposal takes into account its local context.

    By definition, using these plans implies that no process took place. You might be able to reverse engineer the plans to make it appear that you actually did some design, but any planning officer would probably spot this with their eyes closed.

    The only exception seems to be large developments which, to some extent, create their own context.

    While it isn’t necessarily a problem, in my experience, it is much better to design a house for a specific plot. The views, aspect, trees, neighbours, services, privacy, light, geology, topography, hydrology, etc. will all probably be different and will require a different design.

    Personally, I doubt if I would spend a six-figure sum putting (possibly) the wrong house on a plot. I recommend you only use your friend’s plans if it really the right house for your plot.

    Andy Palmer

  • Can I build in phases?


    I have designed an ambitious project and would like to build in three stages (to make costs manageable and to meet needs of a growing family). Can I begin the build with the overall design, then fill in the ‘connections’ with something like breeze blocks between phases? And if not, what is the best way to build in phases?


    You can, provided that you have the planning approval in place to do so. If the entire project has approval, you can build it in stages if you wish because once significant work has started and the planning permission is activated, you can take as long as you want to finish the job. Without seeing more detail, we can’t comment further, but be aware that you will only be able to make one VAT reclaim on the build regardless of how many ‘phases’ the build is undertaken in.

  • Should I pay VAT on my new build home?


    We recently completed a new build for ourselves as our primary residence and were charged VAT on labour by the bricklayer, carpenter and electrician. HMRC say they won’t refund and we have to go back to the trades for a refund. Has anyone experience of this?


    HMRC is correct. You were charged VAT by mistake and the responsibility is on you to get it back, I’m afraid.

    Note that you are NOT required to give contractors any form of certification to prove you shouldn’t be charged VAT. Contractors don’t need any proof whatsoever. However, they might wish to have a copy of your planning permission to help their accountants sleep at night!

    Looking at it from the contractor’s perspective, the VAT they would have accidentally charged you would have gone through their accounts and would (should) have then been paid to HMRC after filling in their VAT Return.

    They need to refund it to you (as it’s unlawful to charge VAT when it isn’t due), and they will claim it back from HMRC on their next VAT Return. It really shouldn’t be a problem for them, although they might ask you to wait until they get it back from HMRC.

    If they refuse, you might be able to take up the fact that they charged VAT when they shouldn’t with HMRC. This might lead to the contractors being investigated.

    It might be possible to make a claim through the Small Claims Court as there is clearly no question that they owe you a refund. This can be done online and doesn’t normally get as far as the courts.

    Another problem might be that the contractor(s) didn’t put the work through their books. This would mean that they pocketed the VAT and getting it back would mean them forking out from their own pockets. If this is the case, get on to HMRC (or threaten to) and report them for VAT fraud. Go through the Small Claims Court again for the refund if necessary.

    Keep all VAT receipts/invoices as you submitted them for the VAT reclaim. Don’t lose them; they are gold dust to you!
    For anybody else, check the HMRC form VAT431NB BEFORE you start to pay anybody. You can only claim back materials. You can’t claim back services, professional fees, hire, skips, contractors, etc. Contractors must not charge you VAT.

    Another tip, you can claim the VAT on any landscaping materials if and only if you include the landscaping scheme in your planning application.
    Andy Palmer

  • What are the acoustic properties of brick and block vs. timber frame?


    We are going to be building close to a busy road. Does anybody know the acoustic properties of brick and block vs timber frame?


    There is plenty of both technical and anecdotal information available online which would suggest that the sound proofing aspects of timber frame construction can be as good or better than brick and block. If brick and block isn’t well done, with the sound proofing aspect in mind, it isn’t particularly effective. You should talk to an expert in this area and whichever system you choose make sure it’s chosen and specified with sound proofing requirement taken in to account. Remember the Building Regulations’ requirements for sound proofing are not very onerous and they are easily achieved. If you’re serious about blocking sound you will need go beyond Building Regs in your spec.