The ten year rule explained

publication date: May 21, 2019
author/source: Guest article from Urbanist Architecture

The ten year rule explained - (updated 2024)
Certificate of lawfulness application for existing use or development


What is a Certificate of Lawfulness for Existing Use or Development?

A certificate of lawfulness is a legal document that confirms the current use of your property is lawful, despite not having the required planning permission.

They’re typically used when someone has made past changes to their property without realising that planning permission was needed. Now, that person wants to regularise their unauthorised development to make it lawful. This certificate confirms that the council has accepted your changes are permanent and you will no longer be at risk of receiving an enforcement notice which might involve not only a fine but also the demand that you revert the property back to its original use.

Importantly, to be granted a certificate of lawfulness, you need to demonstrate your property has been in its changed use for a minimum of 10 years. For example, let’s say you own a house that you divided into flats without knowing that planning permission was needed. If you have rented these flats out continuously for at least ten years - and you've got proof - then you can apply for a certificate of lawfulness using the 10 year rule.

Certificate of Lawfulness Applications secured by Urbanist Architecture for 3 self-contained flats

Wait, what happened to the four year rule?

As of 25th April 2024, the four year rule that previously existed was scrapped and replaced with a 10 year rule. This change aims to speed up the planning system and was part of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act that became law in October 2023.

From that date, any works completed without the required planning permission will need to demonstrate ten years of continuous use rather than four - a far more arduous task. As this change more than doubles the timeframe of the rule, the chance that you will be handed an enforcement notice also more than doubles.

Importantly, there are some transitional provisions and if your project was “substantially completed” before April 25, then the new time limit may not apply to you.

Do I qualify for the 10 year rule?

You can apply for a certificate of lawfulness if you can demonstrate that:

  • There has been a continuous use of land or building/s for more than 10 years
  • A condition or limitation on planning permission has not been complied with for more than 10 years
  • You haven’t deliberately concealed the use of the property
  • The development isn’t a demolition of a building within a conservation area

How can I make a 10 year rule application?

A 10-year rule application is all about evidence. What you, your architects, and your planners are trying to do is accumulate every scrap of information you can get your hands on to show that for every day for the last ten years your building has been used for the purpose you want it to have from now on.

Here are just a few of the documents you can use to do this – always remembering that these should cover the whole ten years at least:

  • Tenancy agreements;
  • Electoral Roll (for both current and previous tenants);
  • Council tax bills;
  • Electricity, water, and gas bills;
  • The title register;
  • Vehicle registration documents;
  • Dated photos indicating the previous use of the site or buildings and when the change was made;
  • Statements from people with personal knowledge of the existing use or works carried out and;
  • Maintenance bills (i.e. builder's bills, appliance repair bills, etc.).
..... but this is just a small sample of what can be assembled to make your case. It’s not just a matter of cobbling together a bunch of documents, though. You need to use them to argue a clear and coherent case, which Urbanist Architecture always does via a thoroughly researched and thoughtfully argued design and access statement. That’s why it’s best if you put this task in the hands of an architect or planner who has a proven track record with the ten year rule.

Why do I need to do this? What happens if I don’t?

While the main reason people pursue a certificate of lawfulness is to avoid being slapped with an enforcement notice, it's also important should you have plans to sell your property anytime soon or if you intend on remortgaging your property, as you will need a COL to successfully navigate either of these processes.
As mentioned, if you don’t regularise your property via a certificate of lawfulness, you’re putting yourself at risk of receiving an enforcement notice, which is likely to include a fine and might demand that your property be returned to its former state.

What do I do if my property hasn’t been in use for ten years?

Don’t stress, there are other options available. If you don’t meet the 10 year rule and your LPA is aware of the changes that have been made to your property, you might consider applying for retrospective planning consent. This is essentially the same process as a regular planning application, but the risk you run here is that if your LPA dismisses your application, you will likely have to revert the property back to its original use.

Alternatively, you can run the risk of the council finding out and issuing you with an enforcement notice, which you could then appeal. However, there’s no guarantee this appeal would be successful and could also lead to you needing to return the property back to how it was before changes were made.

How can Urbanist Architecture help you?

To date, the Urbanist Architecture team has prepared, submitted, and managed hundreds of planning permission applications, and have successfully maintained a 99% success rate with certificate of lawfulness applications!
If you are serious about regularising your property using the 10-year rule, please get in touch with the Urbanist Architecture team. They will break everything down and help guide you through the (sometimes challenging) certificate of lawfulness process.



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