Lawful Development Certificates

What Are They?

If you require a formal decision as to whether existing or proposed development is lawful, then you can submit an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness.  There are two kinds of certificate that can be applied for:

  • Certificates of Lawful Existing Use or Development
  • Certificates of Lawful Proposed Use or Development

The planning merits raised by these applications are not for consideration. It is simply a matter of evidence, fact, and legal consideration.

The processing time for a Certificate of Lawful purpose is 8 weeks.

Certificates of Lawful Existing Use Or Development

This procedure allows a person to make a formal application for a Certificate to determine whether an unauthorised development has become lawful through the passage of time, and can be continued without the need for planning permission.

A Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development can be obtained where:-

  • There has been a continuous use of land or buildings (other than a dwelling) for more than 10 years
  • A condition or limitation on a planning permission has not been complied with for more than 10 years
  • Building or other operations have been completed for more than 4 years 
  • A building (not land) has been used as a dwelling for more than 4 years

Obtaining a Certificate will have the effect of proving that the development is lawful, and protect the development from enforcement action. If a Certificate is granted, it will be worded to precisely identify the full extent of any lawful uses, operations or other matters, and will include a plan to show the land and/or buildings in question.  Refusal of an application may raise questions of whether the applicant should submit a retrospective planning application and/or whether the Authority should consider enforcement action.

Certificate of Lawful Proposed Use or Development

A Certificate of Lawful Proposed Use or Development will clarify whether a proposed use or development requires planning permission, or whether a proposed development already has planning permission i.e. permitted development, or is lawful by some other reason.  Approval will confirm that the use, operations or other matter applied for would be lawful if carried out in the manner stated in the Certificate. A refusal will point to the need for an application before the use, operations or other matter, are undertaken.

Making an application

Your certificate application should be made on the relevant planning forms and must provide sufficient factual information for the authority to decide the application.

It is important to note that the onus is on the applicant to prove the case by supplying sufficient clear and precise evidence to satisfy the Authority that a Certificate should be granted. The test to be applied to that evidence is the ‘balance of probability’.

If the evidence provided with the application is considered to be inadequate, then the application is likely to be refused on the basis of lack of evidence. This would not prevent a further application should more clear and precise evidence become available.

Applicants are therefore strongly advised to provide as much clear and precise evidence as they can when submitting the application.

Please note that it is a serious offence to make a false or misleading statement, use a false or misleading document, or withhold any material information, in order to obtain a certificate. On summary conviction of this offence, the maximum penalty is a fine not exceeding £5,000. On conviction on indictment in the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment, or an unlimited fine, or both.

  • Look at the Making an Application pages for advice on submitting your proposal including what information needs to be provided with this type of application

If your application is refused

If a properly made application is wholly or partly refused, or it is granted in a different form from the application, or is deemed to have been refused (because the authority have not determined the application within the time limit of eight weeks of receiving the completed application), you can appeal to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Possible revocation of a certificate

If a false statement is made or document used, or any material information is withheld, the planning authority can revoke a certificate. The revocation of a certificate may make the owner or occupier liable to immediate enforcement action to remedy what will then usually be a breach of planning control.

There is no appeal to the Secretary of State against an authority’s decision to revoke a certificate. But the decision may be contested in the High Court on the ground that the authority acted unreasonably in making the decision. For this purpose, legal action in the Court must usually start within three months of the decision. You are strongly advised to consult a lawyer before taking any legal action in the Court.

Further Advice

Page last reviewed: 05 August 2021