Guidance

Self-build and custom housebuilding

Self-build and custom housebuilding registers.

Self-build and custom housebuilding

What is self-build and custom housebuilding?

The Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016) provides a legal definition of self-build and custom housebuilding. The Act does not distinguish between self-build and custom housebuilding and provides that both are where an individual, an association of individuals, or persons working with or for individuals or associations of individuals, build or complete houses to be occupied as homes by those individuals.

In considering whether a home is a self-build or custom build home, relevant authorities must be satisfied that the initial owner of the home will have primary input into its final design and layout.

When reading this guidance, reference should be made to the:

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Self-build and custom housebuilding registers

Who does the requirement to keep a self-build and custom housebuilding register and the duty to have regard to the register fall to?

Responsibility for keeping a self-build and custom housebuilding register falls to “relevant authorities” as set out in section 1 of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016), and includes:

  • district councils;
  • county councils in England so far as they are councils for an area for which there are no district councils;
  • London borough councils;
  • the Common Council of the City of London;
  • the Council of the Isles of Scilly;
  • the Broads Authority and National Park authorities in England are the relevant authority for the whole of their respective areas, to the exclusion of any authority mentioned above.

The requirement to keep a register does not fall to Urban Development Corporations and Mayoral Development Corporations.

The duty to have regard to the register is not limited to the relevant authorities that must keep a register. This is because other public bodies may have responsibility for housing and redevelopment functions in an area. In addition to relevant authorities, the public bodies that are required to have regard to each self-build and custom housebuilding register that relates to their area are:

  • county councils in England in areas where there are district councils
  • the Sub-Treasurer of the Inner Temple (in that person’s capacity as a local authority)
  • the Under-Treasurer of the Middle Temple (in that person’s capacity as a local authority)

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Why must relevant authorities keep a self-build and custom housebuilding register?

The Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016) requires each relevant authority to keep a register of individuals and associations of individuals who are seeking to acquire serviced plots of land in the authority’s area for their own self-build and custom housebuilding (referred to in this guidance as self-build and custom housebuilding registers). This guidance accompanies the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding (Register) Regulations 2016 made under the 2015 Act (as amended) and can be used by relevant authorities to assist them in designing and administering the register that they are each required to keep.

This guidance can be read alongside the guidance on the housing and economic development needs assessment and the housing and economic land availability assessment.

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What information must relevant authorities include on their register?

The information that relevant authorities must include on their register differs for entries for individuals and entries for associations of individuals.

For entries on the register for individuals, relevant authorities must record the name and address of the individual on the register.

For entries on the register for associations of individuals, relevant authorities must record the following information on the register:

  • the name and address of the association;
  • the name and address (if different from that of the association) of the lead contact; and
  • the number of serviced plots of land in the relevant authority’s area the members of the association are seeking to acquire.

In all cases the date on which an entry was made – and any dates on which it has been amended – must be recorded on the register.

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Can relevant authorities request applicants to provide additional information to that required by the legislation?

As part of the registration process relevant authorities can request applicants to provide additional information to that required by the legislation. This can support a greater understanding of the nature of demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in their area. However, those who meet the eligibility criteria but do not provide the additional information requested must still be entered on the register. Relevant authorities should ensure that any additional information requested is relevant, proportionate and reasonable.

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Can relevant authorities hold a joint register?

In some circumstances, for example in a housing market area that encompasses multiple local authorities, relevant authorities may wish to share the administration of their register with their neighbouring authorities. This approach can be taken.

However, under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016 each relevant authority must keep a register.

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Who is eligible to be entered on the register?

Applicants must meet all of the eligibility criteria for entry on the register. Each individual applicant and every member of an association of individuals that applies for entry on the register must:

  • be aged 18 or older;
  • be a British citizen, a national of a EEA State other than the United Kingdom, or a national of Switzerland;
  • satisfy any local eligibility conditions set by the relevant authority;
  • have paid any fee required by the relevant authority to enter or remain on the register; and
  • be seeking (either alone or with others) to acquire a serviced plot of land in the relevant authority’s area for their own self-build and custom housebuilding project.

When applying to be entered on a register, individuals who wish to register as an association must appoint a member or officer to act as the lead contact for the purposes of correspondence between the association and the relevant authority.

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In what circumstances should a register have two parts?

Relevant authorities who choose to set a local connection test are required to have two parts to their register. Individuals or associations of individuals who apply for entry on the register and meet all the eligibility criteria must be entered on Part 1. Those who meet all the eligibility criteria except for a local connection test must be entered on Part 2 of the register.

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What is the difference between the two parts of the register?

Relevant authorities must count entries on Part 1 of the register towards the number of suitable serviced plots that they must grant development permission for. See the section on self-build and custom housebuilding duties for further information on the duty to grant planning permission etc. Entries on Part 2 do not count towards demand for the purpose of the 2015 Act (as amended) but relevant authorities must have regard to the entries on Part 2 when carrying out their planning, housing, land disposal and regeneration functions.

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What local eligibility tests can a relevant authority set?

The Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016) enables relevant authorities to include up to two optional local eligibility tests. These are limited to a local connection test and a financial solvency test. We expect that relevant authorities will apply one or both of these tests only where they have a strong justification for doing so. They should ensure that they are proportionate and, in the case of the former, we expect these to be introduced in response to a recognised local issue. Relevant authorities should consider consulting on their proposals before they introduce the tests and should review them periodically to ensure that they remain appropriate and that they are still achieving the desired effect.

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What should the local eligibility tests look like?

It is for each relevant authority to determine the rationale for introducing a local eligibility test and hence the specific conditions set.

In designing a local connection test, relevant authorities may wish to consider criteria based on residency, having a family member residing in the local area and / or having an employment connection to the local area.

In designing a financial solvency test, relevant authorities may wish to assess whether the applicant can afford to purchase the land.

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How should relevant authorities treat applications to join their register from members of the armed forces and ex-services personnel where they have applied a local connection test?

In cases where members of the armed forces do not meet any local connection test applied, they must be deemed as having done so and be entered on Part 1 of the register. For applications made by ex-service personnel this includes the period of time since they have left the armed forces which is equal to any period of time specified in any local connection test applied.

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How should relevant authorities treat applications for entry on the register that are made by couples or by two or more members of the same household?

Relevant authorities should ensure that they have processes in place to consider how to process applications for entry on the register from couples, or two or more members of one household, who are jointly seeking to acquire a serviced plot of land for their own self-build and custom housebuilding.

If more than one individual application is made by a couple or by two or more members of one household, and each of the individuals is eligible for entry on the registers, the relevant authority must make the relevant entries on the register.

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What is the relationship between the register and the Strategic Housing Market Assessment?

Local planning authorities should use the demand data from the registers in their area, supported as necessary by additional data from secondary sources (as outlined in the housing and economic development needs guidance), when preparing their Strategic Housing Market Assessment to understand and consider future need for this type of housing in their area. Plan-makers will need to make reasonable assumptions using the data on their register to avoid double-counting households.

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How should relevant authorities publicise their register and are they required to publish data from their register?

Section 1(2) of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 requires each relevant authority to publicise its register. As a minimum, relevant authorities are recommended to hold a webpage on their website that is dedicated to self-build and custom housebuilding. Relevant authorities are also recommended to consider additional innovative methods of publicising their register to increase awareness of it.

Relevant authorities are encouraged to publish, in their Authority Monitoring Report, headline data on the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding revealed by their register and other sources. This can support development opportunities for self-build and custom housebuilding by increasing awareness among landowners, builders and developers of the level and nature of demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in the local area.

Relevant authorities should consider what additional optional information (for example, general location within the authority’s area, plot size preferences and type of housing intended to be built) could be requested of applicants and made available to increase opportunities for self-build and custom housebuilding in their area, having regard to data protection obligations.

The types of information relevant authorities are encouraged to publish include:

  • the number of individuals and associations on their register;
  • the number of serviced plots of land sought; and
  • the preferences people on their register have indicated, such as general location within the authority’s area, plot sizes and type of housing intended to be built, where this information has been requested by the authority and provided by an applicant.

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How should relevant authorities communicate and promote their actions to support self-build and custom housebuilding?

To promote self-build and custom housebuilding relevant authorities should consider having a dedicated part of their website for self-build and custom housebuilding. This webpage could cover: the purpose of the register and how to apply for entry on it, headline data on the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding revealed by their register and other sources (see the section on how relevant authorities should publicise their register and make headline data from their register available), and details on the recent activities taken by the relevant authorities to promote self-build and custom housebuilding.

Providing information on one well signposted and easily accessible site may help to reduce any risk of complaint or challenge that an authority is not complying with its duties under the 2015 Act and reduce the amount of correspondence asking for an update on progress.

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Can relevant authorities use email as a means of communication with those applying for entry on their register and those on their register?

Relevant authorities can use email if they wish to do so to communicate with those seeking entry on their register and those on their register where applicants have provided an email address.

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Self-build and custom housebuilding land duties

This section provides information on the two duties in the 2015 Act (as amended by the Housing and Planning Act 2016) which are concerned with increasing the availability of land for self-build and custom housebuilding. These duties are the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ and the ‘duty as regards registers’.

What does having a ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ mean?

Relevant authorities must give suitable development permission to enough suitable serviced plots of land to meet the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in their area. The level of demand is established by reference to the number of entries added to an authority’s register during a base period.

The first base period begins on the day on which the register (which meets the requirement of the 2015 Act) is established and ends on 30 October 2016. Each subsequent base period is the period of 12 months beginning immediately after the end of the previous base period. Subsequent base periods will therefore run from 31 October to 30 October each year.

At the end of each base period, relevant authorities have 3 years in which to permission an equivalent number of plots of land, which are suitable for self-build and custom housebuilding, as there are entries for that base period.

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Who does the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ apply to?

The ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ applies to the same authorities who are required to hold a register provided they are also a local planning authority within the meaning of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

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How can relevant authorities increase the number of planning permissions which are suitable for self-build and custom housebuilding?

Relevant authorities should consider how they can best support self-build and custom housebuilding in their area. This could include:

  • developing policies in their Local Plan for self-build and custom housebuilding;
  • using their own land if available and suitable for self-build and custom housebuilding and marketing it to those on the register;
  • engaging with landowners who own sites that are suitable for housing and encouraging them to consider self-build and custom housebuilding and facilitating access to those on the register where the landowner is interested; and
  • working with custom build developers to maximise opportunities for self-build and custom housebuilding.

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What is the definition of a serviced plot of land?

A serviced plot of land is a plot of land that either has access to a public highway and has connections for electricity, water and waste water, or, in the opinion of a relevant authority, can be provided with access to those things within the duration of a development permission granted in relation to that land.

Access to a public highway can include sections of private or unadopted road, it does not mean that the plot has to be immediately adjacent to the public highway just that there is the guaranteed right of access to the public highway.

Connections for electricity, water and waste water means that the services must either be provided to the boundary of the plot so that connections can be made as appropriate during construction or adequate alternative arrangements must be possible such as the use of a cesspit rather than mains drainage.

For example a plot of land alongside an existing public highway that is an infill between existing dwellings would count as being serviced. There is no expectation that services must be physically connected to the plot at the time of granting planning permission.

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How should relevant authorities count entries from associations of individuals towards demand levels for the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’?

For the purpose of calculating demand, relevant authorities should count associations of individuals as a single entry on the register. This is because we expect that the rationale for joining a register as a member of an association will be for the self-build and custom housebuilding project to be in close proximity to other members of the association. We therefore expect that associations of will be interested in a single site that is large enough to encompass their needs rather than separate plots of land.

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What can someone on a register expect for their membership?

Relevant authorities must give suitable development permission to enough suitable serviced plots of land to meet the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in their area. There is no duty on a relevant authority to permission land which specifically meets the requirements expressed by those on the register. Relevant authorities should use preferences expressed by those on the register to guide its decisions when looking at how to meet its duty to grant planning permission etc. This will help ensure that relevant authorities permission land suitable for self-build and custom housebuilding which people are actually keen to develop.

Relevant authorities should also consider informing those on the register when they have permissioned suitable land. Ideally this communication should include contact details for the land owner, where their consent has been obtained, so that if anyone on the register is interested in purchasing the land they know who to contact.

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What does having ‘a duty as regards registers’ mean?

Section 2(1) of the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 places a duty on relevant bodies to have regard to each self-build and custom housebuilding register, including Part 2 of the register (where a register is in two parts), that relates to their area when carrying out their planning, housing, land disposal and regeneration functions.

The following guidance suggests ways in which the duty may be demonstrated in carrying out each function:

(i) Planning

The planning functions of an authority may include both plan-making and decision-taking functions. The registers that relate to their area may be a material consideration in decision-taking. Relevant authorities with plan-making functions should use their evidence on demand for this form of housing from the registers that relate to their area in developing their Local Plan and associated documents.

(ii) Housing

Local housing authorities who are under the duty to have regard to registers that relate to their areas should consider the evidence of demand for self-build and custom housebuilding from the registers when carrying out their housing functions. This includes when preparing their local housing strategies and in developing plans for new housing on land owned by the local housing authority.

(iii) Land disposal

Authorities who are under the duty to have regard to registers that relate to their areas should consider the evidence of demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in their area from the register when developing plans to dispose of land within their ownership.

(iv) Regeneration

When developing plans to regenerate their area, local authorities who are under the duty to have regard to registers that relate to their areas should consider the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding.

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Exemptions from the 2015 Act duties

Can authorities become exempt from the ‘duty as regards registers’?

Authorities must have regard to their register when carrying out their planning, housing, land disposal and regeneration functions. There is no exemption from this duty.

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When can a relevant authority apply for an exemption to the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’?

A relevant authority may make an application for an exemption if for any base period (see the section on what having a ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ means) the demand for self-build and custom housebuilding is greater than 20% of the land identified by that relevant authority as being available for future housing.

As relevant authorities have 3 years in which to permission sufficient land to match demand, demand should be assessed over 3 base periods. For this purpose demand is the aggregate number of new entries on Part 1 of the register in that base period and the 2 preceding base periods. For the first 2 years, there will not be 3 base periods so relevant authorities should rely on the current base period and any previous base period (if applicable).

Land availability is the total number of new houses on land in the area of the relevant authority, assessed by that authority as being deliverable in that base period, the 2 preceding base periods, and the 2 subsequent base periods.

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If demand for self-build and custom housebuilding in an area is significantly more than 20% of the identified land for housing would the relevant authority be automatically exempt from the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’?

The first time that a relevant authority determines that the demand on their register is greater than 20% of its future deliverable housing supply that authority may apply to the Secretary of State for an exemption. That authority is assumed to not be exempt until the Secretary of State has considered and written to the relevant authority informing them of the outcome of their application.

For subsequent and concurrent base periods relevant authorities must continue to calculate at the end of each base period demand on their register as a percentage of the deliverability of housing over the next 3 years. Where this continues to be over 20% that authority is deemed to still be exempt and does not need to apply again to the Secretary of State.

However, if at the end of any given base period the demand in that base period when expressed as a percentage of future land availability is assessed to be 20% or below, the authority is deemed to no longer be exempt and must inform the Secretary of State that this is the case. For these authorities if demand as a future of land availability increases to over 20% in subsequent base periods they must again apply for an exemption.

The Secretary of State may at any time direct an exempt authority to apply for an exemption in respect of any base period. To ensure that relevant authorities have sufficient time to permission sufficient land if their exemption is overturned it is expected that the Secretary of State will only direct that an exempt authority will need to apply for exemption for the next base period. That authority will then be deemed to not be exempt for that base period until the application for exemption has been decided and the authority informed of that decision. This ensures that relevant authorities have the full 3 years in which to permission sufficient land.

To help the Secretary of State decide whether to direct an exempt authority to apply for an exemption they may ask for details in the current base period. The exemption would not be overturned unless there were exceptional circumstances and confidence that the authority could meet its duty to grant planning permission etc within the required 3 years.

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If an authority is granted an exemption does this apply to all base periods?

An exemption is only granted in relation to a given base period. Where a relevant authority has been granted an exemption, if demand on their register in subsequent concurrent base periods continues to be above 20% of deliverable land in their area there is no need for the relevant authority to apply for a further exemption unless directed to do so by the Secretary of State.

Relevant authorities must continue to permission sufficient suitable land to match demand in the base periods prior to being granted an exemption and in subsequent base periods if they are no longer exempt.

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What should exempt relevant authorities do for those on their register?

A relevant authority that is granted an exemption to the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ must notify any person entered on Part 1 of the register kept by that authority for the base period to which the exemption relates.

If a relevant authority decides to inform everyone on the register that the authority is exempt then the letter should be clear that the exemption is only for the latest base period and that the authority still has a duty to grant planning permissions in line with demand for the earlier base periods.

Relevant authorities that have an exemption from the ‘duty to grant planning permissions etc’ must still have regard to their register when carrying out their housing, planning, land disposal and regeneration functions.

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Cost recovery

Can relevant authorities charge fees to those who apply to be entered on or remain on their register?

Relevant authorities can only set fees on a cost recovery basis. Any fees charged must therefore be proportionate, reflect genuine costs incurred and should not act as a deterrent for people to be entered on or remain on the register.

To recover their costs of registering an individual or association of individuals, relevant authorities can charge an entry fee to individuals and associations of individuals who apply to be entered on their register. Relevant authorities can charge a different fee to associations than to individuals where they incur a different cost for processing an application from an association of individuals compared with an application from an individual.

To recover their costs incurred when complying with the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’, relevant authorities can charge a higher entry fee to those whose entry onto the register counts towards the number of plots of permissioned land required. In most cases this will be people on Part 1 of the register where a relevant authority is not exempt from the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’. As a result it is possible that where relevant authorities have set a local connection test and hence have two parts to the register, the fee charged when someone enters Part 1 of the register may be different to the fee charged to someone being entered on Part 2, which would reflect any additional costs of those on Part 1 contributing to demand and hence the number of sites which must have suitable planning permission granted.

Relevant authorities that are not exempt from the ‘duty to grant planning permissions etc’ can charge an additional annual fee in following years to those who are entered on Part 1 of their register (or the register if no local connection test has been set and so the register is not divided into two parts) and wish to remain on it.

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Can an exempt authority charge a fee?

Exemption only applies to specific base periods so relevant authorities may recover their costs for complying with the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ to those who are entered onto the register in a base period which is not exempt even where that authority may be exempt for other base periods.

Authorities cannot apply for an exemption from the duty to hold a register nor to have regard to those on the register when carrying out their planning, housing, land disposal and regeneration functions. Relevant authorities can therefore charge for entering people on a register if they incur genuine costs concerned with processing and maintaining that register.

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Can relevant authorities refuse entry on the register to an individual or association of individuals who does not pay the fee?

One of the eligibility requirements for entry on a self-build and custom housebuilding register is payment of any fee which is required by the authority in relation to the register. Therefore relevant authorities are entitled to refuse an individual or association of individuals entry to their register until they have paid any entry fee set by the authority. Relevant authorities are also entitled to remove an individual or association of individuals from their register in a subsequent base period if they fail to pay any annual fee set by the authority to remain on the register.

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If a relevant authority charged a fee and then became exempt from the ‘duty to grant planning permission etc’ would it have to refund the fee to the applicant?

An authority can only charge fees on a cost recovery basis. Therefore if an authority charged a fee in anticipation of a cost which did not then occur then that fee would need to be refunded. For example relevant authorities may choose to recover costs of granting planning permission suitable for self-build and custom housebuilding as well as costs of keeping a register. Relevant authorities who successfully apply for an exemption for a given base period who therefore did not need to permission additional land would have to refund any fee or part of fee charged in anticipation of that cost. They could however still charge to recover costs associated with entering people on the register.

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Published 1 April 2016
Last updated 28 July 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updated guide and added new paragraphs 016 to 037.
  2. First published.