THE BUILD SERIES: 3 Annoying Things You'll Have To Deal With Before Starting Your Self-Build / by Tash South

So you’ve found a plot of land (like finding gold dust if you’re in London!), you’ve arranged the finance, you’ve even been granted planning permission (a rollercoaster ride!) so you think you’re set to start building your dream home. Right? Wrong.

Once you’ve done ALL of the above, you are still not quite there. As we’ve found, there are plenty of unknowns that pop up once you are in the process, causing delays and extra expense in the way of professional fees. Here, I've detailed three of the biggest things that affected us the most in terms of time and expense.


One. Party Wall Notices and Awards

Put very simply, a party wall award is an agreement between you and your neighbours, it protects your neighbours' property if any damage is caused by the work you are carrying out. If any damage is caused due to your works, then it is your responsibility to put it right at your expense.

You cannot start any works before Party Wall Awards are in place.

If your work is within 3 metres of your neighbour's boundary you will need a party wall award. There are many types of party wall awards, and the one you require will depend on the type of work you are doing, and also the relation of your neighbour’s property to your own.

If you're building withing three metres of another property you will need a party wall award. Photo by Tom Gildon

If you're building withing three metres of another property you will need a party wall award. Photo by Tom Gildon

Party wall awards can either be quite straightforward, or very complicated, depending on your unique situation. If your neighbours are agreeable and your work is pretty un-intrusive, then in theory, it should be smooth sailing. But unfortunately this is where many neighbours who were on good terms before, fall out.
In general, people don’t like change or building work, so it’s best to be prepared to deal with some friction – diplomatically of course!

If you get on well with your neighbours, you may be able to undertake this yourself. It’s always best to communicate with your neighbours beforehand to discuss what both parties expect, but if you are unsure, it is always worth employing professionals to help with the notices and awards – the professionals required would be Party Wall Surveyors and Structural Engineers. You must give your neighbour the option to either appoint their own professionals, or you can also share professionals that you both agree on.
Either way, you will be responsible for all of the fees incurred. Be prepared that this process could take some time, in an ideal word, it should only take a month or two, but, if you are unlucky, like we were, it could take up to a year!


Two. Hidden Local Authority Fees, Taxes and Levies

Section 106 Contribution

This one is a bit of a shocker. The largest tax is called Section 106, and it is usually tens of thousands of Pounds. Many people don’t know that councils in England put hefty taxes on developers, and unfortunately, as a self-builder, you are usually automatically lumped in with the big developers, it is then left up to you to prove that you are not one.

The S106 money collected is put towards building affordable housing in your borough, but when, like us, the whole reason you are self-building, is to try and actually create an affordable house for your own family, it can be a kick in the teeth.
Changes in policy have been made, and the government guidance is that self-builders should be exempt, but individual councils have been given the choice to decide if they will retain the Section 106 Levy, so check with your council before, or at the planning stage.

Most councils HAVE exempt self-builders, but do check carefully, as if you will be liable, this tax can be substantial enough to throw your whole project out of budget..

The Play House as seen on Grand Designs by architect Matt White

The Play House as seen on Grand Designs by architect Matt White

Community Infrastructure Levy

Another planning charge to be aware of, is the The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), the money collected is for authorities in England and Wales to help deliver local infrastructure.

Most new developments which create additional floor space of 100 square metres or more, or new dwellings, is potentially liable for the CIL levy.

As for Section 106, your local planning authority can choose to set the charge or not, and it can run into thousands, so check carefully if you may be liable.
Self-builders are usually exempt from CIL though, but the correct forms and supporting documentation need to be provided at planning application stage to apply for an exemption. Your architect will be very helpful in navigating you through the paperwork needed for these levies.


If you have a small, tricky site, like we do, or a hemmed in plot, access can be a problem, contact your local council to find out about any additional fees and charges well before you start your project. Actions like suspending parking bays, dropping a curb, or moving a lamp post to gain access to your site, all have fees attached that can run into the thousands, and have added paperwork and delays.

A timber clad house that was built on a tiny plot in South West London by architects Giles Pike.

A timber clad house that was built on a tiny plot in South West London by architects Giles Pike.

Three. Insurances

Before you start, your insurances have to be in place. This can be absolutely mind-boggling! There’s site insurance, public liability insurance, non-negligence insurance, security deposits, warranties, the list goes on and on. It can be completely overwhelming, but your party wall surveyor and your architect should be able to help you with these.


Building your own home is challenging, especially in a big city like London, the but there is help out there to guide you along the way – if you have a good set of professionals to advise you, it makes it so much easier.


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You can find more in depth information on the levies and taxes on the UK Planning Portal website.