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Buying a Listed Building

Why Are Buildings Listed?

Buildings are given a listed status to mark their historical and architectural interest, and to protect them from damage and inappropriate alterations that may detract from their special interest. According to English Heritage, “The older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed.” It goes on to state that all buildings – in anything like their original condition – built before 1700 are listed, as are most of those constructed between 1700 and 1840. To be eligible, a building usually has to be over 30 years old.

How Do I Find Out if My Home is Listed?

You can look at the listings in your local area at your local authority planning department, county council offices or local reference library. Alternatively, ring the Listed Buildings Information Service (020 7208 8221), who will fax you a copy of the listing for a particular building.

What is it Like to Own One?

On the positive side, it means you will own an important part of history which is seen to add to the area and hold particular interest, and this can increase the value of a building.

On the downside, carrying out alterations to the building – both inside and out – is a little more complicated than on non-listed buildings, although by no means impossible. In fact, English Heritage makes a point of stating that alterations and additions are not ruled out: “Listed buildings can be altered, extended and sometimes even demolished within Government planning guidance.”

Another piece of good news is that in some circumstances grants are available for repairs and alterations from English Heritage, individual local authorities or the Historic Buildings & Monuments Commission (HBMC). However, grants are more likely to be offered on Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings than on Grade II.

Another downside is that should your local authority consider that the building is not being properly preserved, it can serve a ‘repairs notice’ under Section 115 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. If you don’t comply, it can make a compulsory purchase order.

What Can and Can’t I Do?

There are no set rules here, with each building being judged individually. When a building is listed, consent is required for work that will alter the external appearance, and also that which will change it internally. Work usually requiring consent includes replacing windows and doors, removing internal walls and changing fireplaces. Your local authority’s conservation officer will advise you in detail on what will require consent on your property.

Very often, minor like-for-like repairs will not require consent.

Above Case Study: Dating from the 17th century, Sandra and David Milikin’s listed house in a Conservation Area was extended in two stages. Firstly, the existing two storey coach house was converted into a guest wing, then this was further extended 15 years later to make it into a home separate from the house. They said: “We wanted to retain the integrity of the coach house while creating a distinct contrast between the old and new sections.”

How Do I Apply for Listed Buildings Consent?

Application forms can be submitted online or in hard copy, and can be obtained from your local planning authority’s website or at It is strongly advised that when applying for consent for a Grade I or Grade II* listed building, a pre-application consultation is held with the local authority, the statutory heritage body (English Heritage, Cadw or Historic Scotland) and one or more of the statutory consultees, such as the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), the Victorian Society or the Georgian Group. has detailed information on how to apply.

Most local authorities aim to let you know the outcome within eight to 11 weeks. If consent is refused, you will be given six months in which to appeal.

Carrying out work without listed building consent is a criminal offence and the local authority may well insist that all work without consent is reversed. Although you can apply for listed building consent retrospectively, it may well be rejected and the work undone. In addition, a property to which unauthorised work has been carried out will be very hard to sell on.

The VAT Situation

Whilst making changes to listed buildings may be a little more complicated than with unlisted buildings, the VAT situation can spell good news for owners of listed buildings. Whilst you cannot reclaim VAT on the refurbishment, repair or extension of listed buildings, you can avoid paying it in the first place on the ‘alteration’ of listed homes (work that does not include maintenance or repair), including extensions. A detailed list of eligible works can be found in HMRC Notice 708 Buildings and Construction.

Note that in order for VAT on listed building ‘alterations’ to be zero rated, you must hire a VAT-registered contractor, who will omit the VAT from your invoice — any materials you buy yourself will not qualify.

For works not included in the specified ‘alterations’, if your building has been uninhabited for two or more years, the VAT will be reduced to 5% and if it has been empty for ten or more years, or involves converting a non-residential building into a home, you will be eligible for full VAT relief.

Important note: In the March 2012 Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that VAT relief is to be withdrawn from alterations to listed buildings. As from 1st October 2012, owners of listed homes will no longer be able to enjoy the zero rating of VAT when making approved alterations and extensions to their home (repair/restoration work was always subject to VAT at the full rate).

The Grades

Grade I: Buildings of exceptional interest. Applies to only 2.5% of listings, few of which are homes.

Grade II*: Particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Makes up around 5.5% of listed buildings.

Grade II:  Buildings of special interest and the vast majority of listings.