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Right to Build: How Can it Help You to Build Your Own Home?

Timber clad self build right to build
(Image credit: Simon Maxwell)

The Right to Build is designed to help self builders and custom builders overcome one of the biggest hurdles they face — finding a self build plot. 

Thankfully, the Right to Build was launched in 2016 and was designed to help champion self and custom build as a viable alternative to help get people on to the housing ladder and create an individual home.

The Right to Build is a piece of legislation that supports those who want to build their own homes. Prospective self builders are asked to log their desire to build their own home with their local authority via the Right to Build Register.

As part of this legislation, local authorities must ensure that they have sufficient plots available to meet the demand, and demonstrate that planning permission (or permission in principle) has been granted on these plots within three years.

Local authorities across England are required to evidence this every year on 30 October — on Right to Build Day.

If you are thinking about taking on a self build or custom build project, then make sure you are up to speed on the Right to Build scheme and how it can help. This guide explains what you need to know.

What is the Right to Build?

In a bid to boost housebuilding and address concerns about affordability, the Government passed legislation to make more individual and serviced plots available for those wanting to build their own homes. 

As part of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, local authorities are now required to help find land for those who have an interest in building their own home. This is done through the Right to Build register.

As of 1 April 2016, councils in England have had to keep a list of people or groups who would like to self build. Local authorities in England have to make enough serviced plots available to meet the demand (which can be ascertained by the number registering for the Right to Build).

Anyone who is interested in building their own home is invited to register their interest on the Right to Build Portal (a site set up by the industry body National Custom and Self Build Association or NaCSBA).

A Right to Build Task Force has also been established by NaCSBA to support local authorities as they work to fulfill their right to build duties.

Where is the Right to Build available?

The Right to Build is currently only open to those who want to build their own home in England. There is currently no equivalent for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Welsh government, however, launched a promising and innovative self build scheme entitled Self Build Wales, earlier this year.

NaCSBA is encouraging the Scottish Government to bring forward more opportunities for custom and self build. 

In Northern Ireland, land supply has always been much less of an issue and 15% of all new homes are commissioned by their owners, compared with 8% or so across the UK.

How do I Register for the Right to Build?

To find your local register, you can either search your local authority website or visit the Right to Build Portal, hosted by NaCSBA.

To eligible to register, you need to be:

  • Be 18 years old of age or over
  • A British citizen, a national of an EEA State other than the UK, or a national of Switzerland
  • Seeking to acquire a plot to build a home which will be your sole or main residence

Some local authorities may have further criteria, and may also charge a fee to join their register.

When you register for the Right to Build you are asked whether you are applying as an individual or as part of a group. Those applying as a group will get the chance to take on what is known as a co-housing project or community self build. The council will try to provide a plot for the group to build several homes, or flats.

If you apply as an individual (or family unit), you must be looking for a plot to build your sole residence on (so it can’t be used to build holiday homes or a buy-to-let). When you apply, the council may ask you to attend their offices with proof of identification.

The application forms also ask what kind of plot you had in mind and what kind of home you would like to build on it. However, what becomes available will largely depend on how many homes are required to be built in your area, and whether you are applying in an urban or rural setting. For example, urban applicants might find that the majority of plots are brownfield or infill and you should expect to see more custom build apartments or flats in these settings.

Many plots will be available as sites of several serviced plots (with utilities connected) so if you are determined to get an individual plot in rolling countryside, you might have to compromise on that dream and accept that you will be sharing it with a few neighbours. 

Alternatively, you might want to subscribe to plotfinder.net to find opportunities in your area. The online service provides details of more than 15,000 plots and renovation opportunities nationally.

Also bear in mind that the local authority has no legal duty to find a plot to match your personal requirements: they are simply required to make available the right number of plots to meet demand in their area.

And remember that you can register in more than one local authority, or with a different one if you want to move areas when you self build.

Is the Right to Build Scheme Working?

“Good local authorities are ensuring the land is available for self and custom builder: some are freeing up council land, acquiring sites for self builders, working with developers to ensure a percentage of their large sites are available, or working with housing authorities,” stated Michael Holmes, chair of NaCSBA.

“We are pleased with this progress, but it is still massively underestimating the level of demand.”

Through FoI requests in 2019, NaCSBA established that only 45% of England’s local authorities believe they have met their duties under the legislation. While 37% failed to provide any response to NaCSBA, and 18% accepted that their obligations had not been met. 

Furthermore, it's believed that around 8,000 names have been removed from the registers. Since April 2016, an estimated 55,000 people have signed up to Right to Build registers across England, but due to roughly 8,000 removals, the total currently sits at around 47,000. 

Right to Build to be Reviewed

On 30 October 2020, the government announced it will review Right to Build laws with the aim of supporting self and custom builders.

Robert Jenrick, Housing Secretary, stated: "We are backing people who want to design and build their own home and today I have launched a review to ensure councils provide enough land and take proper consideration for these homes when making planning decisions in their area."

The announcement follows the publication of the 'Planning for the Future' government white paper, which proposed a series of planning reforms which could be beneficial for self builders, amongst others. The consultation period ended on 29 October; we await further news on the proposals. 

As part of the review announced, the government will examine how effectively current legislation is supporting self and custom build across England, including whether they need to increase land available for this purpose.

Furthermore, the data local authorities collect on self and custom build in their area will be published annually to increase transparency. The Housing Secretary also wrote to local authorities in England in October 2020 to ensure they consider self build both when providing land for building new homes and when making planning decisions.

The announcement has been welcomed by many self and custom build industry experts and groups.

Andrew Baddeley-Chappell, CEO NaCSBA, stated: "England has the lowest known rate of self-commissioned homes in the developed world. Our new homes market is crying out for the greener and higher quality build that goes hand-in-hand with more consumer choice. Housing diversification is key to the government’s housing strategy.

"This excellent announcement today by the government should help many more people achieve the dream of living in better and more beautiful homes."

Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), said: “It’s no secret that this country is in need of more, high quality, sustainable homes, so this boost to Right to Build is welcome. The Housing Secretary’s determination to increase diversification in the housing market and promote greater numbers of self and custom builds is good news for small to medium-sized (SME) house builders."

What If My Local Authority Doesn’t Meet Its Duty under Right to Build?

Most councils have already embraced this, and having extra money from the Government to carry out this work has helped. However, Michael Holmes stated: “The response from local authorities is very inconsistent, with some local authorities being very proactive and some doing nothing at all.”

If your local authority is one of the handful that is not taking on board their Right to Build duty, you need to put pressure on them to meet their legal obligations. Write to them and to your local MP and ask others who are interested in building their own home to do the same.

It is hoped that the Right to Build review, to be undertaken by the government, will however address these issues, and ensure all local authorities in England meet their obligations to self and custom builders going forward.

Industry body NaCSBA and the Right to Build Task Force are also continuing to work tirelessly to promote the cause.