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Planning and Building Control

Apply for building warrant (Scotland) - 2016-2017

Why important

Any householder that wants to improve their property needs to be aware of their responsibilities with regard to building regulations. Being ignorant of them could lead to unnecessary costs and many other complications – like setting back the process of selling the property. While it is reasonable to assume that building professionals know what’s required, for householders a building project might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Council websites need to set out the process and what is involved, simply and clearly on the assumption that the website visitor may have little prior knowledge of the subject.

Date of assessment

November 2016

Coverage

Scottish unitaries. Please see separate report for Shire districts, London boroughs, English and Welsh unitaries and Northern Ireland Districts..

Overview

This is the first time since Better Connected adopted a task-based approach to its surveys that we have looked at building control. 34% of sites are rated good or very good on this task, fewer in Scotland than the rest of the UK, despite the arrangements in Scotland in some respects being simpler.

Find your council report

Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2016-17 results

Headline results

34%*

Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey

Better connected rankings

13%
22%
47%
19%

*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off

Key
  • 4 stars (Very Good)
  • 3 stars (Good)
  • 2 stars (Unsatisfactory)
  • 1 star (Poor)

 

Yes/No score Essential question User journey Not out of date Not over-wordy/jargon Star rank
Average score Percentage yes Average score Percentage yes Percentage yes Average star rank
10.4 65.63% 2.3 75% 75% 2.3

Questions

NB Question highlighted in green is an ‘essential question’ that must be answered correctly for the council to meet the standard for this task. Questions highlighted in blue affect star ranking

Questions to be answered 'Yes' Percentage answered correctly
Does a Google search lead me to the task? 100%
Can I easily find out whether the work I have comissioned (extension including new bathroom) requires a building standards warrant 65.6%
Am I told on the council's web pages (without having to read through a pdf) that I need to obtain a building warrant before work starts 56.3%
Am I told on the council's web pages (without having to read through a pdf) that starting work without a warrant could lead to a fine of up to £5000 6.3%
Can I find out what it will cost to get a building warrant for my project ? 93.8%
Is the whole process for compliance with buidling standards made clear? 43.8%
Am I told on the council's web pages (without having to read through a pdf) that the work will be inspected and a certificate given at the end of the process? 31.3%
Am I told on the council's web pages (without having to read through a pdf) that the certificate (building warrant in Scotland) is an important document if/when the property comes to be sold? 21.9%
Can I or my agent apply for a building warrant online 84.4%
Can I easily find a phone number for the building standards department to call if I need assistance 78.1%
Does the home page link me directly to the task? 96.9%
Does the service landing page link me directly to this task? 100%
Does a search for the task description return the correct result listed in the first five results? 93.8%
Does the A to Z list include this task? 87.5%
Do all of the above routes lead to a consistent destination? 84.4%
Other questions affecting standard achieved
Was the content you reviewed free of any out of date information? 75%
Overall, how do you rate the journey plus task completion? (0-4) 2.3
Non-scoring question
Was the content you reviewed concise and free of jargon? 75%

Task report

The system for supervision and enforcement of building regulations is slightly different in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK.

A building warrant must be obtained before work starts, and the different options of getting a building notice or making a full plans submission that apply in other parts of the UK do not exist in Scotland. Consequently the question set used to assess Scottish council websites differs slightly to reflect this.

With no building notice/full plans options to cause confusion, the expectation might be that the results in Scotland would be better, but here only 34% of sites achieve three or four stars compared with 43% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nearly half of sites do not state clearly on their site (without resorting to external sites or links) the vital information that a building warrant must be obtained before work starts. Important information to support this is not prominent on web pages either: only a third make clear that the work will be inspected and a certificate given at the end of the process and a fifth that the building warrant is an important document to have when the property comes to be sold. And hardly any make clear that a fine of £5,000 could be forthcoming if work is started without one.

Even if present these details were often too hard to find. Some councils had a separate page entitled something like “What happens if I don’t get permission” or “Work carried out without permission”. But why not say this upfront rather that making the user think to look on this page to find out that it’s a requirement?

A third of sites failed our essential question Can I easily find out whether the work I have commissioned (extension including new bathroom) requires a building standards warrant, therefore ruling themselves out of a star ranking of more than two stars for this task. A quarter of sites included out of date information which again, means sites cannot score above two stars.

Scottish councils launched a shared online system - eBuilding Standards - in August 2016. The way in which councils referred users to this new online system varied greatly. A few councils (Aberdeenshire, Dundee City, South Ayrshire, Stirling) had not bothered updating the pages since before the launch, with messages saying the new system is “coming in August”.  Others seemed to have stripped back their pages, preferring to direct users straight to the new website. Whilst this might seem a good idea, it meant that the user is completely missing crucial information they need - indeed, they may not even realise they need to visit this separate website.

East Lothian, for example, offers a link on the "Building Standards" page which is confusingly also called "Building Standards", and that link dumps me on to a separate Scottish Government website without warning. A lot of our questions go unanswered - even the question of whether a warrant is actually needed is vague with no links to additional information which might clarify things.

At the other end of the extreme, some councils provided a huge amount of information. Shetland Islands Council, for example, provides a very lengthy list of FAQs that visitors are directed to read, clocking in at over 4000 words. This would take over 15 minutes at average reading speed, placing a huge burden on the user. The problem with FAQs is because they're unstructured, readers can never be sure if they are missing something important unless they read them all.

Some councils are clearly yet to fully embrace a digital-first approach, and it wasn’t uncommon to see users encouraged to contact the council to get the answers they need. South Ayrshire provides a good example of this - the site offers a very prominent link called "Do I need a building warrant" which looks very handy indeed. But following this just takes the user to a single link on a page, which goes to a PDF. That PDF, it turns out, is an enquiry form that must be completed and sent in to the council. The enquirer must then wait for the council to respond

Some of the sites got very complicated, very quickly. Whilst most councils refer to the government’s Technical Handbooks at some point, some councils send you straight off to them which is not very helpful given the sheer volume of information they present. Others direct you to a Scottish Government PDF called the “Building Standards Customer Journey”.

This is a pretty useful document, but it has a dreadful name: “customer journey” is user experience and service design specialist language, not something most members of the public would use. The result is that many sites simply offer a link called “The Customer Journey” which is meaningless without context. This certainly doesn’t pass the Ronseal test!

In some cases, the new online system got a mention on the high level pages, but had been left off the all-important “how to apply” pages - meaning that if the user went straight into this page, they would miss the online system completely and instead download the paper form.

Good practice

Structure the information provided to suit non-expert applicant questions. Explain the whole process.

Cover these issues:

  • What are building regulations?
  • Does the work proposed require them?
  • How to apply
  • Charges
  • Inspections
  • Completion certificate
  • Contact for further information/help

List the main instances where building control is needed. Listing those where it is not needed always leaves doubt about instances not covered.

Poor practice

Key information should not be consigned to pdfs or FAQ lists

Do not hand visitors off to external sites like https://www.ebuildingstandards.scot/eBuildingStandardsClient/default.aspx without preparing them and keep high level information on the council’s own website

See also the building standards report for Scotland.

See also the building standards report for the rest of the UK.

Sites that we recommend

Midlothian

Absolutely brilliant - clearly this task can be supported and presented in a usable, approachable, helpful manner. Logical, sensible progression through the pages, all nicely linked to each other and with well written guidance at all points. Every page seems sympathetic to the fact that this is a complex topic and that you may need lots of guidance and related information. Everything is set out clearly and in plain English - I never felt it was assuming knowledge of anything.

https://www.midlothian.gov.uk/info/161/building_standards/231/apply_for_a_building_warrant

 

North Ayrshire

Very good - the main page for warrants is logically structured, easy to read and understand, with lots of useful links to all the things I need to gather together my application. I maybe don't get answers to absolutely all my questions - and the bit about how certificates work could have been a little clearer and explain the importance of this document more - but overall very good.

http://www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk/resident/planning-and-building-standards/building-standards/building-standards.aspx

 

Perth and Kinross

Absolutely fantastic - this council clearly understands how a user might be looking for information about this task, and how they might not know already the basics. The user journey through the information is at all times sensible, logical and well written to be easy to understand. There are lots of related links but these are always introduced with context, and they've made sure that they've linked to the new online system in all the relevant places. Excellent example of user-focussed content and presentation.

http://www.pkc.gov.uk/buildingstandards

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