The amount of work you will need to do will obviously depend on the state of the property that you’re taking over. When it comes to carrying out repairs you’ll need to consider some or all of the following:
All homes must meet the general standard of fitness before they can be lived in. This standard requires that homes are free of hazards and in practice this means they must be:
- structurally sound
- free of damp
- in reasonable repair &
- there must be a serviceable bathroom, kitchen and WC &
- an effective heating system.
There are other stricter standards that you may need to meet in particular situations. As a condition of some grants it may be necessary to meet the Decent Homes Standard ( which applies to permanent social housing). The standard is effectively the same as the fitness standard but in addition bathrooms and kitchens must be no more than 20 years old, there must be a central heating system and good thermal insulation.
If you are applying for a grant you may be expected to meet other conditions relating to property standards. for example Homes and Communities Agency standards for Temporary Social Housing Grant
See Annex 1 of the Housing Corporation Design and Quality Standards Guide 2007.
2. Building Regulations
If the renovation is a major one then you may also need building regulation approval. (As a rough guide a major renovation is one that involves renovation of more than 25% of the home)
The building regulations set standards on many things such as drains, sound and thermal insulation, and electrical safety. If you need building regulation approval you will need permission from the council. You can either make a full application by sending the council detailed plans showing exactly what you intend to do, or if the work is relatively straight forward you can notify the council that you are intending to start work and a building inspector will visit whilst the works are underway to ensure the regulations are being complied with. You will have to pay a fee for either approach.
If you are unsure whether you need building regulation approval or not, it is best to talk to the building control section of the council and ask. If you do need approval you really need to employ a surveyor or an architect to submit the application for you (if you are using a general builder, they might be able to do it for you).
3. Using Builders v Self Help
This decision will depend on how complicated the work is, how much money is available and the skills available within your project. .
Benefits of employing a competent and well-managed builder
- Expertise and experience in trades and project management
- Health and Safety guarantees – coverage provided by the builder for public liability, employee liability, buildings insurance, work defect liability
- Clear start and end dates with penalties for overrunning
- Important considerations when employing a builder
- Employer is the client and as such still has responsibility for creating the contract, which ensures that the work is to the correct standard, is carried out safely and within the required time scale.
Benefits of Self Help
- Labour cost savings
- Work experience and skills training opportunities
Important considerations for undertaking self-help
Any self help project must always have adequate and qualified site supervision
Tasks such as electrical and gas testing and installation must always be carried out by a qualified tradesperson
It is crucial to understand that as the organiser of a Self Help project there are compulsory Health and Safety duties, see section below.
4. Specifications Describing What Needs To Be Done
How to go about setting out a specification which describes the required works, depends on the complexity of the task and the earlier decision as to whether you take on a builder or go down self help route. The test is to produce a building that is fit for purpose, i.e. of a standard that will last for as long as it is intended to.
Writing A Basic Specification
Even if the scope of the project is within the capabilities of a self-help group the specification must set out :
- what needs to be done, including the order in which tasks must be undertaken &
- identify critical moments when materials or specialist trades-persons are required and how these will be paid for.
A specification that is too loose can lead to a disorganised project, which will drift and be difficult to complete.
If a builder is to be employed then the specification takes on a very much more formal role since, along with the contract, it will be the key document for dealing with the builder
Help on writing a specification for minor, small-scale works where brevity is important is available through: http://www.thenbs.com/products/nbsBuilding/index.asp 
You can also use web-based estimator services such as www.estimators-online.com  to help you work out quantities and costs
Alternatively you may want to use the services of a surveyor or friendly architect to help you draw up a specification.
If structural work is required then it would be advisable to engage a qualified individual with professional indemnity
4. Employing A Builder
When employing a builder much of the significance of the specification is determined by the relationship. If appropriate for the project, a small scale, local, known contractor is likely to be able to offer flexibility and understanding when dealing with inexperienced clients. In any case the employer must always ask for copies of a builders insurance and VAT registration, possibly also recommendations from other clients and evidence of solvency
It is important to have a contract with a builder, but this doesn’t have to be a stand alone formal document. Indeed an estimate and a returned letter accepting it are a form of contract. For larger jobs there are potentially more things to go wrong and so it is sensible to have something more detailed. Most builders will have their own contracts that you can ask to see and possibly negotiate before signing. Most builders use the JCT (joint contracts tribunal) minor works contract.
If you don’t know the builder already it is a good idea to ask for a couple of references from recent customers. You should also ask to see a copy of their public liability insurance certificate.
5. Health & Safety
Building sites are dangerous places and so there are lots of health and safety rules in force designed to protect people working on them. Thankfully the rules have been made simpler recently by putting most of them together in one set of regulations: the Constriction Design and Management regulations (CDM regulations) These require employers to properly plan the project, to check the competence of people brought onto the site, and train staff.
If the work is likely to take more than 30 days or involve more than 500 person hours work on site, certain stricter rules apply. You will need to appoint somebody as a CDM coordinator, they will need to plan and implement safety aspects of the work carefully and will need to notify the Health and Safety Executive.
More advice can be found here:
6. Planning Permission
You only need planning permission if you’re going to undertake certain sorts of alterations or works. It is not generally required for internal building works. However you will probably need it if you are:
- Extending the property (beyond certain limits)
- Significantly changing the external appearance of the property (e.g putting in more windows)
- Changing the use of a building. (for example turning an office into a house)
- Working on a listed building or a building in a conservation area
Planning applications are made to the council. They are completely separate from building regulation approval, getting approval for one doesn’t mean you will get the other. There is a fee for making an application
To find out if you need Planning permission, and work out how much you will be charged:
Temporary Social Housing Grant Standards
Health & Safety
Building Research Establishment
Centre For Alternative Technology