- Self Help Housing - http://self-help-housing.org -

Organising Repairs to Properties

A finished Latch project [1]

A finished Latch project

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:

1. Standards

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:

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.

http://www.housingcorp.gov.uk/upload/pdf/Design_quality_standards.pdf [2]

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

Benefits of Self Help

Hard at work [3]

Hard at work

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 :

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 [4]

You can also use web-based estimator services such as www.estimators-online.com [5] 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.

Structural Work

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:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/cdm/buildingcontrol.htm#a2 [6]

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:

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:

http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/england/genpub/en/1011888239467.html [7]


Temporary Social Housing Grant Standards

http://www.housingcorp.gov.uk/upload/pdf/Design_quality_standards.pdf [2]

Health & Safety

www.hse.gov.uk [8]

http://www.hse.gov.uk/construction/cdm/buildingcontrol.htm#a2 [6]

Planning Permission

http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/england/genpub/en/1011888239467.html [7]

Building Research Establishment

www.bre.co.uk [9]

Centre For Alternative Technology

www.cat.org.uk [10]

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