Planning Permission or The Caravan Act For my Annexe?
Published: 23 April 2023
Reading Time: 6 minutes 50 seconds
Guest Post by: Swift Unlimited
How can you be sure that investing a very significant amount of money and personal emotional commitment into a Living Annexe is going to be smooth and worry-free – without the risk of avoidable disputes and even litigation?
In the opinion of Swift Unlimited, there is only one answer – tick every box in the procedure and ensure that everything possible is done to prepare for what must be a positive and beneficial experience. Their 16 years of experience and close associations with professional specialists in this field may have created a few more “boxes to tick”, but their enthusiasm and commitment to the best outcome for their clients makes light work of their process.
Without a doubt, it’s clear to see that the Granny Annexe option is playing a hugely positive and significant role in more and more people’s lives. These inviting buildings provide solutions to issues that have become more relevant over recent years.
To provide loving family care and security to our more senior or dependent relatives is such a positive step – and one that needs to be taken with confidence and security. After all, the whole purpose of such a positive step is to remove anxiety and concern over the well-being of our loved ones.
Here at Swift Unlimited, we are receiving increasing numbers of enquiries from people who are not 100% clear about the best steps into Annex ownership. The transition from the family home, is often a massive change – and with it can come anxiety about the unknown. To add to the confusion, annexes are on the open market with a surprising variety of claims and assurances – and price ranges that can be hard to make sense of.
Making the decision to build an annexe is a big step, and at Swift Unlimited, we take this commitment seriously and will advise and nurture you every step of the way. We care about keeping your stress-levels low, and we genuinely care about you making the best long-term decisions. Ultimately, we want to ensure that you get the best possible outcome for you and your family.
What is The Caravan Act?
If you are already in the process of browsing the market for an annexe, you will have probably have already heard the term “The Caravan Act” being mentioned.
The Caravan Act has never been more referred to since its inception in 1968.
Its resurgence and popularity with Annexe companies is because, under certain circumstances and with very precise conditions, a building can be transported to, or erected in a garden that avoids Full Planning Permission and avoids some VAT payment. This “loophole” is being portrayed as a huge advantage – but is it too good to be true?
Firstly, let’s take a look at the act itself. It states:
A “caravan” means any structure designed or adapted for human habitation which is capable of being moved from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer) and any motor vehicle so designed or adapted...
- is composed of not more than two sections separately constructed and designed to be assembled on site by means of bolts, clamps or other devices; and
- is, when assembled physically capable of being moved by road from one place to another (whether by being towed, or by being transported on a motor vehicle or trailer)
Can your new annexe truly and legally be classified as a caravan?
Because of case law, it has been established, somewhat strangely, that a new building does not have to arrive at your home in two halves (like you may have seen holiday lodges or park homes being delivered on large lorries). It is permitted to actually construct the two halves on site from basic building materials. However, it is a strict requirement that:
- The two parts of the building must be built independently with a clear gap, and then the final stage is to physically move the two parts together and join them.
When a two-section holiday lodge arrives on a site, it will usually be on wheels and can be manoeuvred into position before joining together. Then it is jacked up and sits on semi-permanent axle stands beneath the steel chassis. Put simply, it is designed to be mobile.
A permanent annexe building is not usually movable. It is much heavier and, in most cases, needs to be constructed on precisely positioned screw piles or another form of foundation. This is simply not something that is made to be moved to meet the other half. In addition, the two halves would be made ready for disconnection in the future with the minimum of effort – so, for example, wiring will be in two halves with large connectors.
- The assembled building must remain transportable in the future – by splitting back into the two halves – not total dismantling.
Swift Unlimited have experience in lifting buildings – onto a seventh storey penthouse roof in one case. We know that to enable a building to be craned or wheeled into a different position, it must have a frame or chassis that will provide the required rigidity. This is a basic and essential element of the original design. Without it, the building simply will not survive any attempt to transport it.
Such strengthening is expensive and adds significantly to the height of the completed building – hence holiday lodges usually have three or four steps up to the entrance.
What if it can’t be classified as a caravan?
If your new annexe is built under the Caravan Act, but it cannot perform as described above – then it simply isn’t a “caravan” as defined in the legislation.
If it isn’t a caravan, then its presence contravenes the planning laws. If this is the case, then HMRC will be no doubt interested to recoup the VAT that was “saved” in the transaction.
How can anyone tell?
Ask your local planners – it is they who have probably had a call from a disgruntled neighbour or observer when this building appeared – without planning permission. (Ironically, a “caravan” can be significantly taller than planners would typically allow a conventional annexe). It will be your responsibility to prove that the building conforms to the definition of a caravan. Evidence will be required to prove that it started out as two parts – with a gap – and was finally pushed together. Evidence will be required to prove that it can theoretically be wheeled or craned into a new position.
What happens then?
That is down to planners and possibly the courts. It may be possible to gain retrospective planning consent – or the building may have to be modified or removed. None of these outcomes are experiences that Swift Unlimited want to expose their clients to. When looking for a secure, comfortable home for an elderly relative, ask yourself if this is really worth the potential upset and loss.
Opting to take the Caravan Act is a decision that should not be taken lightly. The initial savings on cost and time could ultimately lead to an increased amount of stress and a huge financial and emotional risk.
The risk, in a nutshell is: if it is discovered by your local planning authority that your annexe does not conform to the legal definitions, you may be forced to take it down. If HMRC concur that your building is not a caravan, then they, too will consider taking action to recover unpaid VAT.
At Swift Unlimited, we always entrust your application over to a specialist planning consultant. With their wealth of experience in annexe planning, our planning consultant will submit your plans, liaise with your planning officer, and give you updates along the way.
The team at Swift Unlimited have researched the option to offer clients The Caravan Act option very carefully, taking legal and planning advice. We see it as a priority to empower our clients to make a fully informed decision. We have concluded that unless we change the format of our buildings, compromising many of the elements that make our permanent annexes so special and comfortable, we cannot conform with the requirements of The Caravan Act.
Caravans and Building Regulations
Our annexes are permanent buildings. They are certified for Full Building regulations, just the same as a house. Importantly, regulations changed recently to ensure that insulation levels are significantly enhanced – which has increased wall, floor and roof thicknesses to incorporate even more insulation.
A static caravan or holiday lodge/mobile home does not have to meet the same stringent requirements. They are controlled by many mandatory standards to ensure quality and safety, but these do not demand the same level of insulation as a permanent building. Why not? – it is recognised as impractical to expect a transportable building to conform to the same standards as a permanent home.
There is much to consider and much to learn about with Granny Annexes. Historically the decision was often hurriedly arranged in response to an incapacity or illness – but is now increasingly a step that is taken much earlier in life and becomes intrinsic in the families planning for a happier and more relaxing multi-generational lifestyle.
We hope that this brief exploration into the subject of planning permission provides some enlightening and valuable information that will help with your decision-making process.
Everything is future-proofed for older living by having everything on a level.
Swift were extremely efficient, they were very supportive, they helped us through the planning process. I can’t speak too highly of them. They were really good!”
“They seem to do what you wanted as opposed to offering something off the shelf”