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Do I need planning permission for a children’s home?

Josh Hellawell, associate at PWA Planning, discusses the issue of when planning permission is required to provide supported living accommodation for children and young people.

Our planning team is often approached by charities, care organisations, and other applicants looking to acquire or rent existing dwelling houses to provide homes for looked after children and young people.

This article aims to explain what current planning policy is on children’s homes and when planning permission is needed or not needed. Each case is different, so careful consideration is required.

Current planning policy for children’s homes

The National Planning Policy Framework requires planning authorities to consider the housing needs of different groups. Generally speaking, planning authorities have a responsibility to support applications, where development is deemed suitable, for all types of accommodation for looked after children and young people.

This commitment was underscored by a Commons statement in May 2023 which said “The planning system should not be a barrier to providing homes for the most vulnerable children in our society”.

Of course, many charities and care providers do not have the funding to develop or acquire purpose-built properties, and therefore will look to repurpose existing family housing to create homes for looked after children. Moreover, it is often this conventional family household setting which is most conducive to providing effective care.

When is planning permission needed for a children’s home?

If you are looking to rent or acquire existing family housing for use as a children’s home, it’s important to be aware that planning permission may be required, even if there are no physical alterations taking place to the property.

Under planning law, planning permission is needed to authorise the use of a property as a children’s home whenever there is a “material change of use” from what was previously authorised. In other words, in instances where there has definitely been a perceptible change of use, and that change is ‘material’.

Use classes for children’s homes

To determine whether there has been a change of use, we must refer to the ‘use classes’ set out in the Town and Country (Use Classes) Order 1987.  Within this legislation ‘residential’ institutions fall into class C2, which it defines as: “Provision of residential accommodation and care to people in need of care (other than within class C3 (dwellinghouses)”.

Class C3 covers “Use as a dwellinghouse (whether or not as a sole or main residence) by:

  1. a single person or by people to be regarded as forming a single household
  2. not more than six residents living together as a single household (where care is provided for residents)
  3. not more than six residents living together as a single household where no care is provided to residents (other than a use within Class C4).”

A conventional family home will usually fall within category (a) on the above list. If such a property is acquired or rented for the purposes of providing supported accommodation, then unless the proposed use will fall within category (b) on this list, there will be a change of use to class C2.

Can children in a home be classed as a single household?

Based on the use classes legislation, a property cannot fall within use class C3 if more than six residents are to occupy it. If the proposed number of occupants is six or fewer, the question then becomes are they are living together ‘as a single household’? This is where it gets even trickier.

Planning case law has previously established that children are not able to form a ‘single household’ because they are not capable of living without adult care and supervision. However, children living together with an adult carer can potentially constitute a single household if that carer is permanently resident. Non-resident carers are generally not deemed to be part of the household, even in circumstances where care is provided to the children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Young people aged 16 or over may be capable of living as a single household, depending on their needs. Each situation is assessed on its own particular facts.

Is the change of use material?

This brings us to the second part of the conundrum. As previously stated, planning permission is not needed in instances where there is a change of use that is not ‘material’. So, what constitutes material?

A change of use from class C3 to C2 will not generally be considered material if it doesn’t change the actual daily use and character of the property. Factors that may influence this include changes to parking arrangements e.g to facilitate support visits from carers, and whether additional security measures are proposed for the property. The number of residents is relevant here too. For example, six children living together is likely to be considered higher impact than the average family home, but two to three might not be.

Equally, physical alterations are a key component, namely when the home needs adapting to provide certain levels of care, or the operator is required to include fire safety evacuation points and display formal procedures throughout the property.

Seeking expert planning guidance

Those looking to rent or buy existing residential properties for use as accommodation for looked after children should seek expert advice before committing to a property.

Our team often work with applicants to seek initial advice from planning authorities. For example, we can advise on whether planning permission might be required or advise on obtaining a certificate of lawfulness of proposed use.

If you require more information on this matter, or want to discuss planning for a specific project, contact our team on 01772 369 669.

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