Understanding planning permission for children's homes and supported living facilities

Catherine Flexer, Senior associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, charity law and not for profit team. Alexandra Ground, Partner in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, real estate planning and construction team.
Multiple Authors
4 min Read
Catherine Flexer, Alex Ground

At Russell-Cooke, we regularly act for charities that own and operate supported living accommodation, or are looking to do so, as part of their service provision to beneficiaries.

In the intricate web of property development and land use, the question of whether supported living facilities and children's homes require planning permission emerges as a pivotal concern for developers, care providers, and local authorities alike.

This complex arena intertwines legal requirements, societal needs, and the primary goal of providing safe, supportive environments for some of the most vulnerable members of society. In this guide, our experts, senior associate Catherine Flexer and partner Alex Ground, provide insights into the landscape of planning permissions for these essential services.

The essence of supported living and children's homes

Before diving into the legal aspects, it's crucial to understand what we mean by supported living and children's homes.

Such an arrangement can take many forms, and the level of care provided can vary enormously. One end of the scale might be the provision of temporary accommodation to young people at risk of homelessness, who are generally self-sufficient but require assistance with their finances and job applications.

The opposite extreme could be the provision of long-term accommodation and care to severely disabled children who need round-the-clock medical attention and supervision.

Navigating planning permissions: a closer look

The question of whether these facilities require planning permission hinges on multiple factors, including the specific use class a property falls under and the nature of the operations conducted within its walls.

Whilst some charities may be in a position to acquire purpose-built premises, many will need to rent or purchase existing residential property in order to do so. A house that has previously been used as a conventional family home will often be appropriate, subject of course to any alterations needed to make it safe and accessible for the proposed occupants.

It is important to be aware that planning permission could be required in such circumstances, even if there are to be no physical changes to the property, in order to authorise the proposed use.

When does supported living require planning permission?

Planning permission is required to legitimise the use of a property when there's a significant shift from its previously authorised use. This process involves two critical inquiries:

  • is the property undergoing a change in use?
  • if yes, is this change significant or 'material'?

Understanding 'change of use'

A 'change of use' is assessed against the backdrop of designated 'use classes' as outlined in the Town and Country (Use Classes) Order 1987 and its subsequent amendments. Notably, 'Residential institutions' fall under use class C2, catering to individuals requiring care, distinct from class C3 residential dwellings. The distinctions are as follows:

  • Class C2: accommodation and care for those in need, excluding uses covered by Class C3
  • Class C3: residential use by:
    • a single person or a single household
    • up to six people living as a single household with care
    • up to six people living as a single household without care, excluding Class C4 uses

A typical family home generally aligns with category (a) under Class C3. However, if a property is adapted for supported living and doesn't fit within category (b), it transitions to a Class C2 use.

Single household considerations

For a property to remain within Class C3, it must not house more than six residents. The essence of living 'as a single household' hinges on whether the occupants function as a unified living unit.

Legal precedents, such as the 2003 North Devon DC vs. First Secretary of State case, highlight that children alone cannot constitute a 'single household' without adult supervision.

Children living together with an adult carer can potentially constitute a single household, if that carer is permanently resident. Non-resident carers are 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.

Conversely, young adults over 16 may form a single household if they share communal living aspects, as demonstrated in a 2019 Planning Inspectorate appeal.

Materiality in change of use

The materiality of a change in use is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Not all changes in use require planning permission. A change is considered non-material if it doesn't significantly alter the property's daily function or character. Factors influencing this determination include:

  • noise levels
  • increased demand for parking due to caregiver visits
  • installation of additional security measures
  • the impact of the number of residents, particularly children or young people

Proactive steps and strategic planning

For charities envisioning the launch of a supported living facility or children's home, a proactive approach to planning permission is essential. Understanding the local council's stance, engaging with the community, and possibly seeking legal counsel can pave the way for a smoother process.

Effective strategies include:

  • pre-application discussions: early engagement with local planning authorities can clarify requirements and reveal potential hurdles
  • community engagement: addressing community concerns and demonstrating the value of the proposed facility can foster support
  • expert guidance: legal experts specialising in charity property law can offer invaluable advice, navigating the complexities of use classes and permission applications

If it is not clear that the proposed use will be lawful, the safest approach would be to seek a 'certificate of lawfulness of proposed use' from the local planning authority. If granted, this will provide comfort that planning consent will not be necessary. If refused, the choice will be whether to proceed with a planning application or walk away from the property.

Get in touch

If you would like to speak with a member of the team you can contact our charity law solicitors by email, by telephone on +44 (0)20 3826 7510 or complete our enquiry form below.

Briefings Charities Real Estate, planning and construction Catherine Flexer Alex Ground charity law supported living Planning for businesses Planning permission supported accommodation