After much faffing around with details and paperwork, we finally have a Completion Certificate!
Getting things ready for the final Building Control inspection turned out to be an exercise in doing loads of work that wasn’t actually needed. Very frustrating, but a consequence of me not having been through the process before, and assuming that Building Control would want more evidence of compliance with the regs than they actually did.
I had prepared copies of things like the water usage calculations with evidence of measured flow rates from all outlets, and none of that was needed, for example. I’d also prepared reasons justifying the three pressurised systems we have, and why they did not need sign off against Part G by a competent person, and again none of that was needed.
In the end, when I’d got everything ready, with piles of paperwork stacked up ready to be checked, it turned out that the Senior Building Control inspector who came out was so enthusiastic about the build that he walked around for five minutes and declared he’d issue a Completion Certificate that afternoon. All he needed was my confirmation that the SAP EPC and the Part P certificates had been lodged on the appropriate databases, and that was it. The only thing actually checked was that the rear door entrance ramp, external wheelchair turning space, rear door threshold and width and downstairs WC access were Part M compliant, but this was just a visual check – nothing was measured.
I did give him a good walk around the whole house, pointing out all the things that had been done in accordance with the regs, but to be frank, I think he just sort of assumed from my general approach that I had complied with everything, and nothing was checked in detail at all. This placed quite a lot of trust in me, as the previous inspection had been when the insulation was being pumped in, before the cladding went on or the roof, and before the wiring, plumbing, heating, plastering etc had been done.
Having got our Completion Certificate I set about putting the VAT reclaim together. I’d been sorting out invoices and annotating them and adjusting the VAT where there were ineligible items listed, plus I’d kept copies of the exchange rates that applied at the time for everything purchased from the EU with VAT paid in another country. To make things easier to handle, I stapled each till receipt to a sheet of A4 paper, and bound these in groups (using a hole punch and banker’s tags) so that each group of receipts matched a single page of the reclaim spread sheet form. I recreated the receipt form parts of the VAT reclaim form as spreadsheet pages, which made getting the arithmetic right a lot easier (I can try and attach, or email, a blank of this spreadsheet form, if anyone wants it). I also added a serial number hand written on each receipt, in order, and used an extra column on the form to list this number, which made double checking that the forms matched the physical receipts a great deal easier.
I took the view that the easier I made it for HMRC to check the less hassle we would get, so doing some things that weren’t strictly required, like arranging the receipts in date order and adding unique serial numbers, might make our lives easier. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to do this! All told I spent around 20 to 30 hours just compiling receipts, filling in the forms and cross-checking. I then sent the whole lot off by secure, insured, delivery to HMRC and waited.
The first request back from HMRC, around 2 weeks later, was for a full set of plans and planning permission, together with a request for me to fill in a signed statement as to how much VAT should be removed from the claim for the value of the bike shed shown on the planning approval plans.
To say this was contradictory is an understatement. I’d sent all the plans and all the planning permission documents with the receipts (as required), and they must have looked at them, as the planning permission plans included provision for a bike shed (required under the old Code for Sustainable Homes that applied at the time we submitted the plans). Bike sheds, even when attached to a garage, as our proposed one was going to be, are NOT eligible for a VAT reclaim, even if they are a planning condition, or required by some regulation. The fact that HMRC had picked up on the bike shed on the plans meant that they must have read the planning permission and plans I sent, so why ask me to send them again?
You can’t deal with them by email or phone, so the only thing to do was to send them a letter explaining that we didn’t build the bike shed, as the Code for Sustainable Homes requirement was withdrawn in between us submitting our plans and them being approved, so we’d verbally agreed with the planning officer not to build it. I also included photos to prove we hadn’t built it (it was shown on the plans as a lean-to against the side of the detached garage) together with emails and the final conditions sign-off from the planning officer. I also sent HMRC another copy of the planning permission and plans they’d already got – I assume they misplaced the ones they’d originally received and reviewed, hence them needing to ask me for another set.
Another couple of weeks went by and we received a letter telling us that well over £1800 pounds of our claim had been rejected, as it included an ineligible item and that the balance of £8,300 would be paid to us within 10 days by BACS transfer. The implication was that this was the end of things, but they did give details of their appeal procedure.
I wasn’t too happy at losing well over £1800, so checked and found one error on our kitchen receipt that I’d not spotted. We bought the kitchen units as supply-only, except the kitchen company also supplied the stone worktops, and they were supplied on a supply and install basis, as they had to template the kitchen after I’d built it, cut the stone to fit, then install it. There was around £500 of VAT for this that shouldn’t have been charged. The kitchen supplier should have put this on a separate invoice as a supply and install item. I didn’t spot it amongst the dozens of lines on the kitchen receipt, and HMRC disallowed the whole kitchen unit VAT on the basis of this single error on the part of the supplier.
It was an error, too, as I’d given the kitchen supplier evidence that the supply and install part should be zero rated, and that VAT should only be included on the supply-only stuff. I went back to the kitchen supplier, they pulled the file and found my copy of the house plans, the request from me to zero rate the supply and install part, together with their copy of the receipt. They were happy to write a note saying that they had made an error on one item (out of around 40) on the kitchen receipt and confirm that all the kitchen components had been supply-only, except for the supply and fitting of the stone worktops.
I appealed to HMRC immediately, sending them an explanatory letter, with written evidence from the kitchen supplier, and they have said they will decide the appeal by 11 January 2017. The kitchen supplier are also looking at how to refund us the ~£500 VAT they charged us in error. They’ve admitted it was their error, but their accountant is working out how to deal with it.
My mistake, in part, as I didn’t spot that one line in the 40-odd items that made up the kitchen components. It’s now in the hands of HMRC and the kitchen supplier as to whether we get all, or some, of that VAT back.
The moral of this tale is to check, check and check again, before you send your claim in to HMRC. You cannot telephone them or email them to explain things or question anything, as they warn you that attempting to do so will increase the time it takes them to process your claim (my guess is that you go back to the end of the queue if you try and contact them, midway through the process).
We’re now in the process of getting our old house ready to market, hopefully not long after Christmas, and begin moving in to the new house, as the new furniture arrives (probably late January, early February).
All the house systems have been up and running for the best part of a year now, with a few teething problems, but nevertheless everything generally all works OK. The temperature control is extremely effective. Temperature stability is excellent, no matter what the outside temperature does, with the combination of relatively low mass, relatively high heat capacity, good surface conductivity, high insulation level, good airtightness and heat recovery ventilation and a tiny bit of heat put into the floor every day or two when it’s very cold, working well.
The key is that the house has a high thermal time constant, due primarily to the good insulation, high decrement delay factor and high heat capacity. It proves beyond any doubt whatsoever that mass has sod all to do with maintaining a steady temperature, in fact I think there’s a strong case for advocating that too much mass and too little thermal capacity, could well end up with a less comfortable house. This is, without a doubt, the most comfortable house we’ve lived in ever.
There have been a some changes to some of the systems, in the light of experience, so the next blog entry will focus very much on the house as-built, and this may well mean that some earlier blog entries may no longer represent what actually works. Things evolved as we went along, primarily to do with the hot water system, the heating controls and the water treatment system. For example, I found that controlling the slab temperature was a poor way to keep the house at a constant temperature, even though theory suggested it should be better, so the floor temperature sensing and control was removed and replaced by a much simpler room thermostat, that controls the house temperature far, far better than even the best proportional, weather compensating, floor temperature control I could device ever managed.
More on all this in the next episode.