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Do you pay application fees through the Portal?

by on August 20, 2014

The workflow of the Portal’s online application service doesn’t allow applications to be submitted to a Local Planning Authority (LPA) until the payment method is chosen.

When the online payment option is selected and a successful payment taken, the application is transferred to the LPA.  This means the LPA doesn’t need to reconcile the payment with the received application.

This saves the LPA time and resources and avoids by far the most common cause of delayed registration or the invalidation of applications.

We’ve had lots of feedback from planning agents over the years on why they choose not to use this payment method.

Now it seems the tide is beginning to turn.

Now we’re seeing growing evidence that increasing numbers of planning agents, practices and organisations are using the online payment option, not just for small and minor applications but for submissions of all types and sizes.

We’re well aware of all the reasons why some planning agents don’t use this option, but it would be a great help for us to get feedback from those of you who do use it, particularly on what encouraged you to pay online and, perhaps more importantly, what benefits you have gained from doing so.

We realise choosing to pay online required some changes to your business practices and may have presented some hurdles which you have obviously overcome – we’d love to know what they were and how you resolved them.

By the way, the selected payment option is automatically added to the notification sent by the Portal to the LPA with each and every application.

41 Comments
  1. As I understand it, if we pay for the planning application fees on behalf of a client then we need to add VAT on as this is a Disbursement before we can claim back from the client. If the client pays direct they save themselves the additional 20% which we would have to charge – it also means we’re not funding the application on the clients behalf to the tune of thousands of pounds in cases of larger applications (or lots of several hundreds of pounds in other cases) which could take several weeks for the client to pay back.

  2. I do try not to pay appliction fees online, and have always asked clients to provide a cheque for my fee, and one for the application fees. However, I have been paying online more and more over the last year or so, because clients often prefer to pay my fees by bank transfer rather than cheque. In order to provide a single point of contact and less hassle for clients, I then agree for them to add the applicaton fee to my payment, and I will then pay the application fee online. It’s not ideal for me, but we must move with the times…

  3. Payment of the application via the portal is something that I have done a few times with trusted clients as it has to come off my cash flow, however as most of my clients are one off, home owners, I don’t have the means to carry them if they decide to delay payment, which happens not often, but enough to hurt if I am chasing planning fees as well, so with third party fees in most cases I ask the client to pay directly. Now if there were a means on the portal to send the client an online payment instruction that may work better for me and the local authorities.

    • Agree with all that Darren says. One other matter for smaller operations, is that if we pay the fee on a clients behalf then it has to be invoiced and accounted for. This increases accounting complexity and turnover. Typical fees paid over a year could exceed £10K. It would be more attractive if the Portal application could generate a WorldPay or PayPal link for the client to follow, or even a credit card number to call with a payment reference.

    • Gareth Bridge permalink

      I usually print out the payment details and send it to the client to pay by phone/cheque but Darren’s idea of a an online client payment instruction option is brilliant. Please do it.

  4. Simon Evans permalink

    I guess I shouldn’t be commenting here as I am one of the many that don’t use the online payment facility. I can see the advantages of doing so but the disadvantages currently outweigh them. What I feel is needed is a way to allow a third party to make the online payment. It could be as simple as a link that allows the payment to be tied to the application so that a client or his representative can transfer funds without requiring the transaction to go through the books of the agent.

  5. Gideon Brimmer permalink

    The local district council have only recently included the option to pay online. We have therefore limited experience of the process. However apart from the obvious benefit of an immediate payment without the hassle of following an online application up with a cheque in the post we have noticed only a few problems;
    1. Credit card payments attribute a small percentage charge on each transaction, which should in my opinion be covered by the planning authority as the process is saving them time and resources.
    2. The email verification that a payment has been made does not reference the planning portal number which can lead to confusion within our admin when matching planning fees with applications.
    Apart from that it is seamless.

  6. I have always paid online and have never experienced any problems.

  7. Richard Devonshire permalink

    Dear Sarah

    It would be helpful if the Fee Calculation function on the Portal worked for all types of applications – specifically, I have tried to use to calculate the fee for a certificate of lawfulness for an existing use or development (CLEUD) – on more than one occasion only to tick through the boxes to end up with a message – that the fee for this application has not yet been calculated.

    Regards

  8. Brian M Allebon Ltd permalink

    I do not object to payment over the Portal and have done so but I prefer to get my clients to pay. It lessens my ultimate bill to them and proves their intentions

  9. I never hand over drawings to clients without payment. I de-registered from VAT years ago to save myself from working for the gov 4 days a month and to make myself one fifth cheaper than those who are registered. (I never reach the required turnover threshold, which is over £60,000 now.)

    So there is no complication (see above) with VAT. What really annoys me is the way LPAs are allowed to languish in the 20th century. Until very recently several insisted on a cheque, which made a nonsense of the digital application, as I still had to pay a first class stamp and write a letter and then the authority would take 2 weeks (if I was lucky) to put the payment together with the portal application. Of course we should all be paying digitally by ‘Faster Electronic Payments’.

    If there is a complication for some with VAT why can’t the portal present this problem to HMRC and ask them to find a solution? I still have to contact [LPA name removed] by ‘phone to pay for Building Regulations Applications. They only take very small domestic applications by email at present.

    They would prefer you to print it all out and send it by post! [LA BC department name removed] are the same. They will always stick to the status quo until gov. gives them a target – at least – to get into the modern age. The Planning Portal has a very important role in asking the Minister to set final dates for total digital integration and standardisation.

  10. Fiona permalink

    I would like to pay through the portal but have encountered problems with receiving receipts from my Local Authority if I payed this way. I also experienced problems with another Local authority where they didn’t register the application as, although the money had been taken from my account through the portal, they hadn’t matched it to the planning application received so the application wasn’t registered. It is for these reasons that I feel it takes more time than just phoning the local authority and paying over the phone giving the PP ref number immediately after submitting the application. No hassle and no delays. I would like to pay through the portal when the local authorities can make it work.

  11. Mark Blackmore permalink

    Prefer the client to pay the fees as I have had problems with clients not paying invoices on time.
    A few authorities still require payment by cheque.
    Would like option on the planning portal for the ‘client’ to pay fees; also a window for additional comments.

  12. Please can the planning portal get a system where an email can be automatically generated at the pay and submit stage and sent to the applicant with a pay online “pay now” button linking to an invoice online. When client has paid the fee the application could then be put through to the local authority. Problem solved. Until then I will continue to tell my clients to pay the council by phone or cheque.

  13. I generally use the online payment, Cheques in the past have not arrived or arrived late, leading to invalid letters, and phoning a Local Authority to make payment is not always a straight forward process.
    I take full payment from clients, my fees + submission costs, before I submit and don’t have problems usually.
    ‘Jenny McIntee’s’ suggestion is a good one:
    Supply a link back to the agent via email that we can forward to the client to make payment.

  14. Richard Church permalink

    May we please have a mechanism allowing clients to pay planning fees through the Planning Portal?

  15. Mike at BBA permalink

    We have had a problem with paying on-line – the council did not know the fee had been received and demanded more money before they would validate the application. We now usually pay by bank transfer, using the Planning Portal number as reference. We do not add VAT – mainly because we pay Building Control fees (which include VAT) the same way, and it seems wrong to add VAT on top of VAT

  16. Mike at BBA permalink

    I just checked the VAT rules on HMRC’s site – they say:

    Disbursements – costs you can exclude from the VAT calculation

    If you sometimes pay suppliers on behalf of your customers, and you pass on the cost to your customers when you invoice them, then you might be able to leave out these payments from the VAT calculation. In this situation it’s the customer, not you, who buys and receives the goods or services – you’re acting as their agent. This type of payment is known as a ‘disbursement’ for VAT purposes.

    Before you treat a payment as a disbursement for VAT purposes, you’ll need to make sure all of the following apply:

    you paid the supplier on your customer’s behalf and acted as the agent of your customer
    your customer received, used or had the benefit of the goods or services you paid for on their behalf
    it was your customer’s responsibility to pay for the goods or services, not yours
    you had permission from your customer to make the payment
    your customer knew that the goods or services were from another supplier, not from you
    you show the costs separately on your invoice
    you pass on the exact amount of each cost to your customer when you invoice them
    the goods and services you paid for are additional to whatever you’re billing your customer for doing yourself

    It’s usually only an advantage to treat a payment as a disbursement for VAT purposes if the supplier didn’t charge VAT on it, or if your customer can’t reclaim the VAT

    In other words – you don’t need to add VAT as long as you follow the above rules.

    • Yes but if your business is not vat registered and to become vat registered would have a negative effect (making your fee quotes 20% higher ) you dont want your turnover to be pushed up to the Vat threshold by having clients put their planning application money through your accounts

  17. Nick Charlton permalink

    Nick Charlton , FCS Consultants. We try to avoid paying the fees on line as this ultimately goes as part of the business turnover pushing us ever closer to the dreaded VAT Threshold , having been in the VAT club I have no desire to return to the complications it brings.
    Clients can also take up to 8 wks to pay an invoice and therefore this is an expense a business of our size could not afford to fund on the clients behalf.
    On very rare occasions smaller applications for trusted clients have been done on line and the flexibility of being able to do so is a welcome facility.

  18. richard@ellisaa.eu permalink

    clearly it’s a disbursement, which is not vatable

    • R S Green permalink

      Not if you are on a fixed Vat scheme when you have to pay a fixed percentage of your gross income.

  19. R S Green permalink

    There are 2 main reasons why I do not use the planning portal.

    1. It does not allow you to save the application form. This is a problem as there are times when further research is needed when filling in an application form and I do not want to have to retype all the info if I shut the computers down at night.

    2. The Vat rules are very clear. If I pay the application fee I have to add 20% Vat to my fee as it is treated as an business activity. This increases the application fee by 20% if I pay it as opposed to getting a cheque from the client or them paying it direct.

    Do you have any answers to the above?

    • David Holland permalink

      You absolutely can save the application – It automatically saves each page as you proceed so you can come back to it whenever you like. I do it all the time.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      As David says, you can save online applications at any point and come back to them. Once submitted they will be saved in your account as a record for 2 years before they are archived. Some of our offline forms (ie prior notifications) can also be completed electronically and saved, (but only the visible text will save). If you are having problems please do let me know by email and we’ll take a look for you – sarah.chilcott@communities.gsi.gov.uk

  20. David Russell permalink

    It is fairly simple to get the fee payment from any client before making the payment by credit card on their behalf, however the ubiquitous card charge fee should be dropped immediately as the benefits of the card payment to the authorities far outway the charge. This is a money making tactic of budget airlines, ticket and travel agents and has no place in what should be a wholly professional process.

  21. David Holland permalink

    Planning Portal: Lets please have a system where the client can pay online directly instead of putting the onus/risk/accounting burden onto the Agents. Reading the comments above, it seems as though it would make life a lot easier for the majority of us Agents. If it can’t be done lets at least a good reason as to why its not feasible.

    • sarahchilcott permalink

      Hi David. We’d love to do this for our customers as we know it would be welcomed. Sadly, the original 1app system wasn’t built this way and that has meant that any change would be very complicated and costly. Up til now the business case hasn’t stacked up, but, if we get our way, it’s certainly something that will get our full attention once the Portal is commercialised. I’m not sure that’s a ‘good’ reason, but sadly it is ‘the’ reason. Sarah

      • Perhaps its up to the local authorities to come up with an online method of payment, but seeing how they like to operate it would take years….
        Lets hope the Planning Portal can as you say become more commercialized and have more money for inward development improving the customer work flow, particularly when it comes to application fees.

  22. Ken Peasland permalink

    I have already commented that if I pay the councils’ application charges on line and then charge the clients I am bound to pay income tax on my overall earnings. It also means that I have more to chase clients who are slow to pay.
    If I ask a client to pay on line it means that I must remember to do so at the right time and then check again that they have done so (they might be on holiday or abroad on business). It is all to time consuming and frustrating.
    When I submit an application I immediately post the client’s cheque by 1st class post to the council with the PP reference. It works fine.
    Otherwise, as a sole trader I would need to employ a full time secretary – it is getting that way anyway..
    We now have to send the drawings (before and after of every aspect), OSM, D&A Statement,Biodiversity Checklist (& consequences), Sustainability Assessment and Flood Risk Assessment. I wonder what other Statements you are considering.

    33

  23. Ken Peasland permalink

    none

    • This practice has audited accounts and charges VAT – the accounting of which is done in the traditional, quarterly fashion. Planning fees can be treated as a disbursement. The RIBA fee forms have a particular box labelled ‘disbursements’ which comes AFTER the VAT addition on the services & expenses. It is perfectly proper to enter a planning fee into this – it therefore does not double-dip the VAT, it is neutral in your VAT return and, if properly entered into your own books, it is a cost to your business which is cancelled out by any reimbursement. Therefore also neutral.
      I used to deduct the VAT, put items like this into ‘expenses’ then add the VAT back – until I realised this was unnecessary ……
      So, I do particularly resent paying small planning such as fees for extensions via the Portal – but always get larger fees paid directly by clients. For that I would never use the Portal.

  24. Andrew Wright permalink

    I pay application fees via the Portal, but get paid by my clients beforehand. VAT is not applicable. Recently I paid the amount the Portal stipulated, but the LPA decided it was incorrect and refunded some of it. Who decides? I made two applications for the same site – the second at 50%. (LPA name removed) decided that the first should be free, and the second a full fee! Nuts!

  25. Very happy with the service so far.
    Quick, traceable and most of our clients now pay us electronically.
    I have not yet had a client refuse to pay up front.
    We find it takes less time on admin and is effective.

  26. If you pay by debit card, not credit card, there is no credit card fee

  27. E Boyd permalink

    On a practical level, it’s a shame the fee calculator is not set up for hybrid applications i.e. part outline and part detailed. These types of application are not uncommon. It would be great to see the calculator changed.

    • Really can you do a hybrid? I asked my local authority if i could do part detailed for a conversion from 1 house into 2 and with outline for 2 new plots on the same application and they said it wasn’t possible and I had to do two separate applications.

      • Nigel Hancock permalink

        It’s a t the LPA’s discretion as to whether to accept a hybrid application or not.

        Paragraph 24 of Circular 04/08
        A local planning authority may accept a ‘hybrid’ application; that is, one that seeks
        outline planning permission for one part and full planning permission for another part
        of the same site. The fee for each part would have to be calculated separately on the
        appropriate basis, subject to any relevant maximum, and the total – which would not be
        subject to any maximum – would then be chargeable. An authority may also, following
        discussion, allow an application to be separated into core elements so that permission
        for site preparation works, say, can be given priority. Whether to accept a proposal in
        hybrid form is at the discretion of the local planning authority, not something on which
        an applicant may insist. One should bear in mind that a local planning authority is
        empowered to require details even when the application is in outline, if necessary in the
        interest of good planning. The term ‘hybrid application’ is not defined in statute.

  28. Colin Haysom permalink

    I seem to be the odd one out because i think it has been a benefit to my business.
    I have been paying on-line right from day one, and soon realised that when the application was ready to submit i could give the client an invoice including the application fee and they were told that the application fee was needed before the LPA would register the application. They then paid my invoice promptly improving my cashflow. I am not VAT registered
    I think the whole planning portal on-line application system works well for me

    • Andrew Wright permalink

      I concur with Colin Haysom – my experience is very similar, so he shouldl be pleased to know he is not the odd one out. I find that clients always pay up when asked. There does seem to be at least one ‘odd one out’ amongst the LPA’s though. When submitting an application to -LPA name removed- via the Portal, I was instructed to send a cheque. What’s a cheque?

      • I agree with the last two comments; please don’t retreat from the current advantages of the planning portal and digital submission & payment. My clients are presented with an invoice that includes expenses and LPA fee before submission. I have never had any trouble being paid in full
        and therefore can pay through the portal on their behalf. What really irritates me is the intransigence of some of the LPAs that I deal with who still insist on a cheque or telephone payments. Does the government not have any powers to give these local authorities a mandatory deadline to get themselves into the 21st century in this respect?

Please give us your feedback but we won’t publish any comments that are not constructive or that criticise any individual, any named business or any local authority. Please note, all comments will be moderated before being published.

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