Please send the deregulation hit squad: all I want is some double-glazing

Getting double-glazing fitted at home seemed such a good idea to begin with.

It then got better when I had the fun of watching of Ricky Gervais type character doing acrobatics on the hinge of a sample double-glazing unit to demonstrate its strength. I may now know that the hinge can take the full weight of a fully grown man, though I must admit I’m still not quite sure why I’d want to know thiat.

But then came sorting out the administration.

Five different pieces of legal authorisation are required. Plus two maps. With all the charges put together adding an extra 25% to the final cost.

And I don’t even live in a listed building or a conservation area.

You only need one form to apply to import nuclear materials to the UK. (It’s here if you are so minded.) And that form is only two sides of A4.

But my double-glazing needs five pieces of legal approval. And two maps. Perhaps it’s all because goodness knows what it might do to the neighbourhood if you don’t buy from the Ricky Gervais type and a hinge malfunctions.

So why five, and two maps?

Number one I can, with a quick grumble, appreciate. It’s planning permission – which I need as the house I live in is split into two flats. So I can understand there being a rule that in such a case I have to get planning permission even though if there was no-one else in the same building I wouldn’t. Sort of safeguard for my very close neighbours. Though given all the application ends up saying is ‘I want to put in double glazing’, it’s hard to see what can ensue that would result in there being any grounds for a refusal.

And despite the simplicity of the planning application (double glazing windows to go in where windows currently are) I need to supply two different sets of plans of the area. With different, legally specified colour schemes. And names that don’t match up with the government’s own official guidance on what maps to get. And the plans don’t need to show the windows or where they go. They just need to show where I live. Twice.

Number two I can, with a slightly longer grumble, also appreciate. The council owns the freehold so I need the freeholder’s permission. OK. Except it turns out I don’t need the one permission I need it in three different legal forms. With three different fees, all running up their own costs.

Good news is that the fifth the builder can self-certify.

Origami elephant. Photo courtesy of dmachiavello on Flickr. Click link for full license detailsBut it still gives all the signs of a cumbersome, complicated, slow and expensive bureaucratic system that achieves almost nothing – except run up the costs for being honest and encouraging people to break the law to avoid the 25% extra on their bill.

If I really must pay for people to shuffle paper around to not much end, can’t I opt to pay them to make origami instead? A nice origami elephant would almost make the whole process worthwhile.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • I did live in (and still own a house in) a conservation area and I just checked the quote was for what I wanted and signed on the dotted line…

    The only legal thing I needed was a FENSA certificate- everything else was done by the company.

    Things aren’t better here in Germany, there’s a perception of Germany being a place where stuff just works. I imagined all the red tape would tie up behind the scenes and become a highly efficient machine. Made of tape. It doesn’t.

  • “Though given all the application ends up saying is ‘I want to put in double glazing’, it’s hard to see what can ensue that would result in there being any grounds for a refusal.”

    Devaluing the property, I would imagine. Even if the building is not listed, in a shared dwelling insensitive uPVC double-glazing can devalue the other person’s property even though they’re not directly affected. Replacing original elegant wooden sashes with clunky plastic in a mix and match fashion in a Victorian house split into two flats, for example.

  • Next time your reading some rant about how public spending cuts are affecting the poor, remember this. Councils will shut libraries, cut schools and hurt the weak before they’ll cut this type of bureaucracy and waste. And that’s exactly what they are doing.

  • Just out of interest, did none of the double glazing firms you contacted for quotes offer to do the paperwork for you?

    And I don’t suppose you will get regular health and safety inspections as a result of installing double glazing as you do importing nuclear materials.

  • And we wonder why we are not seeing any economic growth……..

  • Mark Pack – “Requiring detailed descriptions and specifications would have added more to the paperwork (!) but at least that would have made some sense for the reasons you mention. But as I’ve not been asked for that detail, those processing the paperwork don’t know about the heritage design I’ve gone for – and so it’s not a system that catches such issues, at least in my case.”

    {Groan … }

    You have my sympathy, then!!!

  • The alternative view:

    The fees go to the council. So providing income, which helps stop them having to make cuts, and also keeps people employed, thus avoiding adding to unemployment.

    *retreats rapidly*

  • Mrs B: or, alternative view. Person looking to buy double glazing, confused and dismayed at the bureaucracy, decides not to spend their money on double glazing, which leads to the firm having to make cuts, reduces their profitability and the amount of tax they pay, reducing government revenues and makes people unemployed both in the firm and in government, thus adding to unemployment.

  • Mark – There is actually a better story in big-ticket purchases that is far more telling. Whilst your travails with the local bureaucracy are interesting – can I ask how you paid for your windows? Did you pay by cash or credit option?

    Despite what the coalition would have us believe, private debt is a far bigger problem for the UK than is public debt, and my experience of big-ticket purchases shows where some of this may well come from. A few years ago, my wife and I needed a kitchen. I had £10k in cash, and they still tried to sell me the credit option – which worked out substantially cheaper than payment in cash. It was exactly the same with the bathroom earlier this year – more interested in selling me a loan than in taking cash payment. I was actually having debt pushed onto me, with a quite substantial incentive to not save and pay in cash!

    Conservation areas (I live in one) raise different issues in that once a part of them becomes derelict (like a pub) it is almost impossible to change the use. But your double-glazing speaks more to an obsession with property prices largely to the advantage of the boomer generation. This is well-known and there are far better examples.

    The real story is in the trend for big-ticket purchases to be accompanied by debt. That is what you should be worrying about when it comes to your (no doubt) fine glass.

  • Tabman – You might be right about bureaucracy, but looking at the article, that seems at least as much to do with the home ownership system than anything else in Mark’s case. Personally, I think that the current system is excessively concerned with certain types of eyesore (windowframes) than others (derelict pubs) and it is the balance that seems a bit out of kilter.

    If you want some real fun and games, take a look at the rules surrounding, ‘high hedges.’

  • @Tabman a few years back I had double glazing installed in a conservation area. I rang up a double glazing company, they told me that my options were likely to be restricted because of this and suggested i liaise with a surveyor (they provided a list) and the local council. So I did, I paid a surveyor a reasonable sum for a few hours work sorting out the paperwork and giving me a list of options that were agreeable to the restrictions placed by the council, I then paid the double glazing company to install them. At no point did I have to deal with an untenable bureaucratic burden, nor did I have to pay a vast amount for someone else to navigate it.

    Maybe my story is atypical. But it’s an anecdote to counter Mark’s and since that’s what we’re dealing with here rather than statistics on the effects of planning constraints on the double glazing industry then that’s the best we’ve got.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Jun '11 - 1:32pm


    I don’t understand your argument about credit options. If paying by credit would in fact be cheaper for you (and therefore, presumably, less profitable for the company) then that’s a rather bizarre business model, but I don’t see how it creates a problem – okay, you’d have a debt, but one which you could obviously afford to pay (given that you had more available cash than you need to pay for the whole term). Isn’t that just making a shibboleth of “debt”, rather like those who insist, in the absence of evidence, that student “debt” will stop people getting mortgages, or indeed those on the coalition side who shout “x million pounds a day of debt interest!” without attempting to put it into any sort of context?

  • Malcolm Todd – Would you be so kind as to go to HSBC bank and explain to them your thinking about student debt? It’s just that the evidence of my own eyes does rather suggest that student is a problem with respect to access to mortgages.

    Without wishing to say, ‘sibboleth,’ rather than, ‘shibboleth,’ here my point is that surely the incentivisation of debt is a bad thing per se? I may be able to pay it off now (and yes I’d like to think I’m responsible enough to manage my money) but my point is that debt should not be rammed down people’s throats.

  • Malcolm Todd 9th Jun '11 - 2:20pm

    Well, perhaps I was guilty of shorthand. The point is that the level of student debt that you possess is irrelevant to the bank. All they care about is the effect of repayments on reducing your income. So for example, if you have a student debt of £50,000 and an annual income of £25,000, your annual payments will (under the new scheme) be £360 per year, which (based on a 4x salary multiple) might reduce how much mortgage you can get by less than £1,500 – not zero, I grant you, but not enough to make a significant difference to the sort of house you can afford (and the overall level of debt going up through the current changes certainly doesn’t make it worse). There’s a website here that explains it, and also claims (with what authority I don’t know) that “many lenders are now changing to a system of credit scoring to calculate the amount they will lend an applicant and this will often reduce the effects of student loans”:

    As for “incentivisation of debt” per se being a bad thing – why? What is the harm being done? Debt is often an entirely reasonable way for both individuals and businesses to raise money. You say you “needed” a new kitchen. So if you didn’t have the money, would it have been a terrible thing to take on a debt to pay for it? We’re not talking about taking on debts to pay for holidays or 48″ TVs here – that sort of pure consumer debt is undoubtedly a bad thing, but doesn’t seem to relate to your example.

    I’m still puzzled about the economics of your supplier, though. What was in it for them?

  • david thorpe 9th Jun '11 - 3:35pm

    and yet if the government tried to do somehting about this..the result would be a strike

  • “I’m still puzzled about the economics of your supplier, though. What was in it for them?”

    New car sales are a case in point.

    Car dealerships make very little margin on the sale of an individual new car. Where they generate profitable revenue is as follows:

    – volume bonuses hit by meeting their target sales for particular models (usually to reduce the stocks held of a particular model at a particular time)
    – margin made on the resale of part-ex cars (used car margins are far higher)
    – sales of add-ons (paint protection, warranties etc)
    – credit commission paid by credit companies for getting the customer to take out a loan

    I suspect there is some of the latter point going on here. The reduction in the cash price has to be offset vs the higher interest paid to take out credit (and any lower rate of return on savings).

  • Years ago in Shepherd’s Bush I installed two new windows in the side of my house. They could just be seen from the road, but only just. It was a conservation area. I rang the council who told me not to write to them as it would take forever, be a waste of everyone’s time and money and achieve nothing. I was told that in the unlucky event of someone complaining I would have to say that I had not realise, and apply retrospectively. I was impressed by the common sense, and got a 16 inch square window in my bathroom, which meant I didn’t have to turn the light on every time. No-one ever complained…

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