Pre-application Fee Calculator

We have made a fee calculator and guidance on setting pre-application fees.


Outlined below is a practical guide for councils on how to approach, calculate and monitor their pre application fees.  It gives guidance on key aspects of the charging process that will support and enable you to put a charging policy in place or to review your existing policy on charges.   

The guidance has been compiled by the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) with the help of Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) so that it is practical, relevant and draws together best practice whilst also taking account of issues that councils have encountered.   

This guidance document forms part of a suite of guidance on pre applications and Planning Performance Agreements (PPAs) that has been prepared by PAS through funding by the Department of Levelling Up and Communities (DLUHC) and in partnership with the University of Gloucestershire, the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) and Hyas

Charging approaches

Although it is recognised that councils do not need to provide pre application advice as it is not a statutory requirement, it is strongly encouraged in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF):  “[Local Planning Authorities] cannot require that a developer engages with them before submitting a planning application, but they should encourage take-up of any pre application services they offer” (NPPF para.40).  Further guidance is also provided in the Planning Practice Guide (PPG) that sets out: the value of pre application engagement; advice on who should be involved in pre applications; the importance of negotiating design and environmental issues; and further guidance on using PPAs.  A strong emphasis is put in national guidance to the importance of the pre application stage to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process by working in a collaborative and open way that involves all interested parties. 

Equally there is no requirement for councils to charge for their pre application services, but most councils choose to charge as this can be justified on the basis that it adds value to the planning consent process and assists the applicant in getting a positive outcome.  Furthermore, most councils will find it difficult to resource a pre application service without charging an applicant for the service. 

Planning application fees are fixed and set nationally through the fee regulations.  However, councils can choose to recover the cost of pre application work by making a charge under the s93 Local Government Act 2003 for providing a discretionary service.  The legislation states that charges can be made provided that “taking one financial year with another, the income from charges …. does not exceed the costs of provision” (s93(3)).  The person who receives the service must also agree the charge.  Therefore, it is not permitted for a council to generate an overall profit from delivering the pre application service. 

It is up to an individual council to decide what is to be a chargeable service and what can be given for free.  However, staff time is precious and finite so if you are giving a service, wholly or partially, for free then you need to be clear why you are providing that service for free. In some instances you may decide that for the wider public / community benefit, and / or the value to working relationship effectiveness with applicants / agents, it is not appropriate to charge for the service.  

If a company or individual is intending to submit a planning application, then there is a reasonable assumption that they are in the process of investing a considerable amount of money into that development proposal.  The planning application fee itself is a relatively small element of that investment, so if they are getting an additional service via a pre-application process that will add value / deliverability then it is reasonable to also charge for that service. 

It is really important that when you set your charges and services that you ask your customers what they want.  This will be different depending on your council and customers, but, like any service, you will not know what a customer wants unless you ask them.  Most obviously you can do this through your agents’ forum, but agents are not your only customers and the wider community and your consultees are also impacted by a development proposal.  This matter will be returned to in the section under consulting on your pre application fees. 

Duty Officer services 

Councils may still provide a duty officer service where members of the public can ask general planning questions of a planning officer either face-to-face or over the phone.  An officer may be available on a rota basis to deal with these general enquiries.  However, primarily due to financial constraints, this service has often now either been stopped or significantly scaled back by councils.  Some councils have introduced a small charge to help pay for this service and to stop potential “time wasters”.  In the absence of the duty officer service the need to provide a pre application service has become more critical for applicants as the only way to discuss a proposal prior to the submission of a planning application. 


As an alternative, or in addition to the duty officer service you may want to provide self-help advice / guidance for free by investing in your website and including useful information.  There is a lot of information available on other websites where you can signpost applicants.  The most obvious ones are the Planning Portal and Planning Practice Guidance websites.  You may also want to provide some online guidance on your local policies to save applicants having to contact the Planning team in the first place.  The reality is that most people would prefer to get general advice in this way if they can rather than trying to get an appointment with a Planning Officer and it is not a good use of officer time to simply repeat something that can be easily found online. 

Worked example of Buckingham Fee checker


Non-charging service options 

Some councils choose not to charge for their pre application service.  A key driver for this approach is where a council wants to build positive relationships with developers and feel that a financial barrier may hinder this relationship.  With finite resources available to councils the justification for charging is clear, but it is important that you balance this against key relationships you have built up with developers and decide whether charging may impact on these relationships.  

The vast majority of councils do include a charging schedule for their pre-applications with, in some cases, exemptions from charging. Listed below are some scenarios where councils have considered that it is not appropriate to charge: 

  • The application is a personal adaptation that is not being carried out voluntarily but by necessity.  For example, a member of a household may have sustained a disability and the property needs to be adapted in order for the household to stay together. 
  • The proposal is for a charitable purpose that is solely grant funded or through public donations.  In such cases every penny counts and money given to the Planning service is less money spent on the project.  However, be careful about providing this service for all charities.  For example, should you give free pre application advice to a private school just because it has charitable status?   
  • The proposal is being submitted by an individual who is currently in receipt of benefits.  However, you may want to understand better the purpose of the application as it is unlikely that an individual receiving benefits will be able to undertake a private development project. 
  • The proposal being submitted would not incur a fee - for example a listed building application or tree application - and therefore you feel it would be unreasonable to charge for a pre application.  However, there is no reason for such advice to be provided for free just because the national fee regulations exempts such proposals from a fee.  Indeed, because an applicant is getting the application considered free of charge you may feel it is even more justified to charge for the pre application. 
  • An informal chat prior to submitting a pre application.  You may want to allow an applicant to meet on an informal basis (maybe capped for a certain length of time) to get a sounding before a pre application is submitted. This might be helpful to both parties to sell the idea of a pre application to the applicant and help the council draw in an investment opportunity.  However, be very clear why you are doing it and who is attending the meeting.  It definitely should not be an opportunity simply for a developer to gain pre application advice for free and should only be appropriate for large development where there is a very strong likelihood that it will result in a pre application being submitted.  
  • In circumstances when it is beneficial for the council to engage with an applicant and this engagement is unlikely to be forthcoming through a pre application service.  For example, it could be provided to resolve a dispute over a contentious development such as an unauthorised gypsy and traveller site that can only be satisfactorily resolved through the council’s assistance in identifying an alternative site.  However, councils need to be cautious in not allowing applicants to benefit from free advice when carrying out unauthorised development. 
  • Where the pre application is included as part of a wider PPA that covers both pre and post submission support. 

Working out a fee

You could charge for each individual pre application based on the actual cost incurred by the individuals involved in providing the advice plus other costs incurred by the council.  For very large, complex and bespoke projects the applicant and the council may consider this is reasonable, but for most projects it will be impractical and extremely time consuming for both parties.   Also, an applicant will normally want to have some certainty of costs for budgeting purposes.  As developments generally fall into distinct types (e.g. householder, Minor, Major etc), and costs can be derived from development scale and type implications, councils usually manage fees through a fee schedule that is worked out based on an average of who will be involved and how long a particular pre application is likely to take.   

Councils might also want to offer different levels of response varying from an informal meeting to meetings, site visits and written reports.  This will also affect the charge that is made for the service on the assumption that an informal chat will take a significantly less amount of officer time than co-ordinating formal meetings, attending site visits and writing a report.  In the same way applicants will often be happy to pay a higher fee if they feel that officers will spend more time on giving their own judgements on the merits of a proposal rather than simply a summary of policy.  This officer judgement will very likely provide the applicant with the greatest value from the pre application. 

Who to include in the fee? 

The fee should consider the time spent by the following people: 

  • The case officer – this is perhaps the most obvious charge for pre-application advice.  How much time is the case officer likely to spend on providing the service?  

  • Support officers - they will need to register a pre application, place it into whatever software / database that the Council uses and carry out whatever other administration is necessary to deal with the pre-application. 

  • Other officers within the Council who are supporting the pre application – sometimes the officers who will be involved in a pre application will be simple.  A straightforward householder application is unlikely to involve anyone apart the case officer and possibly your manager to oversee the work.  However, a more complex application is likely to involve a range of consultees who will help the case officer with the pre application, and the cost of this should be considered.  You should also have a fairly clear idea who these officers will be e.g. a Major housing pre application is very likely to involve a wide range of officers such as a Planning Policy officer, a Transport / Highways Officer, the Local Lead Flood Authority, Conservation / Heritage Officer, an ecologist, an urban design or landscape officer etc.   

When budgets are tight then there may be an inclination for each officer to charge their actual time on a pre application.  However, this will involve a lot of administration and internal recharging of budgets from one team to another.  This creates more work and takes valuable time for officers.  A better way for internal charges could be through a yearly service level agreement to be set up between departments based on the likely time different officers will spend on pre applications.  When it comes to officers in the Planning service recharging should not be necessary as it will usually come out of the same Planning budget. 

  • External expertise – a pre application may require people from outside the organisation to provide advice.  This could be statutory organisations such as Historic England, Environment Agency, Natural England etc.  It may involve the County Council (if a two-tier authority) and may also require other consultants such as specialist viability consultants.   

Do you want to include their fees as part of an overall fee to the applicant or will these external agencies charge the applicant separately?  Most applicants will prefer the fee to include all inputs as a single charge followed by a single, joined up response from the case officer.  However, applicants are increasingly having to use different approaches to receiving external agency advice and so it will be important for you to understand how different external consultees are willing to engage. 

  • External design review - there is a range of design review options available to applicants and LPAs organised locally, regionally and nationally.  Design review is normally a service paid for by the applicant and therefore, as part of the negotiations with an LPA, it may be appropriate to agree that design review is included as part of the pre application fee. 

  • Management support – which managers will be involved in supporting the case officer?  Will it be just the case officer’s supervisor or will it warrant other managers being involved such as the Head of Development Management, Head of Policy or Head of Planning?  A manager’s time is expensive so you may want to decide upfront who needs to be involved based on the type of application.  For example, the Head of Planning would normally only be brought in for a strategically significant Major application. 

Working out an hourly rate 

Once you have worked out who is likely to input into a pre application you next need to work out an hourly rate for internal staff. 

The officer hourly rate should include the whole cost to the Council not just the officer salary.  Therefore, it should include: 

  • Officer salary including pension and national insurance contributions 

  • Time that is not fee earning. This should include leave, training, sick leave etc.  As a rule of thumb 35% of an officer’s time falls under this “non-productive” category 

  • Fixed on costs that are needed to support the officer at the council.  This will include the costs of buildings, equipment, support services, IT and other corporate overheads 

The true cost of staff time is a product of the salaries of the people involved, their oncosts, non-productive time (eg annual leave, training etc) and fixed overhead costs.  To work this out you will normally need support from your Human Resources, Payroll and Finance teams as each council will have their own way of calculating these costs.  Outlined below are some other considerations you may want to take into account when working out hourly rates. 

  • Are you expecting to use agency staff as a resource for the pre application or to backfill other posts to allow staff to work on a pre application?  Agency staff will invariably be more expensive than salaried staff and hourly rates should reflect this. 

  • Are you including administration staff costs as part of the officer hourly rate or are you costing this separately?  In the examples below the administration staff costs are included separately. 

  • How are you recording travel / car mileage / other subsistence costs?  If your council covers a large area these costs can be considerable and you may want to either include in your hourly rate or identified separately. 

worked example basic salary

A fixed fee or a variable fee?

Another important decision to make is on the flexibility of the pre application service you are going to provide.  You may decide that you want to have a “pick and mix” approach where you allow the applicant to decide the service they want.  You may also decide that you want flexibility for some enquiries, but not others.  For example, if an applicant is proposing a complex, large scale development you are likely to want to introduce flexibility, whilst you may decide that for householder enquiries you provide a fixed service.  Some of the options to consider are: 

  • Are you going to have fixed charges that set out the parameters of the service? For example, you may have a fixed rate for different sizes and types of development and for that price you will provide a fixed number of meetings (or no meetings) and a written response? 

  • Are you going to allow a more flexible approach where extra meetings can be requested at an extra charge?  

  • Are you going to allow bespoke pre applications?  For example, a pre application that only covers transport issues because this is the only area that the applicant wants to discuss at present? 

  • Are you going to charge extra if the applicant wants a more senior officer present such as the Head of Development Management or Head of Planning? 

  • Will you offer a scoping meeting to discuss first principles either before the full pre application or as an alternative to a pre application?  And if you do, will you be charging for the scoping meeting? 

  • Are you going to include the fees of external consultees to be included in a fixed fee or are you going to leave them to make their own arrangements with the applicant?  If you include it as part of the fixed fee make sure you have a clear understanding of the external consultee fee and the full fee is passed over to the applicant. 

  • Does the council have a policy of engaging with councillors and the wider community on pre-applications?  What extra paid officer time will that involve and by whom?  For example, you may want to add an option for organising a councillor presentation, you may want to offer the council’s services in organising community engagement meetings, or you may want to provide a consultancy service that the applicant can access if they want advice on who to contact in the community to ensure a balanced reflection of different interests. 

  • Do you want to offer an additional pre-submission follow up meeting where the applicant runs through the amended scheme that has taken into consideration the pre application advice? This could be held immediately prior to the submission to the application to give reassurance to the applicant that they have properly responded to the issues raised by the council. 

Remember that it is best to keep fees as clear as possible setting out what an applicant will get for the charge paid.  For most smaller or straightforward requests, it is usually better to set a fixed fee that covers your costs.  Otherwise, the administration involved in working out a fee could negate the advantage of flexibility.  However, when you are dealing with a large, complex or unusual proposal a negotiated fee may be a better solution. 

Working out a fixed pre application fee 

The easiest way to estimate an average fee is to carry out a time recording exercise and try and average out the time taken for a typical enquiry for the application type.  Ideally you will have historic time recording data to hand so that you are aware how long you spend on each activity over a period of time.  However, if this time recording data is not available then you may want to carry out a targeted time recording process to average out the time taken for different types of pre application enquiries.  It is usual for councils to under-estimate the time staff spent on certain activities so you may find that time recording brings up a few surprises on the actual cost of delivering your pre application service. 

However, you also should be mindful that some applicants will feel that it is more cost and time efficient to use the “free go” option (i.e. submitting the first planning application knowing that it is inadequate, but using it as a route for negotiation and resubmitting an amended application for free at a later date) rather than going through the pre application process.  Therefore, it is important that the costs of the pre application are not prohibitively expensive and the applicant is clear about the value that will be gained by entering into a pre application.  This issue is covered in more detail in the section below on measuring value. 

Outlined below are a couple of examples of how a fixed fee could be estimated based on a simple householder application and 5 dwelling Minor application.  In each case only three examples have been used for practical purposes, but we suggest you use a larger sample to get more accurate results.  Also ensure that you ask different case officers to time record as some officers will inevitably be more efficient with their time than others. 

Example 1 – a householder application where the applicant requires written advice with council discretion on the need for meetings 

Three householder enquires are time recorded 

Application 1 – straightforward householder pre application with plans submitted upfront by an agent and the case officer found no objection or need to consult anyone else.  Advice given without a site visit.  As it is uncontentious there is no need to discuss with the team manager before issuing advice. 

Time taken
Staff member Hourly rate (exc VAT) Time taken (hrs) Cost (£)
Tech Support 40 0.25 10
Junior Case Officer 45 1.5 67.5
      Total cost £77.50 (exc VAT) 


Application 2 – The case officer has an issue with the pre application and needs a site visit to understand the proposal in more detail.  The agent agrees to amends the plans and the case officer writes up a favourable response.  The team manager quickly reviews the response before it is sent. 

Time taken for application 2
Staff member Hourly rate (exc VAT) Time taken (hrs) Cost (£)
Tech Support 40 0.25 10
Junior case officer 45 4 180
Team manager 65 0.25 16.25
Car mileage claim 10miles @45p per mile     4.50
      Total cost £210.75 (exc VAT)


Application 3 – the case officer finds substantial issues with the pre application that involves a meeting at the council offices with the agent and the involvement of the team manager to assist with coming up with ideas to resolve the issues.

Time taken for application 3

Staff member Hourly rate (exc VAT) Time taken (hrs) Cost (£)
Tech Support 40 0.25 10
Junior case officer 45 4 180
Team manager 65 2 130
Car mileage claim 10miles @45p per mile     4.50
      Total cost £324.50 (exc VAT)


Fee for standard rate for householder pre-application could then be the average of the 3 application examples i.e. (77 + 210.75+ 324.50) / 3 = £204 + VAT


Example 2 – a 5 dwelling Minor where the applicant wants written advice and a meeting with the council.

Three similar minor Major housing enquiries are time recorded

Application 1 – very straightforward proposal that is in accordance with Local Plan policies and acceptable design.  The case officer consults specialists in accordance with the Council’s consultation protocol

Time taken for application 1

Staff member Hourly rate (exc VAT) Time taken (hrs) Costs (£)
Tech support 40 0.25 10
Senior case officer 55 4 220
Transport Officer 55 2 110
Biodiversity Officer 55 2 110
Local Lead Flood Authority Officer 55 2 110
Team manager 65 0.5 32.5
Car mileage claim 10miles @45p per mile (officers travel together)     4.50
      Total cost £597 (exc VAT)


Application 2 the scheme is in accordance with Local Plan policies, but the Transport Officer raises concerns over access and the Urban Design officer is asked to suggest design changes following concerns raised by the case officer.  More involvement needed from the team manager to help resolve the issues.

Time taken for application 2

Staff member Hourly rate (exc VAT) Time taken (hrs) Costs (£)
Tech support  40 0.25 10
Senior case officer 55 6 330
Transport Officer 55 3 165
Biodiversity Officer 55 2 110
Local Lead Flood Authority Officer 55 2 110
Urban Design Officer 55 3 165
Team manager 65 1 65
Car mileage claim 10miles @45p per mile (officers travel together)     4.50
      Total cost £959.50 (exc VAT)


Application 3 – there are considerable objections from consultees and the applicant submits amended plans that result in a further meeting and the involvement of the Head of Development Management to help with negotiations.

Time taken for application 3

Staff member Hourly rate (exc VAT) Time taken (hrs) Cost (£)
Tech support 40 0.50 20
Senior case officer 55 8 440
Transport Officer 55 3 165
Biodiversity Officer 55 3 165
Local Lead Flood Authority Officer 55 3 165
Urban Design Officer 55 3 165
Team manager 65 2 130
Head of DM 75 2 150
Car mileage claim 10miles @45p per mile (officers travel together)     4.50
      Total cost £1404.50 (exc VAT)


Fee for standard rate for a 5 dwelling Minor pre-application could then be the average of the 3 application examples i.e. (597 + 959.5 + 1404.5) / 3 = £987 + VAT


This is an example of how this review of application time can lead to different levels of pre-applications service being offered


An alternative approach to having a fixed fee is to have bespoke fees for individual pre application enquiries.  In reality it would be too time consuming and unwieldy to do this for householder and minor applications, but may be appropriate for some Majors and will be the norm for the pre application stage of a PPA. 

South Glos example

Upfront charging or charging in arrears?

Fees for pre application can be charged in full upfront, be subject to staged payments, or charged in arrears.  For practical purposes a pre application for a minor application that involves a single or very few meetings will almost always for charged by an LPA upfront.  However, it becomes less clear if the pre application is for a more complex or Major application.

Outlined below are some of the pros and cons of each approach and you will no doubt be able to think of other pros and cons that will influence the approach that works best for you.

Upfront charging
Pros Cons
Money received early in the process and can be invested in the service provided The costs have to be estimated and may not be accurate
If a developer does not pay, the service simply is not provided  


Staged Payments

Pros Cons
This will aid an applicant’s cash flow whilst still enabling the LPA to recoup money invested in the pre application It creates an additional administrative burden for both parties
It enables the pre application to be flexible with additional meetings / amendments to be added whilst still ensuring the costs are recouped It is less likely that an applicant will continue a pre application if they are unhappy with the output at different stages of the pre application


Charging in arrears

Pros Cons
The council can work out actual costs more accurately The developer may use the service but then choose to not pay hence resulting in the need for the council to take action to recoup the costs or re-negotiate the fees
The applicant is given an assurance that they will only pay for the service that they are given

The funding cannot be immediately invested in the service

  There is additional administration with the need to invoice the developer


Measuring value for money

It is surprising how few councils actually measure the impact and quality of the pre application service that they provide.  Generally speaking an applicant will be willing to pay for a service if they think that they are receiving value for money and can see the benefits of the pre application service.  Conversely if an applicant cannot see the benefits of a pre application then they are more likely to use the “free go” route.  Value for money can be measured in various ways as outlined below:

Speed of decision making – does the pre application result in a final decision being made that is quicker than if the applicant proceeded straight to a planning application?

Quality of submission – does the pre application result in a higher quality submission that addresses issues of concern from the applicant, council, consultees and the wider public?

Quality of development – has the pre application resulted in a development that is a better quality development than if there was no pre application?

Greater certainty – does the pre application result in greater certainty for the applicant over the final decision by overcoming objections?

Financial benefits – does the pre application ultimately save money for the applicant and council in the development process?

Huntingdonshire preapp example


doncaster pre app example


Reviewing your fees

It is good practice to review fees annually, not least to ensure that they rise at a minimum in line with inflation.  When you carry out your review it is a great opportunity to review the success of your pre application service over the previous year.  Some questions you may want to ask yourselves and your customers as part of this review:

  • Did you reach your income target?  If not, why not?
  • Are you meeting your quality targets and are customers satisfied with the service being offered.  If not, why not and what are you going to do to either improve the quality or lower expectations?
  • Which pre application services were most used and were any not used at all?  If they were not used why not?
  • Was there any feedback on the charge made?  Does that fee need reviewing?
  • Was there any ambiguity in any of the charges made? Did officers or applicants interpret the description of the service in different ways?  (For example, are you clear that a charge based on housing numbers means gross or net increase in overall numbers?)
  • Is there a service being requested that you are currently not offering?  Do you want to offer that service?
  • Are you providing advice for free when you could be charging for it?  Does it make sense to charge?
  • Is it working? You could review a selection of pre applications and the end result of the application. Did the pre application result in a better development and / or an easier transition through planning application? If not, what happened?

It is also a good idea to not only ask applicants about the impact of the pre application service, but also to discuss with the wider community on how well engaged they feel as part of the pre application process.  As part of the councillor survey (survey undertaken by PAS November 2022) that formed part of this project only 21% of councillors were aware of any review process carried out by their council and 67% did not know whether their council carried out a review of impacts.  However,  86% of councillors felt that councillors should be involved in the pre application process with their officers

Consulting on your pre-application charges

There is no requirement to consult on your pre application fees, but you must be able to justify them in line with S93 of the Local Government Act.  It is a good idea to at least consult your local agents on the fees you are charging.  This is for the following reasons:

  1.  It is a good opportunity to have a dialogue with local agents to discuss the pre application service that they find most helpful.  You may not be able to deliver the complete service they want, but by engaging with them in this way they are more likely to use the pre application service.
  2. You will be able to explain why pre applications cost the amount they do.  You may be pleasantly surprised that pre applications are not as price sensitive as you may at first think.  It will also make it easier for agents to explain the fees to their clients if they understand how they are derived and that they are the genuine cost of providing the service.

Take away tips on calculating your pre-application fees

  • Your fees must relate only to cost recovery (in accordance with S93 of the Local Government Act 2003) and ensure they offer value for money, but most councils underestimate the actual cost of providing a pre application service.
  • Make sure you include the ‘hidden’ costs e.g. wider council costs that you are paying for but may be more difficult to accurately estimate.
  • It is often quite reasonable and right for you to offer advice for free in certain circumstances, but be clear why you are offering the service for free and who is paying.
  • Fixed fees are much easier to work with, saves everyone time and provides certainty for a developer, but when a pre application becomes complicated and bespoke both the applicant and you may decide that it is a good use of everyone’s time to charge actual costs.
  • It is important for you to understand the value of the pre application service.  If it is not providing added value and delivering the service that the customers are looking for then what is the point of offering the service?
  • Do not forget to review your fees on a regular basis to ensure that you are providing the service that is needed and the fees are in line with actual costs.
  • It is good practice to consult on pre application fees.  It helps you understand what the applicant needs and helps to foster a better understanding of how fees are derived.