Currently, Class C3 Dwelling Houses are defined as follows:
Use as a dwellinghouse (whether or not as a sole or main residence) by—
(a) a single person or by people to be regarded as forming a single household;
(b) not more than six residents living together as a single household where care is provided for residents; or
(c) not more than six residents living together as a single household where no care is provided to residents (other than a use within Class C4).
Within the Communities and Local Government Circular 05/2010 there are additional comments which state:
C3(b) continues to make provision for supported housing schemes, such as those for people with disabilities or mental health problems.
It remains the case that in small residential care homes or nursing homes, staff and residents will probably not live as a single household and the use will therefore fall into the residential institutions class, regardless of the size of the home. Local planning authorities should include any resident care staff in their calculation of the number of people accommodated.
However, what this does not take into account is the more modern approach to small care homes whereby there are no resident staff and those living in the house are living as a single household.
The determination of C3(b) or C2 has further been confused by some recent case law such as North Devon DC v First Secretary of State  EWHC 157 and Crawley BC v Secretary of State for Transport and the Regions  EWHC 160.
This has left a situation whereby whether a small care home should be a C3(b) or a C2 is determined on the level of needs of the people who live there. Hence, a care home with 6 or less people could open under a class C3(b) but at some point an individual moves in who requires a level of care that a local planning officer (who has no training or experience in assessment of individuals with support needs) makes a determination whether this should now become a C2.
Also, this matter is determined differently by different planning authorities across the country. Indeed, it even varies within counties.
I believe that these planning classes definitions should be used to encourage integration of people with disabilities and mental health problems within the community and hence, allowing small care homes to be within “normal houses, in normal streets”. Not, as I have found that some communities prefer, to be able to challenge the planning in order to not have “those people” living next door to them.
Hence, I believe that this needs to be simplified so that any small care home with up to six people should be classed as C3(b) irrelevant of the level of care provided and that the only people to be included are those that actually live there (and not staff who provide support).
This means that it is not for planning officers with little or no experience of care to make determinations on whether an individual has the capability of living within a household. Also, it means that the planning requirements of a small care home are not a moving target.
Why is this idea important?
This idea is important because, currently, it is creating additional burdens on both small care homes who are already subject to a high level of regulation from CQC and on local planners attempting to decipher what is the actual legal position – all of which costs time and money, the vast majority of which on both sides coming from the public purse.
In addition, this would be a positive step towards the ongoing integration of vulnerable people within our communities whereby people in small care homes who are often still sidelined and not treated an citizens.