Party Wall Act of 1996 — what is it and what are your obligations under it?

The Party Wall Act of 1996 may sound like an unnecessary hassle, but its objective are to prevent disputes arising between neighbours. It sets up a legal right and a framework to undertake certain works that might otherwise constitute trespass or nuisance. It is nothing to do with planning permission or building regulations but a totally separate bit of legislation.

You can understand neighbours not being overjoyed at the prospect of having their homes foundations undermined by builders in mini diggers, excavating alongside them or knocking into the party wall at loft level, and even potentially coming through the wall into the loft. The Party Wall Act is designed to assist both sides in negotiating this potentially challenging affect of building and restoration projects.

This article will be useful to anyone undertaking an extension or new build throughout England. If you are in Cambridge, St Albans or anywhere in East Anglia and London areas then we are a local architects firm who can provide specific hands on help with party walls. You can contact us here.

definitions related to the party wall act

What is a party wall?

A party wall has two definitions. It can be either

  1. A wall standing on the land of two owners to a greater extent than simply projecting foundations
  2. Or, the part of a wall standing on the land of one owner that separates the buildings of two owners
Illustration of the two types of a party wall

Illustration of the two types of a party wall

What is a Party Structure?

A party structure can be a party wall or a floor for a partition separating different parts of a building each with separate entrances

What are a Party Fence Wall, an External Wall and a Boundary Wall?

  • A party fence wall is a free-standing wall that is not part of a building and stands astride a boundary

  • An external wall is a wall that forms part of a building standing wholly on the land of one owner and which may be situated at, but not astride, a boundary (except to the extent of any projecting footing or foundation)
  • A boundary wall is a freestanding wall, not being part of any building, which stands wholly on the land of one owner at, but not astride, a boundary (except to the extent of any projecting footing or foundation).

How the party wall act works

The Party Wall Act imposes a requirement that all adjoining owners be given prior notice of works. In addition, the Party Wall Act provides for a mandatory dispute resolution procedure mediated by an appointed Party Wall Surveyor if the adjoining owners have concerns.

Works requiring notice within the Party Wall Act

The works requiring notice are described in the following sections of the Party Wall Act

  • Section 1, where it is proposed to erect a new wall at a boundary that is not already built on
  • Section 2, concerns existing party structures, which include party walls, floors and partitions (that separate buildings or parts of buildings), party fence walls (essentially a boundary wall between lands in separate ownership which is built astride a boundary) and, in some instances, a neighbour's independent property
  • Section 6, can apply to excavations up to 6 meters away from a building or structure on neighbouring land, subject to depth criteria which the Party Wall Act sets out

Typical example — Excavations near neighbouring buildings

3m or 6m notices when excavating foundations within 3m of an adjoining property if your trenches are deeper than next door’s foundations. It can also apply within 6m of next door if your foundations are deeper than a line drawn at 45 degrees from the bottom of next door’s foundations.

3m or 6m notices

3m or 6m notices


Typical example — alterations to an existing party wall

Some loft conversion examples could be:

  • Cutting into a party wall to insert and support a new beam
  • Building new firebreak party walls in the loft if there are none
  • Building up the existing party walls above roof level to form new sides to a full-width dormer

Your obligations under the party wall act

Before any works start, you'll need to serve a formal notice on the owners of the adjoining property.

  • A written notice must be served explaining what building works are proposed, giving the owner 14 days to respond
  • The notice should include drawings and details of the works

Unless the adjoining owner responds within 14 day the law will assume that they do not consent and that a dispute has arisen. Which means you have to appoint an independent “agreed surveyor” (at your expense) to draw up a legal agreement known as an “award”. Alternatively, each neighbour can appoint their own surveyor, in which case the award will be drawn up jointly by each surveyor. The award is a document that describes your proposed works and confirms that you will pay for any damage that is caused by your building activities. Specifically, it,

  • Sets out how and when the works will be carried out
  • Records the condition of the next door property before works begin (so that damage can later be attributed and made good)
  • Allows access for the surveyor(s) to inspect the building works

The Party Wall Act process

Note, this image links through to a larger PDF document. Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Neighbours must grant access for authorised works under the act, and for supporting access for designing architects and surveyors. Also, any party wall surveyor appointed under the Party Wall Act must be granted access.


The Act is not administered by any enforcement agency, but it places responsibility under law on the owners who may be party to the proposed works. If the Party Wall Act is not followed, any court proceedings will take the provisions of the Party Wall Act into account.

As a practice, Harvey Norman Architects also takes the view that as the works will be insured under both the contractor's public liability and the homeowner’s insurance, it is everybody’s interests to fully comply to ensure that the insurances do not become invalid.

Party Wall Act guidance

This is only  a brief summary of the Party Wall Act. Further guidance is available on this government website. 

We always suggest that you take professional advice. Harvey Norman Architects work with Party Wall Surveyor, Nick Dennis of The Roger Driver Partnership.

Get help with party walls, new builds or house extensions. We mainly work with clients in Cambridge, St Albans, and throughout East Anglia and London

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