Banner image for Homeowners guide

Chapter 4 - Engaging a structural engineer


In the UK it is legal for anyone to call themselves and provide services as a structural engineer. Not all will be competent to do so and therefore it is important when choosing a structural engineer to check their credentials. It is strongly recommended that you take some time to investigate and confirm that any designer, including the structural engineer you approach to work for you, is experienced and has successfully completed projects similar to the one you want to undertake.

Track record 
Individual structural engineers can have different areas of expertise and so it is perfectly acceptable to ask your perspective designers for details of similar work they have completed and to ask for references from satisfied customers.  

Professional qualifications

The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE) is the most applicable professional body for structural engineers and is the only professional engineering Institution in the UK to examine potential members with a rigorous industry-leading formal written examination together with an interview assessment of experience, to ensure a high level of  competence specific to structural engineering. Professionally qualified Institution members show their affiliation and grade of membership using the  following designation after their name. 

  • FIStructE (Fellow of the Institution) 
  • MIStructE (Member of the Institution)
  • AMIStructE (Associate member of the Institution)

Whilst it is not compulsory, most members of the Institution will register to use the additional titles of Chartered Engineer (CEng) and Incorporated Engineer (IEng).
These are protected titles (similar to Lawyer, Doctor or Architect), and can only be used by individual engineers who have met strict assessment criteria.

When selecting a structural enginee r it is recommended they are members of The Institution of Structural Engineers or are Chartered Engineers or Incorporated Engineers of another Institution and are able to demonstrate their competence as a structural engineer.

"It is perfectly acceptable to ask your prospective structural engineer for details of similar work they have completed"


It is strongly recommended that your preferred professional advisor carries Professional Indemnity Insurance which protects against their legal liabilities relating to their professional services.

As a customer, you are entitled to, and it is reasonable to ask, to see a copy of the structural engineer’s professional indemnity certificate of insurance and for confirmation that the monetary protection / limit of indemnity exceed the value of reasonable potential losses. The Institution of Structural Engineers’ code of conduct requires all structural engineers who are affiliated with the Institution to formally advise a customer if they do not hold professional indemnity insurance.  

Finding a structural engineer 

By affiliation
The Institution of Structural Engineers hosts this website,  which contains a comprehensive database of Chartered Structural Engineers and structural engineering practices across the UK. Only firms that have at least one qualified Member or Fellow of The Institution of Structural Engineers are registered, helping you to trust the reputation and quality of the companies listed. 

By recommendation 
Structural engineers can often be recommended by architects/architectural designers, builders or building surveyors and of course by other contacts you may have. You can check whether recommended structural engineers are members of The Institution of Structural Engineers and are listed in the following directory:  

Listed Building specialists 
Maintenance and works on Listed Buildings is a specialist field that requires structural engineers to be familiar with the historic materials and construction techniques employed across the property. 
The Conservation Accreditation Register for Engineers (CARE) identifies structural and civil engineers accredited for the conservation of historic structures. For more information, refer to:
Alternatively, the listing in this website, catalogues many individuals and practices with specialism in historic structures.

Managing expectations and contract particulars

How you rate the success of your project may largely come down to your expectations. In an ideal world, your expectations would match those of your professionals. This is by far the best way of ensuring you’re satisfied  by the outcome.
Structural engineers: Can and Cannot:

 Can Cannot
Sign a contract, provide confirmation that their design and services have been performed with reasonable skill and care and a receipt recording the payments received and services completed.Provide a guarantee.
Complete services with reasonable skill and care.Warrant the quality or fit-for-purpose performance of the as-built/finished construction.
Complete inspections/surveys prior to works starting to gain information that will inform the design and reduce financial risk.Eliminate risks outright of unexpected site conditions that may cause delay and/or additional work/fees.
Prepare information to support a Building Control application, and manage the application on  your behalf. In Scotland, structural engineers can be Approved Certifiers of design.Issue Building Control consent, negate the need for a Building Control application, nor free the property owner of their legal responsibility for obtaining Building Control consent.
Carry out inspections during and after building work to advise upon the correctness of the builder’s work.Police or take responsibility for the performance of the builder, nor be in all places at all times to inspect all aspects of the construction.

Building finish quality and energy efficient construction
The Building Regulations and Standards provide minimum criteria that must be achieved and you may wish to specify higher standards to meet your personal requirements. Your architectural designer will be able to guide you on many of these however it is important that your structural engineer is kept advised of your intentions since unwittingly you may find that the structural design and integrity has become compromised.

Warranties and certification 
Designers provide a service, not a product. Hence warranties offered by your design professional are limited to reasonable duty of care and diligence, not guarantees of adequacy. Your structural engineer must never the less conform to the requirements of the appropriate Building Regulations and Standards. It is still possible however, that your building fails to gain certification if the building work has been poorly carried out, or if unforeseen circumstances infringe on the design in a way that the structural engineer could not have reasonably predicted. 

Consumer rights
In paying for consultancy services, you are entitled to consumer rights set out by a number of Acts of Parliament. These apply irrespective of the contractual terms or warranties agreed.
Structural engineering is a professional service. Repeat business and recommendations are very important to structural engineers and it is therefore very rare for structural engineers not to give satisfactory service to their customer.
Disputes are best avoided by being very clear on the scope of services the structural engineer is being commissioned to undertake from the outset, and to formalise this in writing. 
In the very rare event that you are unhappy with the services provided, the first thing you should do is discuss the issues with your structural engineer and give them the opportunity to explain their actions and propose a solution acceptable to both parties. If you remain unhappy with the service you should record this in writing to the structural engineer and follow up, again in writing, to confirm any discussions and agreements. In this way you have a formal record of the issues should you need it.  

Professional conduct 
You can be assured that individual structural engineers affiliated with The Institution of Structural Engineers are required to adhere to a professional code of conduct, details of which are on the Institution’s website. 
For further information on the Institution code of conduct, visit

Note: persons acting as structural engineers who are not affiliated with either The Institution of Structural Engineers or an alternative professional body may not be bound by any code of conduct. 

Copyright of designs produced by a structural engineer (including drawings, reports, etc.) typically belong to the structural engineer, though other designers, the builder and you as the customer/property owner should each be allowed to use the material for purposes relating to the property (e.g. future extensions and/or maintenance work).

Budgeting for a structural engineer 
Structural engineers charge for their time at an amount that covers their wages and overheads. Additionally they may charge you for incidental expenses (sometimes called disbursements). These charges will be for activity specifically in connection with your project for example travelling costs and costs associated with making applications on your behalf. 

The cost of the structural engineering services relative to the overall project cost will vary widely depending on the complexity of the work. On smaller projects such as modifying existing buildings, fees can appear relatively high compared to the build costs since the engineer’s work can be disproportional to the physical construction required.

Your engineer wants to increase their fee. Why? 

At the start of your project a structural engineer will estimate the cost of work based on the information made available. It therefore pays to take the time to get an informed quote upfront and to understand what is included and, equally as important, what is not included in the quote. Having a clear understanding of the structural engineer’s brief and how they have priced this to build up their fee is essential to controlling costs.

Provide as much information as you can when requesting a fee quote from a structural engineer and any  time you are unsure; ask for their professional opinion in describing the different services they can provide. The target should always be a mutual understanding between you and the structural engineer of what is  being provided.  

Unforeseen issues can never be entirely ruled out. This is particularly true for work being constructed in the ground. Similarly, the older the property the more likely it  
may be that you encounter something unforeseen. In such circumstances it would be reasonable for the structural engineer to  be paid for additional work necessary. Such extra work may include redesigning aspects of the project or undertaking more or totally  new designs to accommodate the issues that have arisen.
It is also reasonable for the structural engineer to be paid for additional work resulting from changes you have made to the original brief  after having accepted a quote. 

It is possible to ask your structural engineer (and other members of the team) to quote for their services on the basis of a ‘fixed fee’ taking into account the risk of encountering unforeseen issues. By accepting extra risk you can expect your  service provider to increase their quotation however you may consider this to be a small premium to pay compared to the potential impact of increases in fees. 

"A successful project is one that will meet your needs and expectations, often in terms of cost, quality, timing and giving you the outcome you want"

Sources of further guidance

Visit the Institution’s Building Confidence website for sources of further guidance and references. 

The small print

No duty of care or contractual relationship is created or assumed between the Institution and any person using this Guide. No liability for negligence or otherwise in relation to this guide and its contents is accepted by the Institution, the authors, the consultees, their servants or agents. Any person using this guide should pay particular attention to the provisions of this condition.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior permission of The Institution of Structural Engineers, who may be contacted at 47-58 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3PS, United Kingdom.

< Chapter 3 - Typical cases Search for an engineer