The ODPM wants to extend the period during which local authorities can take action against those who breach Building Regulations from six months to two years.

Last week ODPM minister Yvette Cooper inserted a clause enabling the change into the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill, which is before parliament.

The clause will apply to Part L of the Building Regulations but Cooper said she wanted to extend the provision to all other regulations "at the earliest opportunity".

It is understood that the ODPM sees the bill as an opportunity to improve compliance with Building Regulations.

Environmental groups welcomed the news. Mark Brown, director of the Energy Efficiency Partnership for Homes, said the body had carried out research into why buildings didn't comply with Part L.

He said: "There is insufficient time for local authorities to take action in the courts so we would welcome the change."

But Roger Humber, strategic policy adviser to the House Builders Association, said it increased housebuilders' risk. "Work may be done properly but subsequently fail, or the homeowner may modify their home so it no longer meets the regulations. Is the builder going to be liable for prosecution over work done by the homeowner?"

However, the head of a local authority building control department said he doubted that an extended period for action would make much difference, as councils had more pressing demands on their resources. He said: "There is going to be more and more legislation on sustainability and they will give us the tools to enforce it. But will the ODPM give us the money?"

He added that compliance problems centred on large numbers of small domestic extensions done by cash-in-hand builders. "If the builder has done a runner, who do you enforce against?"