Despite the government announcement on 21 November that “owners of flats in buildings without cladding will no longer need an EWS1 form to sell or re-mortgage their property” these forms continue to be requested for almost all units in buildings in multiple occupancy. That is, in part, due to the government’s extension of “Advice Note 14” to buildings of any height in January 2020 and the requirement to demonstrate that, pursuant to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, a building is “safe”.
Due to the shortage of qualified surveyors and the prioritisation of taller, riskier, buildings, many flat owners have been left in limbo, unable to sell or re-mortgage property. The requirement to assess all buildings also prevents the limited pool of competent experts from focussing their assessments on properties where there is a significant risk to the safety of occupants.
Recognising this acute issue, RICS conducted a public consultation and, on 8 March 2021, published its new set of guidance aimed at significantly reducing the number of buildings that require external wall system fire safety check (it is hoped that up to 500,000 leaseholders will no longer need to obtain an EWS1).
The new guidance shifts from using metres to measure the buildings’ height to using a more easily measurable method namely height measured by way of the number of storeys of a building.
RICS now advises that an EWS1 is not required for
- buildings of four storeys or below, provided they are not clad in aluminium composite material (ACM), other metal composite materials (MCM) or high-pressure laminate (HPL).
- buildings that are five or six storeys high if they do not have ACM, MCM or HPL or if the cladding that is present on the block covers less than 25% of the building. These buildings must not contain balconies stacked vertically above each other or have decking constructed with combustible materials.
For buildings over 6 storeys, an EWS1 form is required when:-
- There is cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building; or
- There are balconies that stack vertically above each other and either both the balustrades and decking are constructed with combustible materials (eg. timber) or the decking is constructed with combustible materials and the balconies are directly linked by combustible material
RICS is working to ensure that the new guidance will be fully implemented by all relevant parties by 5 April 2021.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has openly welcomed the new guidance. The government has also recently committed to developing a Government backed indemnity scheme for professionals completing EWS1 assessments, which should increase market capacity, particularly when combined with the £700,000 funding by government to train new valuers / assessors.
The EWS1 is dead, long live the EWS1…?
The guidance is not statutory in nature and its usage will wholly rely on the attitude of lenders providing mortgages. It also remains to be seen how the forthcoming statutory requirement for a Building Assurance Certificate for tall buildings will impact on lending decisions across the market, and how building owners will prove the safety of their buildings for the purposes of the Fire Safety Act (which affects all buildings) absent an EWS1.
Trade body UK Finance said decisions as to whether an EWS1 was required were “for each lender to make based on their own risk appetite”. It therefore remains to be seen whether lenders will be bolder with their lending decisions from April. Anecdotal evidence is that very low risk buildings are being spared the need to provide an EWS1 but others are still requiring an EWS1, even where RICS would say it is unnecessary. We need to wait and see how the industry will deal with EWS1s in practice, and how it will resolve the apparent contradiction between reducing the scope of EWS1 and introducing separate requirements to prove compliance under the Fire Safety Bill and the Building Safety Bill.