What is an EWS1 form and why are they needed?
Householders in flats and apartments should be able to have confidence that their home is safe to live in, and buyers should expect no less.
The EWS1 form is a cross-industry initiative from Building Societies Association (BSA), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and UK Finance to enable a fire safety assessment to be carried out on properties clad with potentially combustible materials.
In line with government guidance, the EWS1 form was designed for mortgage valuation purposes to provide the information necessary for surveyors to assess the value of flats and apartments, facilitating lenders to lend.
In January 2020, the Government advice note for the owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings was updated, making it clear that buildings of any height should include an assessment of cladding as part of their Fire Risk Assessment.
Following the new guidance from RICS which is supported by the Government, valuers will adopt a risk-based, proportionate approach, which will see more consistency in when EWS assessments are called for. Many lenders have implemented this guidance and the number of EWS1 requests has fallen. However, this is a decision for each lender to make based on their own risk appetite.
The EWS1 form currently provides the most consistent and reliable way for valuers and lenders to assess if a property with cladding might need remediation work which would affect its value, and that it is safe for habitation.
Those buying a flat should understand that a decision made by a valuer not to require an EWS1 inspection under this new guidance is no guarantee that fire safety remediation works will not be required in the future.
What happens if there is unsafe cladding on a building? Who pays for remedial works?
The EWS1 form contains various options. The fire professional will carry out a risk assessment of the building and if the risk is low they may recommend no remedial works. However, higher risk buildings are likely to need to have the cladding replaced.
The Government announced that it will pay for the removal of unsafe cladding for all leaseholders in high-rise buildings (over 18 metres or six storeys). Lower-rise buildings (11 to 18 metres) will be offered a new scheme to pay for cladding removal, through a long-term, low interest, government-backed financing arrangement. It is proposed that repayments will be capped at £50 per month. We are awaiting further details of these schemes from the Government.
Recently a number of builders have announced that they have set aside funds for remediation works on buildings they constructed.
My flat is in a block which is eligible for a government grant or loan scheme to remove cladding from my building, do I still need an EWS1 form?
Following the new valuer guidance from RICS which is supported by the Government, valuers will adopt a risk-based approach to the use of EWS1 forms. Many lenders have implemented this guidance and the number of EWS1 requests has fallen. However, this is a decision for each lender to make based on their own risk appetite.
Is the removal of combustible cladding still necessary for a property under 18 meters to be considered safe?
Whilst the expert advice published on 21 July 2021 states there are no systemic fire risks in properties under 18m, the Government Consolidated Advice Note and RICS guidance do not reflect this advice.
Until these documents are reviewed and updated in line with the expert advice, lenders will still need to request an EWS1 for some properties under 18m to support lending decisions. Additional guidance is expected to be published in Autumn 2021.
My building does not have cladding, do I need an EWS1 form?
No. Generally, buildings which have neither cladding nor a combustible timber balcony do not, and have never, required an EWS1. However, there are some buildings which externally look to be brick or stone built, but in fact have a brick or stone slip external wall system which constitutes cladding. Some buildings also have decorative panels between windows/ floors which might mean assessment is still needed.
My lender has valued the flat I want to buy and agreed to give me a mortgage without an EWS1 form. Does that mean my building does not need remediation work?
Those buying a flat should understand that a decision made by a valuer or lender not to require an EWS1 inspection under the new guidance is no guarantee that fire safety remediation works will not be required in the future.
My fixed rate mortgage deal is coming to an end, can I re-mortgage without an EWS1?
Anyone living in flats affected by the cladding issue coming to the end of their current fixed rate mortgage will be able to re-mortgage with their current lender, provided that they are not looking to borrow any more than their current mortgage and their repayments are up to date regardless of whether an EWS1 is available. Borrowers should not have to move onto their lender’s SVR rate. It is true that switching mortgage lender or getting a further advance may be difficult as these are treated as new loans and so require a valuation which could trigger a need for EWS assessment.