The Government has announced that owners of flats and buildings without cladding will no longer require an EWS1 form (an external wall fire review process) when selling or re-mortgaging their property. This will provide significant relief to the owners of such properties for whom the requirement for EWS1 has caused problems, delay and (in the words of the Government announcement) "unnecessary anxiety".
This move follows an agreement reached on 21 November 2020 between the government, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), UK Finance and the Building Societies Association (BSA).
Clarification of Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Building - Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (January 2020)
This consolidated note was issued by the Government in January 2020, and implements the advice from the Independent Expert Advisory Panel, set up following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.
Section 3 of the note sets out the requirements for a safety review of external wall systems.
Section 3.1 states:
"Building owners are responsible for ensuring the safety of their buildings. Building owners should have an up to date fire risk assessment and understand the construction of external walls and the potential performance of those wall systems in the event of fire."
This requirement extends to the materials used in the external wall construction including its design, installation and maintenance. These checks are set out in more detail under section 3.4:
"Building owners should check their records for information about the external wall systems used on their buildings. Information should be available from as-built drawings or the operation and maintenance manual for the building or Regulation 38 package of fire safety information..."
In a supplementary note to advice dated January 2020 the Government issued a clarification to the above by providing notes on 21 November 2020 on interpretation: the key point being:
"The advice does not need to be used if the building, of any height, meets all the functional requirements of the relevant Building Regulations in force at the time of construction (or refurbishment of external walls or balconies). Particular attention needs to be given to Requirement B4 of Schedule 1 to the Building Regulations, relating to external walls, which applies to all buildings irrespective of height."
What this means essentially is that owners of buildings which do not have cladding do not need to have regard to the advice.
What does this latest announcement mean for homeowners?
Nearly 450,000 homeowners will benefit from this revised approach, where their buildings do not have cladding - EWS1 will not be required. This step will be welcomed – as described by Dame Judith Hackitt (who chaired the independent review on fire safety following the Grenfell tragedy) speaking at a seminar hosted by Savills: " [w]ell-intentioned moves to help the process for external wall systems [...] have resulted in over-use and indiscriminate use of EWS1 forms, and in some of the very worst of these cases, leasehold flats being considered unsellable and unmortgageable."
In terms of the process for home-owners of building that do have cladding, the Government has committed to spend nearly £700,000 for the training of 2000 more building assessors to speed up the process where EWS1 forms are required.
Looking ahead, the Government is continuing to explore further ways in which they can address concerns relating to the availability of professional indemnity insurance. Good news within the industry is that steps are being taken to develop a portal where lenders, valuers and leaseholders can check if a building has an existing EWS1, so reducing the need for duplicate forms.
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