Introduced after the devastating Grenfell tragedy in 2017, the EWS1 form has unfortunately been a pain point for thousands of flat owners over the last few years. Finally, there are signs that the guidance around which buildings require the survey could change, freeing thousands of property owners.
A Brief History
Following the devastating events at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, in which the cladding was proved to be the primary cause, there was a necessary overhaul of the Buildings Regulations. The changes included the ban of combustible materials in new builds and, crucially, amendments to which materials are safe to remain on existing properties.
Introduced in December 2019, the External Wall Survey (EWS1) confirms whether the external cladding on a building meets fire-safety standards and is only valid for five years. Initially intended for residential buildings over 18 meters, it is now required on any building with “specific concerns”. The consequence of this is that many flat blocks under 18 meters which could contain combustible materials either in the cladding or on balconies require an EWS1.
Issues occurred when delays in completing EWS1 inspections meant that many mortgage lenders rejected applications for those wanting to sell, purchase or remortgage a flat in a building with unconfirmed fire safety standards. These delays are due to three main issues: cost, unwilling freeholders and a lack of qualified inspectors.
Even if a property doesn’t require remediation work, the inspection is expensive and who pays for it is a point of contention. Many feel that the Government should be footing the bill, but that hasn’t happened. Therefore, the cost falls to the Freeholder, who is often unwilling to cover the cost (or have the inspection at all due to the cost of remediation if it’s needed) and passes it onto leasehold residents through service charges. The issue is further complicated because of a shortage of qualified inspectors, meaning that they cannot meet the demand for inspections.
The Proposed Changes
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) proposes a significant overhaul of EWS1 guidance to reduce the number of buildings requiring an inspection. RICS suggests that the following buildings should not require an EWS1:
- Buildings of four storeys or fewer that do not have an aluminium composite material (ACM) or metal composite material (MCM).
- Buildings of five or six storeys where no more than one-quarter of the external surface area is clad, and that cladding is not made of either ACM or MCM. *
- Buildings of over six storeys with no cladding or curtain wall glazing. *
*There are additional balcony layout restrictions for these buildings.
So, what does this mean for flat owners?
The proposed new guidance aims to give valuers, sent out by lenders, clearer criteria of which buildings require an EWS1. It’s estimated that these changes could allow up to 450,000 flat owners to sell, move or remortgage, meaning a significant number of ‘mortgage prisoners’ will be free to access the market once again; good news for investors and homeowners alike!
The proposals are currently under consultation, and we’re expecting publication of the finalised guidance in February. We will, of course, keep you updated on the changes as and when they happen.
If you’re purchasing or remortgaging a home or buy to let investment property, contact our expert team for competitive mortgage quotes and advice you can trust! Call 0345 345 6788 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
20th January 2021