Since the introduction of the new government guidance, mortgage lenders have been asking leaseholders looking to buy, staircase or remortgage properties over 18 metres for clarification that their home meets the guidance, by providing a compliance document called an External Wall System form (EWS1). The EWS1 process and form is a set way for a building owner or manager to confirm that an external wall system on residential buildings has been assessed for safety by a suitable expert, in line with government guidance.
On 21 July 2021, the Government issued new guidance, based on expert advice, stating there was “no systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats under 18 metres.” They went on to state that: “EWS1 forms should not be requested for buildings below 18 metres” and said some major high street lenders had agreed to review their practices on blocks under 18 metres, based on the new expert advice.
To help determine whether or not a building requires an EWS1 assessment, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) have developed an online tool which can be used by building owners or managers. Some buildings do not require assessment as suggested by the RICS, but still may generate queries from lenders. These may be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
EWS1 forms need to be completed by an independent fire engineer and surveying firms appointed by the building owner or manager. They complete the EWS1 form which can be issued to the lender so they may use the information, alongside other factors to determine the value of the property and whether they’ll approve a mortgage loan.
Due to the approach that surveying firms and mortgage lenders are taking, this unfortunately means that it in some cases leaseholders are facing delays in selling, staircasing or remortgaging their home. We understand that this situation is incredibly upsetting and frustrating for leaseholders affected.
We understand the importance of this form, but for us to provide the evidence that the building has been assessed for safety by a suitable expert, in line with government guidance, we need to undertake complex and detailed intrusive inspections of the building by specialist fire engineers, who are in short supply nationally. As part of the inspection, we have to open up multiple walls to check what materials they are made of, carry out safety checks and in some cases, complete remedial works.
Whilst it’s not a legal requirement, we’re working hard to complete these investigations for our buildings, if they’re required as per RICS guidance, as quickly as possible. And we’re looking into options to see how we can speed this process up and complete these forms quicker. However, this is a complex and timely process and we therefore won’t be able to provide a valid EWS1 form for some of our blocks (particularly those under 18 metres) on request and in some cases for some time. There are also very few specialists in the country that have the ability to complete the form and they are in high demand.
Please be aware that in many cases, completing the process to enable an EWS1 form to be available could take up to 6 months.
Unfortunately, for some of our leaseholders not having an EWS1 form is causing delays in being able to progress with the sale of their home, remortgage of their home, or staircase of their shared ownership property. We want to do everything we can to support leaseholders whose mortgage application or sales process has been disrupted as a result of the approach that lenders are taking. As the form is only needed by mortgage lenders, this isn’t affecting purchases made by cash buyers.
This new guidance is affecting housing associations and building owners across the UK and we’re working together through the National Housing Federation to call on the government to work with mortgage lenders to find a solution that will enable the housing market to operate normally during the period of uncertainty. We hope to be able to provide you with more information and reassurance as further guidance is announced by the government.
If you’re looking to staircase, sell or remortgage your house, please contact our Sales team via firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and support. We also advise you to seek advice from your mortgage lender before beginning the process and speak to an independent financial advisor. The Leasehold Advisory Service (www.lease-advice.org) and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership (www.leaseholdknowledge.com) are potential sources of advice.
For more information on RICS and their guidance on the EWS1 process, please visit their website https://www.rics.org/uk/news-insight/latest-news/fire-safety/cladding-qa/.