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Good news at last for thousands of leaseholders as the RICS announces new guidance in relation to the external wall fire reviews required by the EWS 1 Form.

What are EWS checks?

Following the Grenfell tragedy, the EWS1 Form review process was introduced jointly by the RICS and two key mortgage lending bodies to inform buyers, owners, lenders and valuers of the extent of fire safety works needed on high risk properties with cladding.  In particular, this process was introduced in order to assess whether the fire risk posed by the external wall of a building was sufficiently low for lenders to be able to lend against a property.  Under this process a qualified professional inspects a building’s external wall and completes an EWS1 Form, identifying whether combustible materials are present on the external wall and if so whether remedial work is required.

Why the controversy?

Thousands of flat sales have been held up or fallen through, because lenders have been refusing to issue mortgages on multi-occupancy buildings unless the seller provides an EWS1 Form confirming the required check has been carried out and that no remedial work is required. Banks and other lenders are becoming more and more concerned about cladding and fire safety issues, requiring ever increasing numbers of flat owners/buyers to provide an EWS1 certificate, prior to lending against a property. RICS has been looking to reform the process for some time as it has identified its concerns that the number of EWS1 forms that are being requested goes well beyond the number of unsafe buildings, as banks are increasingly requesting these forms for inappropriate considerations in relation to buildings which are completely safe.

The problem with the over-insistence on the requirements for such forms has been exacerbated by the severe shortage of suitably qualified professionals who can undertake these checks, which has added to the problem of huge delays in obtaining EWS1 Forms.

It allows that where a professional finds unsafe cladding or fire safety issues as part of their investigations, these must then be remedied, and a purchaser is unlikely to complete on a sale where such problems exist.

What does the new guidance mean?

  • No building of four storeys or less will now require an EWS1 Form, unless it has ACM, MCM or HPL panels on the building.
  • All buildings five or six storeys high will not need to be checked, even if they have cladding and balconies, unless the cladding covers more than 25% of the building and consists of ACM, MCM or HPL materials.
  • For buildings with over six storeys, an EWS1 form is only required where:-
    • there is cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building, or
    • there are balconies that stack vertically above each other, of which certain elements contain combustible material.
  • The guidance makes clear that where a valuer or lender can establish that the building owner has met the advice in the Government’s consolidated advice note, an EWS1 Form should not be required.

The guidance does not come in until 5 April 2021, but early adoption is encouraged.

For further information in relation to cladding issues please see our previous updates here and here.  for further information, please contact Joanna Osborne, Tim Clark, Amelia Hadley or any member of the Property Litigation team.

Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.

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