FAQs for leaseholders

We have compiled information for housing association leaseholders which explain External Wall System (EWS1) forms, the cost of remedial works, staircasing and specific information for shared owners.

These FAQs are based on commonly asked questions that leaseholders raise with us directly, or through our housing association members. Our responses are based on our knowledge of the situation and on our engagement with the government and relevant industry bodies. However, there may be instances when your question would be better placed with organisations with specific knowledge of your personal circumstances, such as your lender or your housing association landlord.

EWS1 Forms

What is an EWS1 form?

The EWS1 form was published in December 2019, to provide surveyors with a consistent means of valuing flats in high-rise buildings (over 18m). The form provides a means for a surveyor to confirm the specifics of the external wall system used on a building and whether or not it may need remediation work in the future. This informs the valuation of the property, but it is not a life safety certificate. 

Why do I need an EWS1 form to remortgage, staircase or sell my property?

Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, a number of potential building safety concerns have been uncovered. As a result, the government has conducted fire safety tests on specific materials used in external wall systems, such as the ACM cladding which was found on Grenfell Tower. Building owners have also been inspecting their buildings for these materials and any other safety concerns and remediating them as a priority.

Because the issues are so complex and there are so many buildings to inspect and remediate, it is not always certain whether an individual building has been appropriately constructed using safe materials. Mortgage providers are therefore asking for additional information about a building’s external wall system through the EWS1 form, before approving mortgages.

Why are they so difficult to obtain?

Housing associations know how eager leaseholders will be to obtain EWS1 forms so that they can remortgage, move, or buy additional shares in their home, particularly during such a difficult time when they may be facing other financial pressures.

Unfortunately, there is a very limited capacity among fire engineers and other professionals that need to sign off the form, and they are in high demand to conduct building safety inspections and advise on any remediation. Many housing associations may have a large number of buildings that they’ve been asked for EWS1 forms for, as well as large numbers of buildings that they need to remediate. Given the limited resources, housing associations are having to direct these first at higher-risk buildings.

This means that it is taking some time for EWS1 forms to be available on all buildings where they are requested. Some housing associations with large numbers of buildings have estimated that it could take them many years to respond to all requests for EWS1 forms and conduct the remedial works that might be needed once they’re inspected.

We know this is heartbreaking for those affected, so we’re doing what we can to press the government and industry for a solution that enables the housing market to function until remedial works programmes can be completed.

How can I get an EWS1 form for my building?

An EWS1 form can only be completed by a competent professional who has been instructed by the freeholder or managing agent for your building. If your lender or your buyer’s lender has requested an EWS1 form, you will need to contact your landlord to ask them to complete the request. It is important that you do not try to instruct someone to do this on your own, as there have been cases of leaseholders paying for people to complete the forms who they’ve later found out to be acting fraudulently. Lenders will only accept an EWS1 form that has been completed by a competent professional whose expertise has been organised by the building freeholder or its managing agent.

If my building owner gets an EWS1 form, will I then be able to sell?

An EWS1 form contains five categories into which a building can be placed. The five different categories are split across options A and B:

  • Option A: materials in the external wall are unlikely to support combustion (option A contains three different categories within it).

If the building is placed into one of the categories under option A, mortgage providers are much more likely to be satisfied that a prospective buyer could be approved for a mortgage, depending on their other financial circumstances.

  • Option B: the need for further inspection or remedial works to the external wall system has been identified (option B contains two different categories within it).

If a surveyor places a building in either of the categories in option B, the mortgage provider is much more likely to expect the external wall to be remediated, or the safety risks otherwise mitigated, before it will consider mortgage applications against the property.

Why has my housing association completed an EWS1 form when my building is below 18m in height?

While the original intention of the EWS1 form was to ensure a process for valuing buildings of 18m and over, the organisations that created them said that the form could also be applied to buildings below 18m if they have 'specific safety concerns.'

The organisation that created the form, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), issued updated guidance for surveyors on requesting the form, which provides criteria for buildings that a surveyor should request an EWS1 form for. It was thought that this could reduce the number of buildings of all heights that an EWS1 is requested for, if they meet the criteria set out in the guidance. As an example, the guidance advises that an EWS1 form will only be required for buildings of four storeys or fewer if they have aluminium composite material cladding (ACM), metal composite material cladding (MCM) or high pressure laminate cladding (HPL). However, we have heard in the media that some lenders may continue to request EWS1 forms for buildings whether or not they meet the criteria set out in the guidance.

In July 2021, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, recommended that EWS1 forms should not be requested for buildings under 18m. The government committed to further work to demonstrate evidence in support of this recommendation and advocated for a more proportionate approach to assessing risks in medium and lower rise buildings. We are engaging with the government to understand the implications of this statement for buildings in our sector below 18m and this may take some time to work through.

We understand that some lenders are continuing to ask for EWS1 forms until the government has conducted the additional work it promised to support its recommendation that EWS1s no longer apply to medium and lower-rise buildings. Some lenders have said that they will stop requiring EWS1 forms once there is a Fire Risk Assessment for the building that has taken account of the external wall system. This is a requirement under the new Fire Safety Act, which officially became law earlier in the year. Many landlords and building owners have already adopted the new duties under the Act, though the government has not yet produced supporting guidance, which is needed for the Act to officially commence. In addition, these new Fire Risk Assessments are likely to need input from the same competent professionals whose reports are needed in support of EWS1 forms, and these professionals are in very short supply.

Why might it take my landlord many years to provide an EWS1 form for my building?

Housing associations with multi-occupied buildings are inspecting their buildings to provide EWS1 forms, but importantly to decipher whether a building requires remedial works to its external wall system and other fire safety features.

There is a limited number of competent professionals needed to inspect buildings, advise on remedial works and complete EWS1 forms, as well as limited housing association capacity to oversee the work. For these reasons, housing associations, many of which are responsible for large numbers of multi-occupied buildings, are organising inspections and remedial works according to risk, so that this limited resource is first directed to buildings that need it most.

The complexity of these works means that it could take many years for a landlord with many buildings to inspect their entire portfolio, which is why we’re calling for further government support to enable inspections and any subsequent works to be completed more quickly.

We recognise that this will be deeply distressing for people living in lower-risk buildings, who could have to wait many years before their landlord can provide an EWS1 form for their building. However, the very limited resources at housing associations’ disposal for this critical work means that they must direct them according to risk above all.

Will my housing association contribute to the additional costs I’m having to absorb as a result of fixed-rate mortgage deal expiring?

As charitable organisations set up to provide homes and support for those on the lowest incomes, housing associations can’t provide blanket support for leaseholders to help with mortgage costs. Instead, they are working as quickly as possible to complete EWS1 requests for their buildings and calling for a solution from the government to this frustrating and unfair situation.

The demand for EWS1 forms, which can only be completed by a very limited number of competent professionals, is incredibly high. These same professionals are also the people that housing associations need to work with to advise on the remedial works that need to be urgently completed for buildings with safety concerns. This means that EWS1 form requests for buildings that are lower-risk may take a number of years to complete.

We understand this will be an extremely stressful situation for leaseholders whose monthly housing costs could subsequently increase. We recommend that you consider speaking to your mortgage provider if you have financial concerns or, if you’re a leaseholder in an affordable homeownership home (such as shared ownership) speak to your lender or housing association directly.

Remedial works to your building, potential costs and government funding proposals

Why are building owners only just inspecting properties for safety concerns four years after the fire at Grenfell Tower?

The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower uncovered a systemic failure of building regulations. The uncertainty this created about whether similar buildings were safe meant that housing associations opted to review their properties for any safety concerns, so that they could be rectified as a matter of urgency. Remediation programmes are complex and can take many years to complete.

As building inspections have continued, all sectors and industries with a role in the safety of buildings have become aware of the scale of potential building safety issues. There are around 11,300 high-rise buildings in England and some of the safety concerns go beyond the cladding and external wall system. In addition, due to limited capacity within testing houses, it has taken some time for specific materials to be confirmed as acceptable for use on buildings.

The government undertook a testing programme after the fire at Grenfell Tower on Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding and has conducted some exploratory tests on other materials. However, while the government’s testing programme on other materials was a useful indicator of these materials’ performance in a fire, it did not give unequivocal results on whether or not these materials were acceptable to be used on buildings. The government conducted one fire safety standard test on a cladding material that was not ACM, publishing the results only in July 2019.

As the scale of potential safety concerns has become clearer, so has the potential cost of rectifying buildings that need it. This is likely to run into billions of pounds. The government only made funding available for the removal and replacement of ACM cladding on social housing buildings in May 2018, followed by funding for private sector buildings in summer 2019. In March 2020, the government made £1bn of funding available for remediation on high-rise buildings with non-ACM combustible materials. However, by the government’s own estimates, the funding would only support external wall remediation works on around a third of eligible buildings and only became open for applications in summer 2020. In February 2021, the government made an additional £3.5bn of funding available, also to remediate external wall systems for buildings 18m and over where they have non-ACM combustible materials present. This is very welcome, but the allocation and subsequent remedial works to these buildings could take years to complete.

The lending and valuations industry bodies created the EWS1 process to enable lenders to gain the reassurance they needed to inform mortgage decisions. This process was only intended to apply to buildings 18m and above, to reflect government guidance that only buildings of this height needed to be reviewed for safety concerns. We know that the introduction of the EWS1 specifically for buildings 18m and over meant that sales, remortgaging and staircasing requests for flats in lower rise buildings were generally able to continue.

However, in January 2020, the government published updated guidance that advised those responsible for multi-occupied buildings of any height to review their buildings for safety concerns. In turn, this has created uncertainty for lenders over whether they will approve mortgages for people seeking to buy a flat in a multi-occupied building of any height, meaning that they now more routinely request EWS1 forms to support mortgage applications for flats in these buildings. Following the publication of the Building Safety Bill in July 2021, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, announced that the government would be undertaking some work to encourage a risk-based approach to managing building safety risks in medium and lower-rise buildings. As part of this, the government said it would withdraw its January 2020 advice note, once new guidance for external wall risk assessments is published in autumn 2021. We are still working through the implications of this, but we anticipate that works to remediate buildings, or mitigate any safety risks, will still take many years.

While housing associations are doing what they can to remediate buildings as an utmost priority, the scale of the task, together with a lack of sufficient funding and a shortage of requisite skills, means they are not able to remediate buildings as quickly as they want to.

We are therefore calling for government to support us by providing upfront funding for remedial works to all buildings that need them, and by prioritising resources to direct them first at buildings that need them most.

Is my building unsafe?

Resident safety is housing associations’ top priority. Due to the various safety concerns that have been found in multi-occupied buildings over the last few years, it is the responsible course of action to review these buildings. Housing associations are therefore reviewing the external wall systems and other fire safety features in their buildings. Where inspections uncover considerable safety issues, housing associations are putting in place interim safety measures until more permanent measures can be implemented. Buildings that present greater risks have been inspected and remediated first and housing associations have made considerable progress with these buildings. If you have any questions or concerns, we suggest you contact your housing association to discuss them.

Will I have to pay for remedial works to my building?

Housing associations do not believe that leaseholders should have to foot the bill for remedial works. However, as charitable organisations providing secure homes for people on the lowest incomes, the NHF does not believe housing associations should have to pay either. Housing associations may also be unable to pay for leaseholders' share of remedial works, due to the very large scale of the cost of remediating all of their properties – it is estimated that our housing association members will have to pay more than £10bn to remediate their buildings.

The government has made funding available to both housing associations and private freeholders for the removal and replacement of ACM cladding (the same as that found on Grenfell Tower) in buildings 18m and over. In 2020, it also opened up applications to its Building Safety Fund, for the remediation of non-ACM combustible cladding materials on buildings 18m and over owned by private freeholders. This means that leaseholders in eligible buildings that receive funding will also not have to pay for works to the external wall system.

Housing associations with eligible buildings can also claim back a portion of the cost of remediation. Where a housing association receives funding, leaseholders in these buildings will not have to pay for works to the external wall system. However, it is understood that government funding will not cover any remedial works to any internal fire safety features, such as compartmentation, cavity barriers and fire stopping, which work to contain a fire and stop it from spreading through the building for a specified period of time.

Where housing associations are unable to access government funding due to eligibility, they are pursuing all possible cost recovery routes, including warranties, buildings insurance and liability claims from the original building developers. As charitable organisations, they have to follow the law in how they spend charitable funds and may not legally be able to pay for leaseholders’ share of remedial works. In cases where a housing association cannot secure funding via other routes, it may have no choice but to charge its leaseholders for their share of costs.

Housing associations do not want to charge their leaseholders and are working hard to avoid this outcome. As their trade body, we are pressing the government for further financial support, predominantly so that remediation works can be completed as quickly as possible, and so leaseholders with housing associations landlords do not have to pay large bills for remediation work. We would urge people affected by this crisis to contact their MP, so that they can add their voice to the campaign pressing the government for action.

Isn’t the government paying for remedial works for buildings that need them?

Funding is not available for all housing association buildings that may need remedial works.

There is funding available for both housing associations and private freeholders for the removal and replacement of ACM cladding (the cladding found on Grenfell Tower) in buildings 18m and over. There is also a government Building Safety Fund for the remediation of unsafe non-ACM cladding on buildings 18m and over. However, this funding is primarily directed at the private sector and only covers the costs of remediating an external wall system and not other works that might need to take place. Housing associations with eligible buildings can only claim back a portion of the costs for remediating work to external wall systems where those costs would be passed to a leaseholder.

Does the additional £3.5bn of government funding mean that remedial works to my building will be paid for?

The NHF’s understanding of the additional funding is that it will be available on the same terms as the Building Safety Fund. The Building Safety Fund is currently accessible for work to remediate specific materials in an external wall system, only on buildings 18m and over.

We are continuing conversations with MHCLG to seek clarity about what this means for our housing association members, and the leaseholders living in their buildings.

How will the government’s proposed loan system work to support remedial works for buildings between 11m-18m?

We understand that leaseholders will be feeling worried about what the potential loan system will look like and will have many questions about how it will work. We are seeking clarification on the details of the proposed payment plans from the government and what this will mean for housing associations with eligible buildings and the leaseholders who live in them. We know that the loan will only apply to works to the external wall system and the government’s intention is to cap payments at £50 per month.

We will continue to represent housing associations' views that leaseholders should not have to pay for remedial works on buildings bought in good faith.

Housing associations are doing all they can to find alternate sources of funding for remedial works, whether through warranty or buildings insurance providers, or by pursuing liability claims against the building’s original contractors. Charging leaseholders is an absolute last resort and one we are working hard to avoid.

Why won’t my housing association pay for the works – isn’t this their responsibility and can’t they afford it?

Housing associations do not believe that leaseholders should have to pay for remedial works. However, as charitable organisations, we do not believe that housing associations should have to pay these bills either. While housing associations who own buildings that require remedial works are responsible for ensuring the safety of residents in these buildings, and are prioritising resources for remedial works as a result, this is a complex and large scale programme of works that could take many years to complete. It is also estimated that it could cost housing associations more than £10bn to inspect and remediate their buildings.

As charitable organisations, housing associations provide affordable housing to people on the lowest incomes. We have a responsibility to all of our residents, and other people in our communities, to provide homes and services for those who live in them. Housing associations are obligated to maintain and improve their properties, such as by bringing homes up to net-zero carbon standards, which will require substantial investment in the coming years. In addition, our sector borrows funds over the long term to build much-needed affordable homes the country needs, meaning we have financial obligations to repay our investors.

Housing associations must also adhere to the law on spending charitable funds, ensuring this is only spent in the pursuit of our charitable objectives. This means housing associations may not legally be able to pay for leaseholders’ share of remedial works – and this is why we have been calling for additional funding so that our leaseholders do not have to pay for the works themselves.

Housing associations are doing all they can to find alternate sources of funding for remedial works, whether through warranty or buildings insurance providers, or by pursuing liability claims against the building’s original contractors. Charging leaseholders is an absolute last resort and one we are working hard to avoid.

Questions specific to shared ownership

Can I rent out my property until it is possible to sell it?

Many housing associations have reviewed their policies on subletting so that shared owners who can’t sell can still move out of their property if they need to. However, not all housing associations are able to do this as there are often legal or other circumstances which affect their ability to allow subletting. Housing associations are doing what they can to make sub-letting possible.

For shared owners, or those in other affordable home ownership properties, subletting has previously not generally been permitted. This is because housing associations receive government funding to provide these homes and it is a condition of receiving this funding that they cannot be sublet. For shared ownership homes built in Greater London, this decision sits with the Greater London Authority and in the rest of England, with Homes England. We asked both bodies to consider their policy on sub-letting under the circumstances, and we understand that they are now allowing some flexibility so that shared owners who can’t sell due to the need for outstanding remedial works or an EWS1 are still able to move.

We recommend that, whatever your circumstances, you contact your housing association directly to discuss whether this option is available to you.

Will housing associations buy back shared owners’ share of their property so that they can move?

The scale of the challenge to remediate housing association buildings with potential safety concerns is significant. The housing association sector is facing estimated remediation costs of £10bn for buildings which they bought in good faith. This means that housing associations will not realistically be able to commit on a blanket basis to buy back shared owners’ share of their home. Housing associations are not-for-profit organisations, who rent homes to many lower income families and vulnerable people.

We understand that leaseholders will be facing their own financial challenges and this is a very distressing situation for those affected. We urge any shared owner facing difficulties in paying their bills to contact their housing association directly to discuss their options. We believe that the only solution to ensure leaseholders and housing associations do not have to bear the costs of remedial works is comprehensive government funding for all remediation costs. We will continue to call on government to provide this.

Who to speak to

Victoria Moffett, Head of Building and Fire Safety Programmes