Since the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, a number of potential building safety concerns have been uncovered. Building owners have also been inspecting their buildings for these safety concerns and remediating them as a priority and the government conducted fire safety tests on building materials to establish which materials would be safe to use.
Because the issues uncovered are so complex and there are so many buildings to inspect and potentially remediate, it is not always easy to tell whether an individual building has been appropriately constructed using safe materials. Mortgage providers have therefore been asking for additional information about a building’s external wall system (EWS) in an EWS1 form before they are willing to lend against it. The purpose of the EWS1 form is to provide the information necessary to support a surveyor to value a building. In cases where the materials in the external wall have not been confirmed, or where it’s clear that they’ll need to be replaced, a surveyor may not be able to value the building for lending purposes. This means that a leaseholder may not be able to sell their flat if their purchaser is relying on a mortgage to buy the property, until any risks identified have been addressed.
Obtaining an EWS1 form can be difficult. It requires input from the same experts who are needed to carry out remedial works in buildings with the most urgent safety concerns. There are very few of these experts in comparison to the large number of buildings that may need to be inspected.
The limited availability of experts and resources to carry out inspections and remediation mean that some housing associations estimate it could take up to a decade to complete all inspections, EWS1 forms and remediation. We recognise that this will be deeply upsetting and frustrating news for leaseholders, and it would mean unacceptable delays to buying or selling homes. Housing associations have been doing everything they can to find solutions to this critical issue, working with leaseholder groups, the government, the building industry, mortgage lenders and surveyors.
In July 2021, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP, recommended that EWS1 forms should no longer be requested for buildings under 18m. Since then, many mortgage providers have confirmed that they will still require the form for the foreseeable future. Lenders’ policies may change in the future, once the government withdraws its policy setting out its expected approach to remedial works in buildings. The government has not yet said when the policy will be withdrawn, and we understand this will be dependent on the publication of other supporting guidance, including a British Standards Institute document on inspecting and remediating external wall systems, as well as the commencement of the Fire Safety Act. We also understand that dates for these have not been confirmed.