External Wall Fire Review
In the wake of the Grenfell Tower incident in a 24-storey block of flats in North Kensington, sub-standard wall cladding and non-compliant external materials were identified as the catalyst for the deadly fire. Understandably, as a result, new health and safety assessments were introduced.
The new guidance has now brought about the need for stringent combustibility testing of all residential apartment blocks and high-rise buildings over 18m, and subsequently, further guidance issued by MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) brought blocks under 18m in height under scrutiny too. Although designed for the right reasons, this piece of legislation has created a large backlog of properties which simply haven’t been tested as yet, creating major delays and barriers for leaseholders when purchasing, selling or even just remortgaging their flats, whether or not there are specific issues yet to be identified.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Building Societies Association (BSA), and UK Finance agreed a new industry-wide reporting procedure now known as the External Wall Fire Review process (EWFR), in a bid to identify if any remedial work is needed.
Since January 2020, there is now a requirement for certain blocks where perceived possible risks are identified to have an ‘External Wall System Certificate of Compliance’ – known as an EWS1.
What Does This Mean For Landlords?
The issue has made surveyors and mortgage lenders naturally very cautious when lending on apartments or high-rise blocks where there are any external wall systems or possible combustible materials present, most surveyors will in these circumstances therefore request a valid EWS1 certificate, which in turn means a lender requires this document before proceeding with a mortgage completion; purchase or remortgage.
To obtain a certificate an assessment of all GRP composite fire doors, high-pressure laminate (HPL) cladding, aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding systems, and timber balconies has to be conducted by a qualified fire safety assessor. At The Buy to Let Broker, we know that this safety precaution is a good thing, but the serious downside for many of our clients is simply the amount of time that it can take for this specialist survey to take place to ascertain safety and to provide the all-important EWS1 form stating compliance with the requirements.
Herein lies the problem, there is a huge demand for approved specialist fire surveyors, in that there a large number of high rise blocks viewed as high risk, already awaiting survey and potential remedial works. Therefore as you can imagine as a business we have already seen a fairly sizeable number of clients who cannot obtain the required form in what might be considered a reasonable amount of time, many of these in low rise blocks which appear low risk and where our clients might imagine that common sense would prevail.
Once your block does have a valid certificate granted, they are valid for five years and only one is needed per building, making it the responsibility of the freeholder or management company to ensure the certificate is in place and readily available for leaseholders. This again means that it’s very tough for an individual flat owner to have any control over when the inspection takes place. Until this time, it can be a waiting game, which we as mortgage brokers sadly have no control.
What To Be Aware Of
If the EWS1 form is unavailable for your property, the valuation of your flat could be set at £0 by the surveyor, essentially rendering the property unmortgageable and unsellable by this route until the all-important EWS1 form is in place.
Also if a new certificate is needed, it may take considerable time to obtain due to the high demand for approved surveyors.
You should contact the freeholder or management company as early as possible to request a copy of the documents or push them to arrange a new assessment, but it’s highly likely your management company are aware and could already be awaiting the survey where there isn’t a valid EWS1 form already present.
Even if your property features non-combustible cladding or is less than 18m, lenders may require additional testing to satisfy lending criteria where this is judged by your surveyor. Your mortgage broker will check this with you ahead of the application to try to mitigate any unnecessary delays or at the very least manage your expectations on these requirements.
For more information and to find a list of approved assessors, head over to the RICS website:
You can also access MHCLG’s Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings here:
Want To Know More?
Speak To An Expert Today
If you have any concerns regarding fire safety compliance and how this may impact your mortgage, You can speak to one of our mortgage advisors today, by calling us on 08009499410 or via a callback request below.