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The EWS1 form
Since the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017, new regulations and procedures have been introduced that aim to assess the fire safety in high-rise buildings. The EWS1 form is one of the main initiatives that impacts a lot of properties in terms of valuations and mortgages approval. Below we answer the most frequent questions that we receive from our clients regarding the EWS1 form.
What is the EWS1 form?
The EWS1 form or External Wall Fire Review form, has been developed by RICS in association with BSA and UK Finance and aims to record in a consistent manner what assessments have been carried out for the external wall construction of residential apartment buildings where the highest floor is 18 metres or more above ground level or where specific concerns exist. The form was introduced last December and is designed to simplify the process of getting the external wall system signed off as compliant with the current building regulations.
Is the EWS1 form applicable in all buildings?
The form originally applied for buildings that are 18 metres (six storeys) or higher, but since January 2020 the Government has advised that all buildings of any height with an external wall system may need to be risk assessed in case that there are concerns that they may have combustible cladding or balconies with combustible materials, leading to many lenders to request an EWS1 on buildings that otherwise would not have needed one.
The requests of the EWS1 form should be justified as not all buildings below 18 metres fall into this category. Smaller blocks of flats require the form because many lenders refuse mortgages if the building does not obtain the form, regardless if there are no specific fire safety concerns. The majority of residential buildings that are only 1-3 storeys in height, for example, are not supposed to require the form unless the type of occupation of the building significantly increases risk to life in the event of a fire e.g. a care home with elderly people which could not be evacuated quickly. For this reason, the Government is investigating further actions in order to deal with this issue.
What do current building regulations require?
After the Grenfell Tower fire, there has been a change in building regulations which now require new build residential high-rise properties’ external wall systems to be constructed of elements with limited combustibility. This regulation came into force in December 2018. However, there may be still buildings that are under construction at the moment which do not comply with the latest amendment of building regulations either because the building works started before the date that the amendment came into force (21st December 2018) or because the plans were submitted and approved prior to this date. Therefore, the EWS1 form should be also requested for new build properties in case that there are concerns that the building does not comply with the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018.
Why is my mortgage lender insisting on this?
The EWS1 form has been widely requested by mortgage lenders as it works as a confirmation that the entire external wall system complies with the latest governmental advice and as a result, they are in position to make more informed lending decisions on high-rise residential properties that might be at serious risk of fire safety defects. However, many banks and mortgage lenders are requiring an EWS1 form for all properties, regardless of height of building, or if any cladding is present which have led to great delays with the process and as a result many flat owners are unable to sell or re-mortgage their properties.
What if my building doesn’t have an EWS1 form?
The EWS1 form is needed to identify any specific fire safety concerns while it can also impact the approval of mortgages. Therefore, problems might arise with individual leaseholders being able to sell or re-mortgage their property if a building does not have one.
An ESW1 assessment can be commissioned by the freeholder or RMC or their managing agent. The assessment cannot be undertaken by leaseholders, buyers or sellers. If the freeholder does not accept to undertake the ESW1 assessment, RICS suggest that the local council might be able to provide further advice.
Who can complete the EWS1 form and what is the process of obtaining one?
The EWS1 form should be signed by an independent qualified professional who is certified by one of the 21 professional bodies recognised by MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) and advise whether remedial works are required. The form itself provides guidance over what expertise is required (e.g. RICS Surveyors, Façade Engineer, Chartered Fire Engineer) and the individuals who sign it must provide evidence of their qualifications. It must be noted that Managing Agent are not able to complete the EWS1 form.
The form can be easily completed if the individual who signs it has access to the plans for the building that should be provided by the original developer. In most cases, however, the information available is insufficient and therefore, an invasive test is required through samples that are taken from the external wall materials in order to assess the construction of the entire wall system.
The EWS1 form provides the two following options:
Option A: Where external wall materials are unlikely to support combustion (signed by RICS Surveyors, Façade Engineers etc.)
- There are no attachments whose construction includes significant quantities of combustible materials: In this case no remedial works are required. The EWS1 form is obtained and the mortgage process can continue
- There is an appropriate risk assessment of the attachments confirming that no remedial works are required: In this case no remedial works are required. The EWS1 form is obtained and the mortgage process can continue
- Where neither of the above two options apply, there may be potential costs of remedial works to attachments: In this situation an appropriate risk assessment of the fire risk of the attachments might be required. Moreover, remedial works may be required and mortgage lenders are unlikely to proceed without further clarification of scope and cost of works.
Option B: Where combustible materials are present in external wall (signed Chartered Fire Engineer)
- I have concluded that in my view the fire risk is sufficiently low that no remedial works are required: In this situation an appropriate risk assessment of the fire risk of the attachments might be required. No remedial works are required. The EWS1 form is obtained and the mortgage process can continue.
- I have concluded that an adequate standard of safety is not achieved, and I have identified to the client organisation the remedial and interim measures required (documented separately): In this case remedial works may be required and interim measures might be needed e.g. temporary fire alarm, waking watch etc. Mortgage lenders are unlikely to proceed without further clarification of scope and cost of works.
Why can it take so long to get an EWS1 for my building?
Once instructed, the process usually takes 6-8 weeks, but it can be delayed if it is escalated to a fire engineer.
Many building owners, however, have difficulty in obtaining the EWS1 form quickly, even if no remedial works are required, due to the increased demand for professional fire services. This is because fire professionals used to be mainly required for new build properties, but this has changed drastically since new governmental regulations for high rise buildings were introduced as a result of the Grenfell Tower fire. Consequently, it turns out that there are not enough qualified fire professionals to cover the current demand of the market.
How much does it cost to obtain the EWS1 form?
The price is usually around £10K + VAT, depending on the size and complexity of the building, the variety of materials to an external wall, the access to sample areas and whether a fire engineer is required. Sometimes for straightforward buildings it might be only a couple of thousand.
At HML we work with many contractors so that you can get different quotes and compare prices.
Does each apartment in a block have to get an individual EWS1 form for selling, buying or re-mortgaging?
The form covers the whole building and can be used more than once. As a result, separate forms are not required for individual flats.
Once I’ve got the EWS1, is that it?
If Options A1, A2 or B1 are selected, then no remedial works are required. In this case, the value of the property is not going to be affected and the mortgage process can continue. If remedial works are identified as being necessary (A3 or B2), then the mortgage lender may choose to halt the process pending the works completion, or at the very least until a specification is drawn up.
Does the EWS1 form expire?
The form is valid for five years. However, it can be requested again within the time frame of five years in case substantial works have been completed to a building that may affect the existing conclusions.
What is the cost of remediation?
In the event that remedial works and interim measures are required. The cost of remediation may vary depending on the amount of cladding, size and complexity of the building.
We appreciate that this is a complicated issue and you might need further guidance tailored to your property. Please get in touch with your local HML office and let us know your case. We will be happy to help.
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