What is an EWS1 form?
The RICS guidance regarding EWS1 forms states: “The EWS process, and resulting form, is a set way for a building owner to confirm to valuers and lenders that an external cladding system on residential buildings in scope above 18m in height (approx. 6-storeys) has been assessed by a suitable expert. Not every building in scope above 18m will require an EWS form – only those with some form of combustible cladding or combustible material on balconies.” Notwithstanding this, many lenders are starting to insist that an EWS1 is completed on all buildings – even those below 18 metres in height.
EWS1 forms have been required by members of UK Finance or the Building Societies Association (BSA) since December 2019, for any mortgage applications for leasehold properties in tall residential buildings (over 18m). EWS1 forms replaced the numerous liability letters, created by the various mortgage lender members of these organisations, which began to appear around the summer of 2019. The ESW1 form was created by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), who intervened in order to standardise the previous liability letters. RICS also produced a non-exhaustive list of professional bodies whose full or chartered members could complete the EWS1 forms.
A number of our leaseholder residents have written to Origin Housing requesting the completion of an EWS1 form, in order for them to either re-mortgage their property or to enable them to sell their property to a buyer who, in turn, requires an EWS1 form from their mortgage lender.
Why can’t you provide a certified EWS1 form for my building immediately?
All residential building owners are being asked to provide this information. In most cases, to evidence that a building meets government advice, building owners will need to undertake complex and detailed intrusive inspections of buildings (which involves opening up multiple walls to check the materials they are made of), carry out safety tests and in many cases complete remedial works.
This is a costly, complex and timely process which is not feasible for building owners to undertake on all their buildings. We have nearly 500 buildings and need to prioritise which blocks we work on in terms of perceived risk associated with each building. In addition, we do not directly employ qualified fire engineers, so we are reliant on seeking external qualified contractors, who are in very short supply, due to the highly specialised nature of this work.
The whole process takes a significant amount of time and resources, what this ultimately means is that Origin Housing won’t be able to provide a valid EWS1 for the majority of our blocks on request and in some cases for potentially an extended period.
What does this mean for me?
Unfortunately, in the short to medium term, some homeowners may experience delays in being able to progress sales, re-mortgage their homes, or staircase shared ownership properties. There are some lenders who will continue to lend on properties in blocks over 18m high or take a different view on the need for a formal EWS1 sign off.
Whatever your circumstance, if you’re looking to staircase, sell or remortgage your home, we recommend that you assess your options by speaking to an independent financial advisor, familiar with the current mortgage market for high risk blocks of flats before you embark upon any of these actions.
What is Origin Housing doing?
We would like to reassure our residents that all of our blocks:
Received Building Control sign-off at the time of build
Have an up-to-date fire risk assessment – we review these each year for our high-rise blocks (18 metres or above) and any recommendations are dealt with immediately or put into a programme of work to be completed as soon as possible
We have installed fire alarms and instigated waking watches in blocks where we have concerns around fire safety.
We’re not able to carry out the detailed intrusive investigations to all of our buildings and complete any remedial works identified all at once, due to the scale and cost of the works involved.
We are currently reviewing our properties to produce a potential priority order for the review of the buildings, which we will aim to advise residents as soon as this has been agreed. The prioritisation of our buildings will be based on perceived risk and will include height, building shape, materials used and occupation amongst other factors.
As well as the safety of our residents, our top priority is the removal of ACM cladding (the type used on Grenfell Tower) from our high-rise buildings by Dec 2020, as advised by central government.
We’ll then develop a programme of inspections and a planned programme of works for our other high-risk buildings.
Overall, we anticipate that our programme of inspections, testing and remedial works will take several years to deliver.
In the meantime, we would like to apologise to those residents who will need to wait for their building to be inspected – we know how difficult this situation is for you.
Please get in touch with our Home Ownership Team to discuss your individual circumstances and how we might be able to help.
We are working with other housing associations and building owners through the National Housing Federation to encourage further action from the government in this area. We hope to be able to provide you with more information and reassurance in the coming months, as more guidance and support is announced by the government.