EWS stands for ‘external wall system’. The external wall system of a residential building consists of the outside wall, cladding, insulation, and fire break systems.
The EWS process was developed by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and is endorsed by UK Finance and the Building Society Association. The process was launched in December 2019 and was designed to provide an industry-standard approach to assess cladding fire safety, and assure lenders, valuers, residents, buyers, and sellers, that external wall systems have been constructed in accordance with building regulations.
The process requires residential building owners to carry out fire safety assessments on buildings over 18 metres high with cladding, or those under 18 metres with ‘specific concerns’, such as four to six storey buildings that may have combustible cladding or balconies with combustible materials. The fire safety assessments, and resulting EWS1 forms, must be conducted by a fully qualified professional.
After a qualified professional has conducted a fire safety assessment on the external wall system of a building, they will complete an EWS1 form to summarise of their findings.
Lenders and valuers may request an EWS1 form to verify that the external wall system has been checked by a qualified professional, and has been constructed in accordance with building regulations. They use this information, alongside other factors, to help them decide whether to approve a loan.
A single assessment is needed per building, and once the EWS1 form has been completed, it is valid for five years. However, a new assessment may be required within the five-year period if significant works have been carried out that affect the original findings.
Owners of flats in buildings without cladding do not need an EWS1 form to sell or remortgage their property.
We understand the importance of this form, especially for our customers who are looking to sell their property.
Unfortunately, the EWS1 process often requires detailed investigations of the buildings' external walls, which involves: opening multiple walls to find out if combustible materials have been used; carrying out safety tests; and, in many cases, completing remedial works. This means the process takes some time to complete for each building. As well as this, the specialised professionals required to complete the investigations, and resulting forms, are in short supply.
We are working at pace to complete inspections of our priority buildings. We will make sure the investigation survey programme is completed as quickly as possible. This will enable us to put a programme of remedial works in place, where needed, to make sure our buildings are compliant.
In cases where we are not the freeholder of the building, or do not have responsibility for the structure, we will work with the responsible landlord and managing agent to help them obtain confirmation of compliance.
Unfortunately, in some cases, homeowners may experience sales delays or purchasers withdrawing offers; or find that it may not be possible to remortgage, staircase or sell their homes without an EWS1 form.
However, we have found that some lenders will continue to lend on properties in buildings over 18 metres high, and those that require fire safety works without an EWS1 form.
If you are in the process of selling or remortgaging your home, we suggest that you raise this issue with any potential buyer or lender.
Whatever your circumstance, if you are looking to sell, staircase or remortgage your home, we recommend that you speak to an independent financial advisor to find out what options are available to you.
We understand how frustrating this is. This new requirement is not just affecting GreenSquareAccord, but all housing associations and building owners across the UK. We will continue to speak to our housing association colleagues to push the government to find a solution that will allow our customers to sell, staircase and remortgage their homes.
Your safety is our priority, and we are committed to making sure the fire safety across all our buildings meets the highest possible standards, in line with fire safety guidance.
We would like to reassure our customers that:
We review fire risk assessments each year for our high-rise buildings (18 metres/six floors or above) and any recommendations are dealt with immediately or put into a programme of work, to be completed as soon as it is possible to do so.
Unfortunately, we are not able to carry out the remedial works detailed in the external wall system investigations all at once, due to the scale and cost of the works involved. Instead, we are prioritising our buildings based on risk – defined by height and the building materials used, among other factors.
We anticipate that our programme of inspections, testing and remedial works will take several years to deliver. If your building is part of our inspection programme, we will let you know when the work will take place.
In the meantime, we would like to apologise to our customers who will need to wait for remedial works to be completed before they receive an EWS1 form.
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.