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EWS1 Form Explained

cladding removal

There are many questions surrounding the EWS1 form and how it works. Globally recognised professional body RICS have put together a handy and informative guide to help understand EWS1, which we are sure you will find very helpful.

What is an External Wall System?

The external wall system is made up of the outside wall of a residential building, including cladding, insulation, fire break systems, etc. The EWS1 form checks these for safety, if that is required. Buildings in scope are blocks of flats, student accommodation, dormitories, care homes and HMOs exc hotels.

What is the EWS1 process?

The EWS process, and resulting form, is a set way for a building owner to confirm that an external wall system on residential buildings has been assessed for safety by a suitable expert.

The External Wall Fire Review process will require a fire safety assessment to be conducted by a suitably qualified and competent professional delivering assurance for lenders, valuers, residents, buyers and sellers. The Review was developed through extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including fire engineers, lenders, valuers, and other cross industry representatives.

The process itself, involves a “qualified professional” (see below) conducting a fire-risk assessment on the external wall system, before signing an EWS1 form, which is valid for the entire building for 5 years.

The form was designed following Government advice regarding external wall systems on buildings above 18m and was created to ensure buildings over 18m tall could be assessed for safety to allow lenders to offer mortgages. Not every building above 18m will require an EWS1 form – only those with some form of combustible material, making them unsafe, or, for example, combustible material on balconies.

Changes in Government advice in January 2020, bringing all buildings into scope, mean some residential buildings below 18m which have ‘specific concerns’, may now require an EWS1. Examples include 4-6 storey buildings which may have combustible cladding or balconies with combustible materials and therefore are a clear and obvious risk to life safety and may require remediation in accordance with the latest Government advice.

We do not envisage most residential in scope buildings 1-3 storeys in height requiring an EWS form, unless the type of occupation of the building significantly increases risk to life in the event of a fire eg a care home with elderly people which could not be evacuated quickly and which will necessitate remediation works that will materially affect value.

You should always have a rationale to justify the request for the EWS. RICS will continue to work on the EWS process, to ensure it is the best it can be, until such time as Government creates an alternative way of assessing and remediating buildings with flammable cladding. RICS continue to work with lenders, Government, and insurers on this matter.

Does each flat/ apartment have to get an individual EWS from for selling, buying and remortgaging?

No. Each EWS form is valid for an entire block/ building. It is valid for 5 years.

How does the EWS form factor into buying, selling or remortgaging of a flat/apartment?

The EWS (external wall system) process, is agreed by representatives for developers, managing agents, fire engineers, lawyers, lenders and valuers, and has been adopted across the industry.

Its purpose is to ensure that a valuation can be provided for a mortgage or remortgage on a property which features an external wall cladding system of uncertain make up, something that has both safety implications and which may affect value if remediation is required due to the fire risk associated.

The process results in a signed EWS1 form per building, with two options/ outcomes:
(A) confirms that there are no combustible materials
(B) recommends that remedial works are carried out

The EWS form itself certifies that the external wall cladding system has been assessed by someone who is suitably qualified to do so. A list of suggested bodies to contact to source fire experts and information about the competencies required can be found here.

While the form applies to buildings over 18 metres, changes in Government advice, introduced in January 2020, meant that all buildings of any height with a wall system may need to be risk assessed – those below 18m if there are specific concerns.

It is also important to note what the form will not do. Where a building is found to need remedial works this will need to be carried out by the building owner, to ensure safety of the building, before a mortgage can proceed unless the lender agrees otherwise. RICS have called on Government to ensure leaseholders are not left with these costs.

If the building owner has not proactively tested the external wall materials, what does the seller need to do?

The seller can request that their building owner or managing agent commission an EWS assessment, and / or enquire as to the make up of the wall system. The building owner or managing agent is responsible for confirming what materials are on their building, and in respect to the EWS form, the person responsible for the building needs to confirm what the wall system is made up of and whether an assessment is required.

Can the buyer or seller initiate the EWS process if the building owner has not?

The EWS process/ form is for building owners to undertake. Both sellers and buyers should be in contact with the building owner or their agent to ensure this takes place as quickly as possible.

If the building owner will not undertake the required assessment, what can the owner/lender/valuer do?

If the building owner does not acknowledge their legal responsibility and refuses to undertake the necessary assessment, the local council can provide further advice, or it should be referred to the Fire and Rescue Service. No one should be living in a building which is unsafe, and the building owners are the ones who can progress this.

Building Owners have a clear responsibility reinforced by MHCLG advice to arrange for the wall system to be checked and have a route to remediation where needed. Leaseholders should continue to engage with the building owner or their agent to ensure this happens.

RICS is working with Government and other stakeholders as part of the Fire Safety Bill, which is due to gain Royal Assent early 2021. With current Government funding (£1.6bn) and only for 18m+, RICS are calling for a UK Government intervention to identify these sub-18m and fund remediation so this does not fall to the leaseholder.

Who carries out the EWS assessment, and what is their expertise?

The EWS form must be completed by a fully qualified member of a relevant professional body within the construction industry with sufficient expertise to identify the relevant materials within the external wall cladding and attachments, including whether fire resisting cavity barriers and fire stopping have been installed correctly.

We have been made aware that unqualified people may be signing off EWS1 forms. RICS condemns anyone using the current situation for their own personal gain, with potentially dangerous consequences for residents, and would urge that any further information related to this is made available to trading standards and RICS if appropriate.

UK banks and building societies have robust measures in place to protect people against fraud, which would pick up any EWS form that is suspicious, but we encourage everyone to check the signatory on a form with the profession’s institution. If an RICS member is completing your EWS1 form, you can check their membership with us on our website (https://www.rics.org/uk/find-a-member/).

There is a list of suggested bodies to contact to source fire experts, alongside information about the competence needed on https://www.rics.org/uk/news-insight/latest-news/fire-safety/. RICS, UK Finance and BSA do not approve individual persons who can deliver the EWS and cannot advise on who can and cannot complete the EWS form/ process.

However, the process only recognises qualified chartered members of the relevant professional bodies such as IFE and RICS will have the necessary self-assessed competence and professional indemnity insurance to carry out this work.

The process was originally designed to ensure that there are enough people with expertise to carry out an assessment, but this may take time due to the backlog of cases of buildings over 18m and the change in Government advice in January bringing all buildings potentially into scope.

How will the assessment be carried out?

This is up to the expert undertaking the assessment, but it must include evidence of the fire performance of materials used in the cladding.

While paperwork submitted by the building’s original developer can form part of the evidence, it cannot be solely relied upon. Photo evidence of the cladding will be required, or a physical inspection where this is not available or inconclusive.

In some cases – even where all attempts to establish the cladding system have been taken – the makeup and composition of the external wall system may still be unclear.
In such instances intrusive tests may be required, alongside a more detailed review by a professional of a higher level of expertise.

Such tests may involve a hole being drilled into the wall or a section of cladding to identify the external wall system materials and their composition. It is crucially important to identify the whole make up of the external wall system and how it has been installed.

Why is the assessment required every 5 years?

An EWS assessment is required every five years for each building or block.
This means multiple sellers located in one block can use the same assessment to assist with the sale of their property.

Five years is intended to capture any renovation or adaptation work done to the building, as well as maintenance over that period.

However, a new EWS may be required within the five-year period if substantial works have been completed to a property, affecting the original conclusions.

What happens if the EWS assessment identifies that remedial works are required?

If an external wall system requires remedial work then we would expect the valuer to take this into consideration in their valuation. A valuation will only be possible if there is clarity on cost of the work and a timeline for works to be completed. Lenders are unlikely to lend until remedial work has been completed, but some may choose to do so with retentions and the like based on their own risk appetite.

The EWS assessment is for the building owner to oversee, but the resulting form should be available on request to all occupants in that block in the interests of transparency.

RICS have called on Government to ensure that remedial costs do not fall to leaseholders.

Does the assessment cover general fire safety measures?

The EWS assessment is about the safety of different types of external wall systems used in residential buildings in scope located across the United Kingdom. It is not designed to assess other fire safety features or risks.

The person responsible for the building should have a fire risk assessment (FRA) for the building as this is an independent legal requirement that is already in place and does not commonly incorporate assessment of external wall materials. Note this will change with the Fire Safety Bill coming into force in England and FRAs will need to cover the external cladding.

Does a nil valuation mean your flat is worthless?

No. ‘Nil valuations’ are used in the process of valuing a property for mortgage lending purposes, where a valuer is unable to provide a value at that moment in time i.e. when the valuers’ inspection takes place due to insufficient information being available. Often a nil valuation signals that the lender requires further information before a valuation can be made, rather than a property being unsellable.

Why are lenders asking for EWS1 form below 18m?

Changes in Government advice in January 2020, bringing all buildings into scope, mean some residential buildings below 18m which have ‘specific concerns’, may now require an EWS1. Examples include 4-6 storey buildings which may have combustible cladding or balconies with combustible materials and therefore are a clear and obvious risk to life safety and may require remediation in accordance with the latest Government advice.

We do not envisage most residential in scope buildings 1-3 storeys in height requiring an EWS form, unless the type of occupation of the building significantly increases risk to life in the event of a fire eg a care home with elderly people which could not be evacuated quickly and which will necessitate remediation works that will materially affect value.

You should always have a rationale to justify the request for the EWS.

Government funding (£1.6Bn) is only for 18m+. RICS are calling for a UK Government intervention to identify these sub-18m and fund remediation so this does not fall to the leaseholder.

Source: RICS Cladding Q&A

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