In 2017, the devastating Grenfell Tower fire forced the UK Government to finally address the risks associated with the use of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding. Unfortunately, the solution they came up with was the EWS1 Certification, which is now causing major headaches for flat owners.
What is the EWS1 Certification?
Introduced in December 2019, the EWS1 is the new external wall system certificate of compliance. On the surface, it appears to be a sound, structured survey for assessing fire risk for cladding. It applies to older buildings erected before the regulation changes in 2018, and for high rise towers of 18 metres and up.
As an effective way of assessing fire risk, many mortgage lenders have started to request that any surveys undertaken by potential buyers include the external wall survey. The certificate would then act as another metric for valuation. However, things haven’t turned out quite as anticipated.
What’s the problem?
Flat owners are encountering two problems as a result of the introduction of the EWS1:
1. Availability: Only fully insured, chartered fire engineers are eligible to carry out the survey, and, according to a report by The Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, ‘a much larger number of buildings’ meet the criteria for EWS1 surveys than expected. Wait times may be years.
2. Extended Coverage: While the EWS1 certificate is only required for pre-2018 structures of more than 18 metres, it’s been reported that many mortgage lenders are beginning to add this as a criterion for lending against lower rise housing blocks, and may even be requesting certification for all properties.
Both of these mean that flat owners looking to sell or remortgage – as well as those wanting to ‘staircase’ and purchase more shares of their shared ownership homes – are finding that they are unable to do so.
What’s the solution?
These problems haven’t gone unnoticed. A petition was launched on 19th August 2020 requesting that the Government rethink their stance on EWS1 Certification. A response was provided by the Housing, Communities, and Local Government committee on 16th September 2020, stating that “We do not support a blanket approach to EWS1 forms on buildings, and where owners are able to demonstrate their buildings are safe using other equivalent evidence, we would encourage lenders to accept that.”
What is “equivalent evidence”?
No official guidance has been issued relating to acceptable “equivalent evidence”. However, it’s reasonable to assume that evidence of effective fire protection, including dry & wet risers, sprinkler systems, escape stairways, and general fire safety precautions will play an important role.
The next steps…
For building owners and facility managers, the next step is clear. The best way to ease the frustrations of flat owners and minimise challenges within the housing market is to ensure that fire protection and safety is made a real priority. As a Level 1 Loss Prevention Council certified installer of residential sprinkler systems, we’re here to help make high rise – and low rise – buildings as safe as possible. For more information on improving safety in residential properties, get in touch with Eversafe on 01622 910080.