What is an EWS1 Form?
The EWS1 form and process helps banks ‘make lending decisions on high rise properties with a potential fire risk.
The form, introduced last December, came from collaborations between UK Finance, the Building Societies Association (BSA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), to ‘create a standardised process that would make it easier for brokers and homeowners to find suitable mortgages. Lenders may refuse a mortgage application where one cannot be produced – this is a commercial decision.
What is an external wall system (EWS)?
The external wall system (EWS) is made up of the outside wall of a residential building, including cladding, insulation, firebreak systems and fixings.
Which blocks need EWS1 forms?
Buildings requiring EWS1 forms include blocks of flats, student accommodation, dormitories, care homes and HMOs excluding hotels.
Does an EWS1 form only apply to buildings over 18m?
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.
Why are lenders asking for EWS1 forms 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.
The two most high-profile fires in the last year were in buildings below 18 metres.
- The Cube in Bolton
- Samuel Garside House in Barking
Common problems with the EWS1 form?
There has been widespread criticism of the EWS1 form and overall External Wall Fire Review process for several reasons.
- The form is being used far more often than intended, on properties where the necessity is questionable.
- The process is costly and can be very slow.
- There are not enough qualified individuals to complete the forms.
- The costs for remedial work are falling to leaseholders who often cannot afford them.
How much does a form cost, and how long does it take?
To complete an EWS1 form can be costly and can be very slow. The cost can be anywhere between £2,000 and £50,000 and could be more depending on height access equipment and complexity. In some areas there is currently a waiting time of up to 42 months. This is because the forms must be completed by chartered fire engineers, of which there are less than 300 nationwide.
A common problem is – The building owner will not undertake the required EWS1 Form assessment. What can you 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.
- Mortgage approval, valuation and insurance on high rise blocks of flats that have external walls consisting of potentially combustible material have been causing difficulties across the market and has been impacting transactions.
Ok you have an EWS1 form, what do the results of the EWS survey mean?
The checks provide five different results across two categories, with:
Category A representing buildings ‘where external wall materials are unlikely to be combustible.
A1 judgement would mean there are no balconies that contain ‘significant’ combustible material
A2 rating is given for an appropriate risk assessment’s completion and ‘no need’ for remedial work.
A3 rating states remedial work ‘may be needed’ on attachments to external walls.
Category B buildings meanwhile are those ‘where combustible materials are clearly present.
B1 rating meaning that post inspection, the fire risk is ‘sufficiently low’ and no work is needed.
B2 rating means an ‘adequate standard of fire safety is not achieved’, with works and interim measures required.
Cladding identified as Category B?
Two types of cladding are possible.
There is already a high degree of transparency around the rate of remediation of high-rise buildings with ACM cladding, with the Government publishing a comprehensive Building Safety Programme: Monthly Data Release. The most recent update, issued in May 2020, reported that, of the 457 high-rise residential or other publicly owned buildings over 18 metres initially with ACM cladding, 149 had completed remediation works and 307 were yet to be remediated.
Of the remaining residential buildings, 82 were in the social sector and 180 in the private sector. 140 buildings with ACM cladding were yet to start remediation works, although a majority had a plan in place to do so. The Minister highlighted to us that there was some regional variation in the rate of remediation: in Manchester, 80% of affected buildings have either been remediated or work is on site, compared to around half of buildings in London.
Non-ACM combustible cladding
There is far less clarity on the numbers of buildings with combustible non-ACM cladding. The Local Government Association (LGA) explained that there was no official data on the number of such buildings and that a survey undertaken by local authorities on behalf of the Government was not yet complete.
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.
Current Progress on EWS1 forms?
On 21 November an agreement between RICS, UK Finance, the Building Societies Association and Government was announced such that an EWS1 form will no longer be needed for sales or re-mortgages on flats in blocks with no cladding.
Although coronavirus (COVID-19) is rightly taking front stage globally just now, people and organisations are considering the safety of their properties and their options. On the 11th May 2020, Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak allocated more money in his 2020 budget for the removal of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in England.
The Building Safety Fund is being established worth £1bn of government money in a bid to ensure that unsafe cladding is removed from all private and social housing above 18 metres in height. This is due to be discussed further in Parliament. We will keep you updated as things progress.
The fact that such a high percentage of EWS forms are coming back saying that blocks need to be remediated, shows that the cladding issue is far from over. Securing an EWS1 is not the end of the road and leaseholders must be aware that even if they get an EWS1, it might put them in a difficult situation where they are facing huge remediation bills and will still be trapped for potentially many years.
Do you need support, whether you are a surveyor, property manager, local authorities, estates or facility managers, investors or a developer? We work with many structural engineers and certified fire engineers to undertake the required surveys and ensure appropriate sign off of the EWS1. We can undertake
- Intrusive surveys
- Combustibility testing
- Form EWS1 completion and sign off
We also provide support after the completion of these reviews with:
- Interim measures
- Remedial action design / review
- Sign off
- Site audits