FAQs for homeowners about EWS1 forms - 23 November 2021
Information for homeowners who live in block apartments.
In December 2019, a new EWS1 Form, or External Wall Fire Review Form, was introduced. It is intended to record in a consistent and universal way what assessments have been carried out on the external wall construction of residential buildings. This is where the highest floor is 18 metres or more above ground level or, where specific concerns exist.
The form may only be completed by a designated person within the criteria set by the UK government. This form was introduced by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and is supported by UK Finance and the Building Societies Association.
Following this, guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) advised that the requirements of an EWS1 should be viewed holistically in any multi-storey or multi-occupancy building irrespective of height.
This has resulted in confusion over which buildings the ESW1 Form should apply to and whether that should only be to buildings over 18 metres in height or all multi-occupancy blocks. This is presenting some challenges to leaseholders and shared owners who wish to buy and sell and to the owners of these properties.
In January 2020 the UK government combined all Advice Notes into a single document. This did not change most aspects of the previous guidance, but it did clearly outline that it should apply to blocks of any height.
The RICS issued further guidance in March which came into effect on 5 April. The latest guidance is aimed at clarifying which buildings require additional fire safety inspections and the UK government estimates that this will ease the need for an EWS1 for around 500,000 homeowners.
Despite this further guidance, some mortgage lenders may still insist on an EWS1 Form even if the building is out of scope of the new guidance. If this happens to you, please let us know straight away. We are happy to contact your lender and advise why the building is out of scope and why it does not need an EWS1 Form.
What is LiveWest’s approach?
The safety of our customers’ homes is our priority and to ensure that apartment blocks meet the latest guidelines we are carrying out a programme of inspections which look at how the external walls of apartment blocks are constructed.
These inspections tell us whether we need to carry out works to buildings to make sure that the new guidelines are met. This is in addition to the fire risk assessments and evacuation policies which are in place for all our buildings.
What are LiveWest doing to help customers?
We will look to provide EWS1 Forms wherever we can. However, this may not happen quickly due to the national demand and shortage of qualified and insured professionals who can carry out assessments. We are doing all we can to support customers affected and have accredited consultants carrying out these checks. LiveWest will pay the cost for professional surveys if one is required.
What is an EWS1 Form and is it relevant to me?
Many leaseholders (including shared owners) who want to re-mortgage, staircase or sell their home are finding that their mortgage lender is asking for an independent certification known as an EWS1 Form. EWS stands for ‘External Wall System.’
The EWS (External Wall System) process involves a fire safety assessment by a qualified professional who completes the EWS1 Form. The inspections can be intrusive and involve opening multiple sections of walls to check the materials they are made of. Sometimes we may need to complete remedial works after an inspection.
What is an intrusive survey?
An intrusive survey involves looking at how the building was constructed, what materials were used in the construction and whether fire safety standards have been met. These surveys can only be carried out by suitably insured and qualified fire experts.
Why is this a problem for some residents?
This is causing problems for leaseholders (including shared owners) and building owners across the country and there has been a lot of publicity about the issue. There is a lack of qualified professionals available to carry out assessments and complete EWS1 Forms, as a result the wait time is large.
In addition, there are reports of the insurance industry being reluctant to offer professional indemnity insurance to such qualified professionals. We will only work with professionals who are suitably insured.
Who can issue an EWS1 form?
Lenders will only accept an EWS1 Form from an independent, approved assessor. Some homeowners live in blocks LiveWest does not own, or where we are not responsible for the building’s structure. In these instances, it is the responsibility of the freeholder or managing agent to obtain EWS1 assessments.
Most freeholders and managing agents are happy for our customers to contact them directly and we advise you do this in the first instance. However, if you face any difficulties, please let us know and we will liaise with them directly to assess whether an EWS1 Form is required and if so, work with them to obtain this for you.
Can I arrange my own EWS1 assessment?
No, the forms need to be completed by the owner of the building, or the person responsible for the building’s structure.
Do all lenders require EWS1 forms?
No, each lender has its own requirements. EWS1 Forms are not a statutory requirement and not all lenders are insisting an EWS1 Form is produced. However, some lenders may decide to refuse a mortgage application if one is not produced.
Does this mean that affected blocks of flats are unsafe?
It does not automatically mean that a building is unsafe if the building owner can’t supply the certification being requested by a mortgage lender. It is not yet a legal requirement for a building to meet the conditions of the new building safety guidance.
We would like to assure customers that all our blocks of flats will have received building control sign off at the time of build and have an up-to-date fire risk assessment in place.
The Secretary of State for Communities issued a written statement to Parliament on 21 July 2021 which included the recommendation that External Wall System 1 (EWS1) forms should not be a requirement on buildings below 18 meters.
An EWS1 is a form that defines the risk of fire spreading on the external walls of buildings and is often considered by banks and building societies when providing mortgages.
The recent changes were recommended by the government’s expert panel who analysed the number of fires in ‘low rise’ buildings and found no widespread risk.
The Secretary of State for Communities statement also recommended that building owners, like LiveWest, take a proportionate and balanced approach to managing fire risk, and that any concerns should be addressed primarily though risk management and mitigation.
As a result of this significant change to the government’s guidance we have reviewed our approach to ensuring our buildings are safe and comply with both legislation and the latest guidance.
Although we have already inspected and risk assessed all our buildings, our confirmation is not enough for lenders who insist on an EWS1 Form.
What will you do if I can’t sell/staircase/re-mortgage my property?
We are telling any residents who would like to re-mortgage, staircase or sell their home to seek advice directly from their lender or mortgage broker before beginning this process. We are reviewing requests for EWS1 Forms on a case-by-case basis.
The EWS1 Form is only valid for 5 years and we hope there will be more changes to when it is needed. If you are looking to buy, re-mortgage or staircase then it is advisable to contact your lender or mortgage broker before beginning the process. Please also let us know straight away if your lender or your buyer’s lender wants an EWS1 Form.
Please note, it is likely to take a minimum of six months to produce an EWS1 Form. It takes time to arrange an inspection with a suitable professional and we need to allow them time to analyse the materials and produce the report. If remedial works are needed because of the survey, we cannot assess how long it will take to rectify at this stage.
The sooner we know an EWS1 Form is needed, the sooner we can start the process. We may already have obtained an EWS1 Form for the block your property is situated in and if this is the case, we can supply the form quickly and further advise on any remedial works needed (if applicable).
How long will remedial works take and how will they be funded?
If an EWS1 Form states that a building needs remedial work, it can take time to do – sometimes even years. If further work is needed, LiveWest will organise this, prioritising our higher risk buildings. We will keep affected customers up to date every step of the way.
There is no government funding for buildings under 18 metres high and leaseholders may have to pay for their part of the bill.
The UK government are exploring long-term, low interest loans for homeowners who own a flat in a building which is between 11 and 18 metres high. The idea of the scheme is that no homeowner should have to pay more than £50 per month towards the removal of cladding.
A small number of our developments have had an EWS1 issued by an approved fire safety consultant which identify some remedial works are required. We are in direct communication with residents living at these developments and will keep them informed. We need to fully understand what works are required before we can comment on the estimated cost and how this will be funded.
What will happen if LiveWest do intend to recover some costs?
If LiveWest own the Freehold, under the terms of the lease, LiveWest is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the external and communal parts of the building and estate where your property is situated.
A proportion of the cost of this work is rechargeable to homeowners as a service charge in accordance with the terms of the lease. Your lease explains this in specific detail. As the cost of works can be significant, the law requires us to carry out formal consultation circumstances with homeowners who may be affected by the works.
This is often referred to as “Section 20” consultation. The phrase “Section 20 consultation” relates to the law in this area: Section 20 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 first introduced the requirement on landlords to consult their residents (who pay a variable service charge) about works. It has been amended since 1985, and the current rules regarding consultation are contained in Section 151 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002.
If we intend on recovering costs above £250 per lease, we must consult homeowners in accordance with the law and homeowners will have an opportunity to raise observations at every stage of the consultation.
Could my sale or application for finance fall through?
Unfortunately, yes. The response of lenders is evolving all the time and we recommend you speak to your lender about your building before making any application. If you are unable to sell your home or obtain finance, please contact our Homeownership team.
We have also amended our subletting policy to allow shared owners affected by this issue to sublet for an agreed period with no fee.
Who can I contact for more information?
Please email us at Homeowner@livewest.co.uk or telephone our Customer Service Centre on 0300 123 8080 and ask for a call back from your Homeownership Officer in the first instance.