What is the EWS1 form?
The EWS1 is a form introduced as part of a new External Wall Fire Review process valuing high-rise buildings. The EWS1 form was introduced in December 2019 in response to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. The form designates whether the external wall of a building, or attachments to the external wall such as cladding, are at low risk for fire.
The result of a form is used by mortgage lenders in decision-making regarding buying, selling, mortgaging and re-mortgaging properties within that building. If a form is requested by a lender, the property is considered valueless until the form is completed. If the form designates that a building is at higher risk for fire, remedial work is required before mortgage providers would lend on it.
Problems with the 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.
Does my building need an EWS1 form?
The EWS1 form was intended to apply only to buildings over 18m high. However, changes to building regulations in January 2020 have removed this restriction, radically increasing the number of buildings in scope for the form. Properties within smaller buildings with very little cladding are now being valued at £0 until the form is completed.
Mortgage lenders will request the form if they believe a building is in scope. If you are considering buying, selling, mortgaging or re-mortgaging your property, contact your freeholder to find out if a form has already been completed or requested.
How much does a form cost, and how long does it take?
To complete an EWS1 form is costly and can be very slow. The cost can be anywhere between £10,000 and £50,000 and could be more. 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.
Negative effects of the form on leaseholders
The resulting backlog is affecting up to three million homeowners trying to buy, sell, mortgage or re-mortgage their property. In the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, the effects of this stagnation will be particularly felt by furloughed or laid-off individuals unable to free up equity from their home through re-mortgaging.
In addition to the long waiting time, leaseholders are often being asked to pick up the bill for remedial work, which they either cannot afford, or which would be impossible to undertake unilaterally.
Improving the form
The government acknowledges that there is a problem with the EWS1 form. It has recently held talks with the mortgage industry and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors as a first step to RICS amending the form. This could be through reducing the number of properties in scope or relaxing the rules on who is able to complete the form.
Many are calling on the government to provide funding to ensure all effected buildings are surveyed within the next twelve months. Guidance on which buildings should be highest priority has also been requested. This comes amidst growing resentment within the property sector that this issue is of the government’s own making.
Expert opinion from our property law specialist
‘This is a disaster that predates the Grenfell Tower fire’ says Oliver Fisher’s senior partner and property law specialist, Russell Conway. ‘The Lakanal House fire in 2009 was the beginning of all of this. The coroner at the inquest of that disaster recommended that the government changed its building regulations. That was five or six years before Grenfell. The government simply did not do that.’
‘We have a perfect storm where people are being asked for EWS1 forms which freeholders are simply unable to supply. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with by the government, because it is of their own making. If the government had taken heed of the coroner’s recommendations after the Lakanal House fire they could have resolved this problem ten years ago. They declined to do so.’
If you would like legal advice regarding EWS1 forms or buying, selling, mortgaging or re-mortgaging your property, contact us here.