Following the Grenfell Tragedy, one of the changes to improve the response to fire safety issues and to provide certainty to the housing market was the introduction of the EWS1 form. The EWS1 form was designed to ensure that all buildings with potentially unsafe cladding systems were checked and then either signed off as being safe, or flagged as requiring remedial works. Understandably, after Grenfell the uncertainty around fire safety impacted the fluidity of the property market as lenders and potential purchasers were cautious about taking on unknown risk. It was hoped that the EWS1 form would reduce this general uncertainty in the market, as it would clearly identify buildings which were safe and those that required remedial works.
However, there has been growing concern that the introduction of the EWS1 form has meant that lenders and purchasers have required EWS1 forms in circumstances where it is clear that buildings do not present a risk, such as buildings with no cladding, creating an additional burden and slowing down the process it was designed to improve. The requirement for EWS1 forms has presented issues with availability of fire safety consultants, which may mean that there are delays in fire consultants reviewing higher risk buildings if they are ‘rubber stamping’ buildings where it would be reasonable to assume that no remedial works are required. Additionally, due to constraints on fire consultants availability it may take a long time to obtain an EWS1 form even where it is clear that a building does not have cladding, unnecessarily delaying sales and re-mortgaging of properties.
To better understand these issues, last week RICS opened a consultation on EWS1 forms. RICS has proposed a number of criteria where it may be reasonable to assume that remediation work in relation to fire safety issues is unlikely to be required and therefore an EWS1 form should not be necessary. Full details of the consultation can be found here but in summary it is proposed that the following buildings should not require an EWS1 form:
- buildings of 4 storeys or fewer: where there are no ACM or MCM panels on the building;
- buildings of 5 or 6 storeys: where less than a quarter of the surface façade has cladding, there are no ACM or MCM panels on the building and if there are balconies made with combustible materials, such as timber, these are not stacked vertically above each other; and
- buildings over 6 storeys: where there is no cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building and if there are balconies with combustible materials, these are not stacked vertically above each other.
RICS is looking for input into the consultation from a wide range of connected parties, including lenders, freeholders, fire risk assessors, and homebuyers. It seems that there is agreement that there are some circumstances where an EWS1 form should not be required. However, the key step is determining an appropriate criteria that balances the need to be cautious in matters of fire safety with the necessity of enabling leaseholders and freeholders to sell and re-mortgage their properties and allows fire consultants to focus on buildings which need more detailed reviews.