The tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London in 2017 caused the loss of over 70 lives; highlighting just how quickly fire can spread through a building. The tragedy exposed a failure within our building regulations, one which many landlords and property owners are still finding difficult to overcome.
Shockingly, it is thought that around 1.5 million flats in the UK are clad in flammable materials and around 750,000 landlords impacted.
Following the Grenfell disaster, the Government firmed-up fire safety regulations for blocks of flats; as a result, flat sales started falling through. The new legislation meant that lenders required proof that the property meets the defined fire safety guidance. In response to this, during late 2019, RICS (the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) launched what is known as the EWS1 form (the External Wall Fire Review Form). The aim of this documentation is to provide buyers with evidence that an assessment has been carried out on the external wall construction of the property.
An EWS1 inspection involves checking external walls are clad using suitable materials that reduce combustibility, therefore slowing the spread of fire. The assessment must be carried out by a qualified professional, for example a Chartered Construction Professional. Once the assessment on the building has been completed and signed-off, the EWS1 form is valid for five years.
Unfortunately, many landlords whose properties fail the assessment are trapped – often unable to sell or even remortgage, since most lenders are insisting on ESW1 form. The only way you can find out if your building needs an EWS1 certificate is by carrying out an initial assessment.
Although originally designed for buildings above 18 metres high, in 2020, the Government changed the criteria to include all residential buildings. Later, in November 2020, RICS and the Government agreed that not all buildings required an EWS1 certificate. So, while buildings of any height could need an EWS1, there are other criteria which would determine whether or not you need an EWS1.
Apart from the height of the building, the type of cladding should also be considered, including how much of the external wall is clad. Balconies and combustible materials also determine whether or not an EWS1 would be required on the building.
The responsibility for organising this assessment lies with the building owner or managing agent, so if you’re selling a flat, you can ask the owner or managing agent to commission the EWS assessment or start by simply enquiring about the construction of the external wall.