Understanding the EWS Process and the Need for EWS1 Forms
Following the tragic events at Grenfell in 2017, Government published advice in 2017 requesting the necessary checking and remediating of external wall systems of multi-occupancy buildings that had potentially combustible material within their wall construction.
This meant that purchasers of flats and therefore the mortgage lenders on these properties, have needed to assess whether any flats they were seeking mortgages on have taken into account their wall system make up. If there were combustible materials or defects, it is possible they will need to be remediated, and any remediation impacts the value of properties. If not properly assessed, there is the potential for significant surprise costs for the buyer and a mortgage that quickly becomes unaffordable.
In December 2019, a cross party group of fire engineers, lenders, insurers, valuers, and other industry representatives worked to develop a new process that could give buyers and their mortgage providers a clear instruction as to whether a property was safe to lend on. At that current time, the market was stalling due to the lack of a system available that would provide the information that purchasers and mortgage lenders needed for flats to be assessed and for sales to progress.
This is the EWS1 (External Wall System) process.
Most buildings will not need to go through this process, and in the vast majority of sales of flats in buildings below 18m, a valuer will easily be able to assess that the wall system is appropriate, and the sale can go ahead.
However, in around 5 to 6% of buildings below 18m, the EWS1 process will be triggered. The process is a check that the building owner will request on any building where the make-up of the wall system is unknown. It means that residents, buyers and sellers can confirm that their property is not only safe but mortgageable. It also gives confidence to purchasers, lenders and valuers, that they are giving the property a market value with no hidden surprises, and thus protecting customers by offering mortgages that are affordable.
The EWS1 process itself when triggered, involves a qualified professional conducting a fire-risk assessment on the external wall system before signing an EWS1 form, which is valid for the entire building for five years.
So, why do I need an EWS1 form?
The EWS1 form is an easy to digest, simplified form, which helps lenders make lending decisions without having to consult a full fire risk assessment. Without the form lenders would need to consult fire experts to determine the risk, ultimately prolonging the mortgage process.
It is designed to be used for residential properties and is a set way for a building owner to confirm that an external wall system on their building has been assessed for safety by a suitable expert, and in line with Government guidance.
It is important to note that the form is not a life safety certificate. It is only for the use of a valuer and lender in determining if remediation costs affect value. Where a building is found to need remedial works this will need to be carried out by the building owner, to ensure safety of the building, before a mortgage can proceed unless the lender agrees otherwise.
Very few multi-storey, multi occupancy buildings under current guidance will require an EWS1 form. In the RICS guidance for valuers, while there is specific criteria that can be used as a basis for assessment, it is flexible and some lenders have adopted their own criteria and they make this clear in their instructions. As valuers work for the lenders, they always need to follow instructions given by their lender clients.
The EWS1 form won’t be around forever. The implementation of the Fire Safety Act 2021 will mandate that all multi-occupancy buildings will need a fire risk assessment including the external walls. As part of that assessment there will need to be evidence that the property is safe so that lenders and insurers can offer the best deals to their customers. Until such time that all properties covered by the Act have had this assessment, the EWS1 form will remain in place.
If you require further advice in respect of the form and the potential impact on your property’s value we can advise you further. St Albans Office T: 01727 613 088