Cladding guidance causes a mixed reaction

EWS guidance is met with a mixed reception, whilst the government and industry bodies welcome the update, campaigners say it overlooks those living in unsafe buildings.;

New External Wall System (EWS) guidance has had a mixed reception. Government and industry bodies have welcomed the update, but campaigners allege it overlooks those who are already living in unsafe buildings.

The guidance is aimed at helping leaseholders sell properties with external cladding and is due to be put in place by April 5th 2021.

The previous system, put in place in December 2019, was supposed to ensure adequate checks had been carried out on residential buildings above 18m, before they could be sold.

However, changes to the government’s guidance in January 2020, meant many buildings under this height also required the checks to be carried out.

The checks carried out by qualified professionals ensure the construction of a buildings external walls and the materials used are safe. The professional carrying out the check then signs an EWS1 form, which is valid for the entire building for five years.

However, this form doesn’t constitute a safety certificate, it is merely used to help valuers and lenders determine if there may be remediation costs that could affect a property’s value.

New guidance issued by RICS

New guidance issued by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has clarified the checks needed to be carried out by banks, before issuing a mortgage.

Lenders had been concerned that properties would not be good security for mortgages, due to the potential for leaseholders to be hit with bills, which would reduce the value of a property.

The new guidance now states that EWS checks will not be needed on any building below four storeys in height, providing they are not clad in aluminum composite material (ACM), other metal composite materials (MCM) or high pressure laminates (HPL).

Buildings that are either five or six storeys tall won’t need to be checked, provided they don’t have ACM, MCM or HPL present and if the cladding covers less than 25% of the building.

Of buildings taller than six storeys, only those that have cladding or vertically stacked balconies will be required to have an EWS1 assessment.

Campaigners share concerns

The ‘End Our Cladding Scandal’ campaign group say that the need for EWS checks is only a small part of the overall building safety crisis in the UK. They argue that there are a range of serious safety issues that are being uncovered in residential building not being considered.

Campaigner Tasha Letchford stated: “The EWS1 certificate will only identify issues with the external wall and it is now clear that many of the fire safety issues within these buildings are internal. We will continue to call on the government to end this crisis.”

Positive reaction from industry and the Government

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, welcomed the guidance. He pointed out that 500,000 leaseholders would no longer need an EWS1 form and said:

“Backed by nearly £700,000 government funding, over 500 assessors have now started training so that where valuations are needed these can be done more quickly, speeding up the process for homeowners.”

The trade body UK Finance and the Building Societies Association released a joint statement, making clear they welcomed the guidance.

They did, however, also add;

“Those buying a flat should understand that a decision made by a valuer not to require an EWS1 inspection under the new guidance is no guarantee that fire safety remediation works will not be required in the future.”

Dame Janet Paraskeva, chair of the RICS Standards and Regulation Board, said this change was a "crucial step in unlocking the market".

Regardless of these changes, banks and building societies will still have the final say over which properties they choose to lend against.

This information should not be interpreted as financial advice. Mortgage and loan rates are subject to change.