EWS1 forms to be scrapped for buildings under 18 metres

The Government confirmed that EWS1 forms won’t be needed to sell flats in buildings under 18 metres, but MPs are unhappy, calling the announcement in Parliament a ‘shambles’.

During the second reading of the Building Safety Bill, Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP started out by saying:

“This Bill delivers on our promise to deliver a world class building safety regime. One that is sensible and proportionate, reflecting the true level of risks that living in these buildings poses.”

He told MPs that he would be publishing a Ministerial Statement setting out changes to some aspects of the approach to building safety. MPs were in uproar as they had not seen the Statement and in fact, it was only when an Opposition MP found a copy and gave it to the Deputy Speaker, that its content became known. Mr Jenrick said that the reason for its absence prior to the debate was because it was “market sensitive”.

The Statement contained details of a new approach to dealing with information about external wall systems (the EWS1 form) that has been causing major headaches for homeowners wishing to sell their flats.

Turning his attention to buildings below the 18 metre threshold in the Bill, Mr Jenrick shared the advice he received from a small group of fire safety experts about ensuring a proportionate, risk-based approach to fire safety in blocks of flats. As a result of this advice published on the same day as the debate, Mr Jenrick said: “We cannot and should not presume systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats.”

He added: “Too many people have told us of feeling trapped in their properties, held back from selling their homes because of excessive caution in the lending, surveying, insurance and fire risk assessment market.”

The Independent expert statement in building safety in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats published on 21 July reinforces this point. “An overreaction and excessive risk aversion in some parts of the market that is leading to interventions that create excessive financial burdens disproportionate to the level of risk.”

The expert group included Dame Judith Hackitt, Sir Ken Knight (former Government Chief Fire Adviser), Ron Dobson (former London Fire Commissioner) and Roy Wilsher (previously Chair of the NFCC and now a strategic adviser to the Government).

All of which leads to the removal of the requirement by lenders to produce an EWS1 as a condition for applying for a mortgage on a flat in buildings less than 18 metres.

In a press statement released by the Ministry of Housing, the Government confirmed the position of some of the lenders.

“A group of major high street lenders has committed to review their practices following the new advice; HSBC UK, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and others have said that the expert report and government statement paves the way for EWS1 forms to no longer be required for buildings below 18 metres and will help further unlock the housing market.”

Mr Jenrick added:

“We hope that this intervention will help restore balance to the market and provide reassurance for existing and aspiring homeowners alike. The government has made its position very clear and I urge the rest of the market to show leadership and endorse this proportionate, evidence-based, safety approach.”

Responding to the change of approach to EWS1 forms, NFCC Chair, Mark Hardingham said:

“We recognise the huge financial and emotional impact on people who are living in blocks of flats, especially lower rise buildings. We fully support this new advice and welcome the challenge to those who are applying an overly risk-averse approach in many buildings below 18m, in particular surveyors, insurers and fire risk assessors. We will work closely with fire and rescue services to best apply the advice for the buildings in their area.”

Campaigners from the End our Cladding Scandal raised many questions about this volte face. In a statement released after the announcement, the campaign group cautiously welcomed the change in approach to using EWS1 forms, adding: “A true, proportionate, risk-based approach is something we have been calling for since we relaunched our campaign.”

The group remains sceptical about the intentions of the Government.

“Having spent years dealing with the way this government tries to pull the wool over our eyes, we fear this may only be another face-saving exercise to try to stop more and more Conservative MPs from taking action against their self-styled party of home ownership from letting leaseholders pick up the tab for collective state and industry failure.”