THE FIRE Industry Association (FIA) has launched a portal that will ‘provide a central readily-accessible location for EWS1 forms’ and allow fire engineers to complete forms online.

In a press release, the FIA noted that the external wall fire review (EWS1) form came post Grenfell from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), UK Finance and the Building Societies Association (BSA) ‘as a means of enabling competent fire experts to assess whether’ high rise buildings 18m or taller with external cladding had combustible material, and ‘therefore would facilitate the spread of fire’.

The process aims to enable experts to establish if the buildings are fire safe and ‘if not, to identify that remedial work needs to be carried out’, because valuation and home survey processes ‘were previously insufficient to establish’ this. While the process has ‘proved successful in creating a clear and consist means by which the market understands the documentation required’ for property sales, purchases and mortgaging, the form has ‘some key issues to be resolved’.

The FIA said these must be resolved ‘in order to create a fully reliable and accessible process for the upload and retrieval of these forms’, and so it has ‘stepped in to meet this’ in consultation with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and in collaboration with RICS plus other stakeholders, via a ‘unique portal’ it says ‘will provide a central readily-accessible location’ for EWS1 forms, and ‘for the first time’ the ability for fire engineers to complete them online.

This, it believes, ‘meets an increasingly urgent need for property sellers and buyers, insurers and mortgage lenders to easily access for free and in one specific location the information they need’ for high rise property transactions ‘to proceed as normal post-Grenfell’, as well as identify any remedial work required ‘in respect of external cladding’.

For the FIA, ‘of especial importance is the need to prevent fraudulent activity’ relating to forms, which ‘regrettably has been identified’ and ‘can place lives at risk’. As such, a ‘rigorous approach has been applied’ to include manual checks at ‘various stages’, so each fire engineer submitting forms must present evidence ‘that they are fully qualified and competent to do so’, with this ‘interrogated’ before enabling forms to be submitted.

All existing forms and online submissions are ‘subject to further checks to determine their validity before they appear as publicly-available documents’, with the FIA hoping to ‘eliminate the problem’ of fraudulent forms. It is ‘fully-funding’ the construction of the portal, and has employed software specialists to ‘create an effective, efficient and user-friendly’ site approved by RICS.

Registering and uploading EWS1 forms will ‘cost a small fee to cover the validating work’, but access to the forms by the public will be free, with the website ‘in an advanced stage of development’ and ‘expected to be fully functional as a public service’ in mid November.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed in parliament that a reassessment of the form was being undertaken by RICS, after the news earlier this year, the housing, communities and local government committee (HCLGC) branded the EWS1 form ‘slow and expensive’, and asked for the government to step in.

This was not only because the process was ‘not working’, but it should create a ‘faster and fairer’ system, because the ‘industry-designed’ form was ‘slow and expensive’ and ‘applied to an unnecessarily wide range of buildings’. The form, introduced last December, aimed to ‘create a standardised process that would make it easier for brokers and homeowners to find suitable mortgages’.

A valuer could request it from a building owner or representative, and require a building professional ‘confirm that the actual material on the walls posed a limited risk or was non-combustible’. Should it contain materials that ‘posed a significant fire risk’, a ‘detailed description of what was needed to fix it had to be issued’, but lenders began rejecting mortgage applications.

This was because of ‘outstanding cladding inspections trapping borrowers with their current providers’, and so applications were being cancelled due to inspection requests being delayed. As a result of fire safety advice from MHCLG, ‘a much larger number of buildings’ fell into scope ‘than had been envisaged’, and the process ‘lacked sufficient input from leaseholder representatives, but also other important stakeholders, including the insurance industry’.

RICS urged the government ‘to take greater ownership of the situation’, and more recently, Minister for Fire and Building Safety Lord Greenhalgh held talks with RICS to ‘attempt to resolve confusion’, before Housing Minister Christopher Pincher stated mortgage lenders are reviewing how the forms are used, though some residents have been told by housing associations that they ‘cannot produce’ the form for possibly ‘several years’.

Mr Pincher later admitted that there are ‘fewer than 300’ qualified chartered fire engineers to undertake the surveys. Residents have complained publicly including Wisteria Apartments in Londontenants of One Housing properties in London and Sloughresidents of Zenith Close in London, a resident in Hackney and a landlord in Twickenham

In late August, Which? revealed that leaseholders are ‘being duped into paying thousands’ to fraudsters using fake EWS1 forms, with the government notified, and the growing crisis has now seen mortgage brokers report ‘delays and scuppered plans’ for their clients. More recently, a survey of leaseholders found that ‘nearly nine in 10’ or 89% who have received EWS1 checks have been told their buildings require remediation work.

Finally, earlier this month, it was discovered that the EWS1 form for Marseilles House at Century Wharf in Cardiff was fake, with a surveyor confirming that she ‘had not carried out the survey or signed the form’, and ‘was horrified that the survey took place with her signature’. The company hired to conduct the survey said it ‘only produces a report’ signed off by a third party chartered surveyor for £200, and ‘had also been the victim of fraud’.

That company – Specialist Facade Inspections (SFI) - withdrew every certificate containing the false signature, reviewed each case and reissued each certificate, but was reported yesterday to have provided ‘at least 15 more’ forged certificates – and its new certificates also have signatures ‘from someone apparently not currently registered to sign the forms’.