Marseille House Cardiff

THE EXTERNAL wall fire review (EWS1) form for Marseilles House at Century Wharf in Cardiff was found to be fake by a ‘suspicious former policeman’ living in the block.

BBC News reported on the discovery of the forged signature on the EWS1 form for the block, with flat owner Gareth Griffiths ‘suspicious’ about the form – signed in July – as ‘when I looked at it, the writing didn’t look great for a professional RICS [Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors] surveyor’, and when this was investigated, the surveyor – who did not wish to be named – confirmed she ‘had not carried out the survey or signed the form’.

Mr Griffiths said that ‘when I rang the surveyor, she was horrified that the survey took place with her signature’. The building’s management firm Warwick Estates had contracted Specialist Façade Inspections to conduct the survey, but the company said it ‘only produces a report’ signed off by a third party chartered surveyor for £200, and ‘it had also been the victim of fraud’.

Its founder Paul Tedstone said that the company had found the forged signature on ‘five or six’ other EWS1 certificates, but ‘could not provide contact details for the third-party surveyor or the name of the company’. He added that the form is a ‘bloody piece of paper’, and that ‘in order to tick that box you need a [qualified person]. None of those accreditations I hold, nor did the business hold’.

He went on: ‘It was nonsense: you need someone else just to confirm what we already know. Just for the last piece of paper, as I didn’t have the letters after my name to sign it off. There has been weeks and weeks of intrusive surveys. We have done nothing wrong, apart from being a bit naïve. We're victims too.’

His company has withdrawn every certificate containing the false signature, reviewed each case and reissued each certificate, but the issue was taken to the Welsh parliament by minister Neil McEvoy, who raised concerns of a ‘wider problem’. He said: ‘The person who supposedly signed off this safety certificate has stated in writing that they did not carry out the inspection, and they did not sign the form.

‘They have no connection to Specialist Facade Inspections and the signature on the letter is not [hers]. Specialist Facade Inspections say they’re the victim, but the bottom line is we have a safety certificate which I don’t know who it has been signed by. This really is a pressing issue. When will the housing minister get a grip on matters? Set up a task force and sort this out.’

In response, the Welsh government said it was aware of the allegations, and that ‘appropriate authorities’ were investigating, with a spokesperson commenting: ‘We are very concerned about any alleged fraud in relation to such a vitally important issue.’

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, as not only was the process ‘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, came from collaborations between UK Finance, the Building Societies Association (BSA) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), 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. Most 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.