In June 2017, The Grenfell fire tragedy shook the country, 72 people died, and hundreds affected. Suddenly, fire safety issues impacting thousands of blocks of flats were exposed. Building controls have been slack for decades and light was shed upon the construction sector who have a history of building cheaply and quickly for maximum profit margins.
The building was covered in flammable cladding causing the fire to spread quickly and easily. Since Grenfell Mortgage Lenders have proceeded with caution when considering lending on flats in tower blocks, especially when the block has cladding. Their concerns directly led to the introduction of the EWS1 (External Wall Survey) in December 2019. The EWS1 was initially recommended for residential blocks of seven stories and above and was meant to assess whether a block has been built using combustible materials for insulation or cladding. Once the survey has been completed an EWS1 form may be issued assuming the building is safe.
EWS1 – Problems
In short, the EWS1 sounds like a great idea. It does however come with it’s own set of issues and stumbling blocks. Mortgage lenders are generally refusing to lend without seeing the EWS1 Form. Leaseholders who want to move or re-mortgage are finding it incredibly difficult to get the freeholders to pay for the inspection to happen. The inspections themselves can be very costly and often are unaffordable for the freeholder to carry out. Even when a freeholder has been in a position to carry out the inspection, they often take a long time to arrange and leave leaseholders in an effective state of limbo.
There is also a significant lack of surveyors qualified to carry out an EWS1 inspection, with only a reported 291 fire engineers qualified to inspect a building. Peabody Housing Association has even told leaseholders it could be 10 years before all it’s blocks have been surveyed.
Since January 2020 safety advice was tightened by the Government causing lenders to ask for evidence of safety for almost every modern flat applied for. Even if there is a hint of cladding such as weatherboarding in a small area evidence is asked for.
Most leaseholders are still not aware of what work if any the building their flats are in need work, or how much this would cost them. The EWS1 situation is really one with no reasonable solution or end in sight. Without the EWS1 Form a property has essentially become un-mortgageable and un-saleable.
The human cost of these cladding issues are not to be forgotten either. Those leaseholders who are trying to sell their properties but are not able to due to the cladding and EWS1 are reporting more mental health issues as you would expect. Plans such as marriage, children and many other situations are basically on hold until further notice.