The EWS1 (External Wall System) certificates have been something of a disaster since they were introduced in December 2019. They were designed to introduce clarity in relation to combustible cladding and standardised mortgage valuations. Originally, they were intended to be required by the mortgage company if a valuer had reported the existence of combustible cladding in residential blocks of 18 metres or more in height (c. six storeys).
Problems arose almost immediately due to the lack of fire safety inspectors as insurers were reluctant to provide cover. Mortgage companies were also refusing to lend unless combustible cladding was replaced. Although there is now a Building Safety Fund of over £5 billion available for the replacement of some types of material, it is estimated that this will only pay for about a third of the work needed. There have been instances of service charge liability in residential blocks of £115,000 per unit.
Things were exacerbated in January 2020 when the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government produced its guidance on Advice to Owners of Multi-storey Multi-occupied Residential Buildings which stated that the certificates may be required for blocks of less than 18 metres in height and which did not have combustible cladding as a building material. This seems to be primarily because of concerns about high pressure laminate being used on residential blocks.
On 8 March 2021, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors produced its new guidance note on the valuation of properties in multi-storey multi-occupied residential buildings with cladding. The guidance comes into effect on 5 April 2021, but it is expected that valuers will take it into account immediately.
The guidance is as follows:
- The certificate should be required for buildings over six storeys in height where there is cladding or curtain wall glazing or where there are balconies vertically above one another and both the balustrades and decking are constructed where combustible material such as timber, or where the decking is constructed of combustible material and the balconies are directly linked by combustible material.
- If the building is of five or six storeys in height then a certificate will be required if approximately one quarter of the whole elevation estimated from a viewing at ground level is comprised of cladding, or there is aluminium or metal composite material or high pressure laminate panels on the building or fire risk in relation to balconies as above
- If the building has fewer than five storeys a certificate will be required if there are aluminium or metal composite or high pressure laminate panels on the building
The guidance also makes clear that if the building complies with the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (or 2020 in Wales) an EWS1 certificate should not be required.
At first glance this alleviates many of the problems, in particular there are examples of EWS1 certificates being required for three or four storey buildings with brick facades. Hopefully, this will be a thing of the past. However, the original purpose of the EWS1 certificates has been expanded to include high pressure laminate and balconies and not merely combustible cladding. Buildings of less than 18 metres in height may also still require the certificates which was not what was intended when the EWS1 was introduced.
Although a step in the right direction and the guidance has solved the problems for some, do not assume that the issue has gone away.
Richard Snape March 2021
DISCLAIMER: Nothing said in this article constitutes legal or other professional advice and no warranty is given nor liability accepted for the contents of this article. Richard Snape, Davitt Jones Bould and LawSure Insurance will not accept responsibility for any loss suffered in consequence of reliance on information contained in the article.