Three years on from the Grenfell disaster, an estimated 11 million people living in buildings with potentially unsafe cladding are still facing extreme difficulties in selling their flats.
Marco Difato, paralegal at SO Legal, outlines some of the key issues that buyers and sellers may encounter in relation to cladding and EWS1 forms.
Thousands of leaseholders across the country have been hit with huge bills to meet the costs of repairing and removing cladding identified as unsafe. Where remedial works are yet to be carried out, owners have seen their flats receive a nil valuation.
The Government allocated £1.6bn for the removal of dangerous cladding, though the slow pace of repairs has seen leaseholder’s service charge and building insurance premiums skyrocket. Figures have shown that over 42% of social housing blocks still await cladding removal and repair work, with the figure at 70% for private sector buildings.
As a result, leaseholders in such buildings are faced with the reality that selling or remortgaging their flats is almost impossible. Proving to be a major obstacle in this regard is the request from lenders for buildings to have an EWS1 form which proves to lenders and valuers that a building’s external wall, and any cladding it contains has been assessed by a RICS Surveyor as to its combustibility.
Introduced in December 2019 in response to the Grenfell disaster, the form is used by surveyors to assess whether a building’s external wall, or attachments to the wall such as cladding are a low fire risk. The form currently applies to residential leasehold building over 18 metres tall, or where specific concerns exist, and the form remains valid for five years.
The responsibility for cladding safety, and ultimately obtaining an EWS1 form falls on the managing agents or building owner. Due to the high risk and complexity of the assessment, the form can only be completed by a “qualified professional”.
Where combustible materials are found to be present in the building’s external wall, a more detailed review and a higher level of expertise is required. As a result, obtaining an EWS1 form can prove to be difficult.
The requirement for an EWS1 form will arise once the buyer’s solicitor is in receipt of their client’s mortgage offer, in which the valuation will flag up that the external wall and any cladding attached will require a completed EWS1 to satisfy the lender as to the safety of the external walls.
It is the responsibility of the seller to provide the form, which will then be submitted to the lender for review. Completing the form will often require extensive documentation and evidence, and even intrusive tests on the to inspect the walls where the documentation is inconclusive.
In summary, it is vitally important that managing agents in buildings are aware of their responsibilities as to obtaining an EWS1 form, and that prospective buyers of properties with cladding in the external walls ensure the building is safe.
Moreover, the importance of ensuring the EWS1 form is completed by a suitably qualified person cannot be overstated, as a lender will not accept liability for the contents of the form where this is relied on by the client. Therefore, legal advisers must obtain a copy and explain the limitations of the form.
If you have any queries about EWS1 or cladding in general, please do not hesitate to contact our residential property team.
SO Legal has offices across Sussex, and our Notting Hill team covers West London, including Holland Park, Bayswater, Kensington, Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, and surrounding areas.