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Guide to the EWS1 form as a buyer

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, the EWS1 form was introduced to identify properties with potentially dangerous cladding. Here’s what you need to know about it if you would like to purchase a flat in a high-rise property.

Guide to the EWS1 form as a buyer

Brought about in 2018, the EWS1 form was introduced into the property sector as a reaction to the Grenfell Tower fire, where part of the cause is believed to be combustible cladding on the outside of the block.

This form is part of the effort to prevent such a disaster happening in similar tower blocks and high-rise buildings throughout the UK.

What is the EWS1 form?

EWS stands for External Wall Structure. The purpose of the form is to assess the external walls of any residential property where the highest floor is 18 metres or more above ground level (typically six or more storeys), or where specific concerns exist (e.g. the existence of High Pressure Laminate cladding). This means some properties which are less than six storeys may still need an EWS1 form.

This includes blocks of flats (those owned by housing associations and social housing providers as well as privately owned), student accommodation, dormitories, assisted living, care homes and Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs).

It does not necessarily pertain to temporary residences like hotels, but the form covers a whole building. Therefore, if a building has mixed uses (permanent and temporary accommodation) it will cover them both.

The form will be need to be filled in by a professionally qualified person who is member of a relevant professional body within the construction industry, and can determine whether the external walls (e.g. the cladding) are safe and conform to government guidance, or whether they need attention and repairs. It will then be valid for the building for 5 years, unless the external walls are significantly changed.

Be aware that there are scammers who are unqualified to assess for fire safety and are using fake EWS1 forms. Buyers should make sure they are provided with the right form and have checked the credentials of the person who filled it out. Learn more about the EWS1 scams.

The intention, in terms of moving, is that people hoping to buy a property in a high-rise building will be provided with an EWS1 form by the sellers of the property they wish to buy, which they can then pass on to their mortgage lender. This way the safety of the building’s external walls will be transparent to all parties, and the lender can make an informed decision on whether to provide a mortgage to the buyer for the property.

How do you get one?

The EWS1 from is the responsibility of the owner of the building to complete, therefore sellers should be in contact with the building owner or their agent to ensure they have completed/are completing this form if required, so that they can pass it on to buyers and their mortgage lenders.

Because of this, a buyer can do little to ensure that the property they wish to buy has the EWS1 form. They must simply be in contact with the seller to make sure the form is available or is being filled out.

As the form is filled out by the building’s owner, they will be the ones paying for the survey to be carried out and may possibly pass some of the costs on to their leaseholders. Those buying the property will not have to pay for the form and they will just need to request a copy from the seller.

What are the benefits/drawbacks of the form?

The benefit of having a form specifically designed to identify the safety of cladding on a building, is that it can help people identify whether the building they want to live in is safe. Because the form must be filled out by a qualified expert, it adds a layer of trust to the findings. Having expert evidence to prove that a building may be unsafe can lead to the owner of the building/the leaseholder getting it fixed, making it safe for people to purchase flats and move in in the future, but it’s essential to understand if buying, if you will be liable for any remediation costs.

An unfortunate drawback of the form is that if it finds that the building may be unsafe, a lender may not allow someone to get a mortgage and move into the property.

Another problem buyers are encountering is the issue of the form not being mandatory. Because the form is not required by law, building owners do not have to have it completed. However, many lenders will not allow buyers to purchase a home in a high rise building without one of these forms, due to safety concerns. Therefore, those wishing to buy flats in buildings where the owner has not completed/cannot afford to complete the EWS1 form could find themselves unable to secure a mortgage on the property.

So it’s worth finding out whether the flat you are looking to make an offer on can be bought with a mortgage, before you make an offer and incur any buying costs.

Some lenders are also asking for the form to be provided for buildings under 18m tall, which the form was not designed to cover. Therefore, if these buildings do not have the form completed, buyers could be once again unable to secure a mortgage.

One of the most common problems with requesting the EWS1 form is the lack of access to qualified EWS1 chartered surveyors (hence the aforementioned scams). Because there is a limited number of surveyors available to complete the form, there is a significant waiting list, with taller and more at-risk buildings taking priority. This means buyers can potentially be waiting quite some time for the form to be completed, slowing down their ability to get a mortgage and move into their desired home.

What if I can’t get the form?

The issues associated with the form, and their impact on buyers, are being reported constantly. This means that there is currently growing pressure on the government to update the system, changing its legality and making it easier to receive the form.

Until these changes are implemented, the best option to buyers struggling to get a mortgage on the property they like, is to be open to looking at other properties as a backup. If waiting around for an EWS1 is going to interrupt a buyers timeline for moving, or worse, they simply cannot get hold of the form, having another property in mind of a similar price that won’t require the form can be a lifesaver. Losing out on a dream home can be tough, but there may always be the possibility of moving again once the process is amended.

The EWS1 is still fairly new to the property market and has already been updated in March 2021 and it is likely to change over the coming years as problems are ironed out. The Government has already amended the form once, omitting any buildings without cladding from needing it. Many local governments and housing associations are also attempting to offer support to those struggling with issues caused by EWS1. In October 2020, the Fire Industry Association (FIA) launched a portal that will ‘provide a central readily-accessible location for EWS1 forms’.

However, if you are planning to buy a property in a high rise building now, it is important to be aware of the form and the issues you may face when acquiring it. Make sure you don’t make an offer until you are sure you understand the property can be purchased with a mortgage and won’t attract a big repair bill.
 
 

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