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Guide to the EWS1 form as a seller

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 are planning to sell a flat in a high-rise property.

Guide to the EWS1 form as a seller

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, or where specific concerns exist (e.g. the existence of High Pressure Laminate cladding).

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. Owners and sellers should make sure they have the right form and have checked the credentials of the person filling it out. Learn more about the EWS1 scams.

The intention, in terms of moving, is that people selling their home, if required, will be able to provide buyers and mortgage lenders with an EWS1 form. This way the safety of the building’s external walls will be transparent to all parties, and lenders can make an informed decision on whether to provide a mortgage for the property.

How do you get one?

The EWS1 from is the responsibility of the owner of the building to complete, sellers should be in contact with the building owner or their managing agent to ensure they have completed/are completing this form if required.

The best way for residents to make sure the building owner completes the form will be to get together with the other leaseholders in the building and write to the owner/freeholder as a group. If they still won't complete the form or give out information on the building’s materials, they can then try contacting the local council for help.

Again, as it will not be a seller’s responsibility to complete the form, but the building owner’s, they need only request a copy of the form from the owner. Ideally it should not cost them any money, but it depends on the lease agreement and the owners. As a result, we cannot guarantee owners will not pass all or a portion of the costs of getting the survey onto their leaseholders.

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 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, improving resident’s ability to sell their flats, although this could take some years.

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. That will then leave people in difficulty if they try to sell and move out, potentially leaving them stuck in a building that they know is unsafe until the owner/leaseholder has spent the time and money fixing it.

Another problem sellers 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. This leaves sellers in a tricky position as without one, many lenders will not allow buyers to purchase a home in a high rise building due to safety concerns. Therefore, sellers in buildings where the owner has not completed/cannot afford to complete the EWS1 form are finding themselves unable to sell.

Many lenders are also asking for the form to be provided for buildings under 18m tall, which the form was not designed to cover, due to fears of blocks with cladding. This is even more tricky as it may not be required, there are typically a small number of leaseholders in the block, making it financially difficult for them to secure their own EWS1 form. As with those in tall buildings, it could result in sellers being unable to sell.

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

What if I can’t get the form?

The issues associated with the form, and their impact on sellers, 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, there are a couple of ways that people have managed to move without securing the form.

Remember, these options are if  the seller has been unable to acquire the form but believes the building to be safe, not if the form has been filled out and found the building to be unsafe.

Selling a property to a cash buyer is perhaps the most effective way to sidestep the form, as cash buyers do not need a mortgage or a survey, therefore won't need lenders to request a EWS1 form for the property. However, it may be difficult to find a cash buyer and they may offer substantially less than other buyers, if it’s clear the seller has few other options.

The other, less reliable option, available to sellers (though it may also not be possible in some cases) is to rent the flat out, to help cover the cost of the mortgage and other fees on a new home. The reason this is less reliable is that there are extra costs that come with being a landlord and also if tenants leave there may be time when the property is empty and costing you money.

The EWS1 is still fairly new to the property market and is likely to change forms over the coming years as its 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 residents 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 sell 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.
 
 

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