New guidance out this week from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) issued with the aim of reducing the number of External Wall Surveys (EWS1 Form) being requested by lenders on blocks of flats has been broadly welcomed.
The aim is to help lenders save time when the inspections are not needed, with most lenders expected to follow the advice.
These checks were first developed to assess the potential financial impact of cladding on high-rise flats following the Grenfell tragedy in 2017.
Initially, only those who owned flats in over 18m with dangerous flammable ACM cladding were affected. Yet, since mortgage lenders started requesting fire surveys from a much wider range of sellers, hundreds of thousands of leaseholders have since been asked for completed EWS1 forms when they sell or re-mortgage. This led to severe delays owed in part to a shortage of qualified surveyors available do the checks leaving thousands of leaseholders in limbo.
The ‘valuation of properties in multi-storey, multi-occupancy residential buildings with cladding’ guidance was consulted on by lenders, valuers and fire safety experts for two months, and the recommendations are now set to be implemented by 5 April 2021.
Dame Janet Paraskeva, chair of the RICS standards and regulation board, said: “This announcement is a crucial step in unlocking the market, by ensuring that only those buildings where there are risks of costly remediation as a result of safety concerns from cladding are subject to additional checks.
“The guidance is anticipated to result in a reduction in the number of EWS1 requests which will therefore allow more focus on the assessments of higher risk buildings, which should speed up the overall process while ensuring appropriate protection for lenders and purchasers.”
In a joint statement, UK Finance and the Building Societies Association (BSA) said they welcomed the final guidance and expected the number of EWS1 requests to fall as a result. But they said it would still be up to lenders to have the final say.
It states: “Government confirmation that it supports the guidance produced by RICS as an appropriate, risk-based and proportionate basis on which to proceed with valuation assessments, in line with the building safety Consolidated Advice Note published in January 2020 is a welcome and necessary step for lenders.
“We anticipate that many lenders will implement this guidance, which should see the number of EWS1 requests fall. However, this is a decision for each lender to make based on their own risk appetite.
“Those buying a flat should understand that a decision made by a valuer not to require an EWS1 inspection under the new guidance is no guarantee that fire safety remediation works will not be required in the future.”
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has welcomed the new guidance from RICS.
He said: “I welcome RICS new guidance which will mean nearly 500,000 leaseholders will no longer need an EWS1 form – helping homeowners to sell or re-mortgage more quickly and easily.
“We need a sensible, proportionate approach to risk and costs should only be incurred where they are absolutely necessary and less costly and intrusive mitigations can’t be put in place.”
“Backed by nearly £700,000 government funding, over 500 assessors have now started training so that where valuations are needed these can be done more quickly, speeding up the process for homeowners.”