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EWS1 Form for Cladding External Wall Systems

06/07/2020
(Last Updated: 11/01/2024)
163
16 min read
Key Takeaways
  • The external wall system (EWS) is the whole outside of a residential building, including cladding, bricks, balconies, insulation, external stairwells, fire break systems, etc.
  • The EWS1 form is required to assure lenders, valuers, residents, buyers and sellers that the external wall system on a residential property has been properly assessed for safety.
  • The EWS1 was introduced in response to the Grenfell disaster, where 74 lives were tragically lost in a fire which started with a small electrical fault but spread around the building via combustible external cladding.
  • Higher-risk buildings (HRBs) are 18 metres or seven storeys high and contain two or more residential units. However, sections of The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 apply to buildings over 11 metres.
  • Although the EWS1 certificate is not a legal requirement, mortgage lenders set their own requirements. Typically, buildings over 11m or five storeys will require an EWS1 for lender approval (some exceptions apply), as well as some shorter buildings in certain cases.
  • The EWS1 certificate is valid for 5 years, regardless to changes to EWS1 requirements
  • Where a building is found to need remedial works, this will need to be carried out by the building owner to ensure the safety of the building before a mortgage can proceed unless the lender agrees otherwise.
  • The EWS1 survey covers remedial requirements for the external wall system from a valuation perspective only, and it is not a life safety certificate. A full fire safety risk assessment should also be carried out to cover general fire safety measures.


What is an EWS1 form?

A Form EWS1 External Wall Fire Review is a cladding survey completed by a specialist surveyor on behalf of the freeholder/management company to identify if the materials used in the external walls are combustible on residential blocks of flats. The materials which pose the greatest risk are aluminium composite materials (ACM), metal composite materials (MCM) or high-pressure laminate (HPL) panels.


These fire risks are being made safe across the country, and there has been a hot dispute over who should pay. There are now protections in place for many leaseholders. Still, your lender needs to know if the building is at risk of burning down and, if so, whether the remediation costs are accounted for when they decide whether to lend you the mortgage funds against the property.


Define 'Cladding' A covering or coating on a structure - for example, a house - may be clad in wooden planks. 'A house with wooden cladding'.
Define 'Remediation' The act of remedying something. Fixing a problem, reversing or stopping an issue from arising. For example, the remediation of flammable cladding may be removing and replacing it with non-combustible materials. 'Remediation costs will be expensive but are essential to the safety of residents.'

When is an EWS1 Form required?

While the form is not a legal requirement, most lenders follow RICS cladding guidance with EWS1 requirements on their lending for certain residential buildings:

Buildings over 11 metres (six storeys) need Form EWS1 if

  • There is cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building
  • There are balconies which stack vertically above one another, and the balustrades and decking are constructed from combustible materials, or the decking is constructed from combustible materials, and the balconies are linked by combustible materials (such as timber)

Buildings of five or six storeys need Form EWS1 if

  • There is a significant amount of cladding on the building (one quarter when viewing the whole elevation from ground level)
  • The building has ACM, MCM or HPL panels.
  • There are balconies which stack vertically above one another, and the balustrades and decking are constructed from combustible materials, or the decking is constructed from combustible materials, and the balconies are linked by combustible materials (such as timber)

Buildings of four storeys or fewer need Form EWS1 if

  • The building has ACM, MCM or HPL panels.

Do not include a basement when counting storeys; they should be counted from the ground level upwards. Do include a terrace on the roof, but not plant rooms, etc. Further guidance can be found at Gov.UK


When you don't need an EWS1 form

Many major lenders no longer require the form if you can prove the liability for remediation lies with a third party in any one of three scenarios:

EWS1 is to be used for residential properties, including blocks of flats. This includes privately owned and rented flats, housing associations and social housing, student accommodation, dormitories, assisted living, care homes, and HMOs (houses in multiple occupations). It does not apply to short-term accommodation such as hotels. However, it does apply to a whole building or block, so it may be required in mixed-use scenarios, for example, if a hotel shares a building or block with some residential flats.

New builds which have been built to current building regulations should not require an EWS1. The building owner should supply all the relevant building regulations certificates and such compliance documents to satisfy your lender's requirements.


What is the EWS1 process for buyers?

The EWS1 process was designed in consultation with many stakeholders, including fire engineers. The review process involves a qualified professional conducting a specialist risk assessment and then signing an EWS1 form declaring the risk of the building, which is valid for five years. As a buyer, however, you might find you don't need an EWS1 at all or that there is already a valid form for the building, which the building manager will hold.


Step 1: Chase the seller to check if their managing agent has a Form EWS1

The issue normally arises after the buyer's solicitor receives the buyer's mortgage offer, and it states within the surveyor's valuation that a form is required.

Most likely, they've seen the block of flats has cladding, and they are under a duty to flag this check to the mortgage lender. As such, the mortgage lender won't grant a mortgage offer until they have this completed form.

It is the seller's responsibility to provide this document to the buyer's solicitor to satisfy the mortgage lender's enquiry and the form is often sent at the same time the seller receives the Leasehold Information Pack (but is not included as part of it).

The form should be provided in full (all three pages) to the buyer's solicitor and then to the mortgage lender for review.


Section: Matters for your conveyancer

"Our valuation(s) is / are reported on the basis of 'material valuation uncertainty' as per VPS 3 and VPGA 10 of the RICS Red Book Global. Consequently, less certainty and a higher degree of caution should be attached to our valuation than would normally be the case. We recommend that you keep the valuation of this property under frequent review. Refer to Valuation & Market Comment."

"The external wall system, including any cladding and any attachments (if applicable) for the subject block, require review. It is necessary to provide a completed EWS1 form to the lender to confirm the status of the external wall system and any applicable attachments. The form must be prepared by a suitably qualified independent professional advisor with the level of expertise described in the notes on the EWS1 form."

"The EWS1 form is for the benefit of the Client Organisation it is addressed to only and this means that: - If the information turns out to be incorrect, we are not responsible if you rely on it. We are not responsible for the contents of the form or for any losses which you may incur on relying on the information in it. You cannot claim against us, the valuer or the person who has prepared the form. Your legal adviser must obtain a copy and explain the limitations of this form. "

Whilst the lender is flagging this, it is also in the buyer's interest to make sure external materials aren't combustible, both for their safety and for the effect it could have on the value of the leasehold property in the future. Following the devastating Grenfell Disaster, the value of leaseholds with combustible external materials is lower than if they weren't. Learn more: Dangerous Cladding - Is your Flat Still Saleable?


What can be done if an EWS1 is missing?

Neither buyer nor seller can commission the EWS1 survey. As a buyer, you'll have to decide whether you can wait for the matter to be resolved or cut your losses and hunt for another home. RICS states: "The seller can request that their building owner or managing agent commission an EWS assessment and / or enquire as to the make-up of the wall system. The building owner or managing agent is responsible for confirming what materials are on their building. With respect to the EWS1 form, the person responsible for the building needs to confirm what the wall system is made up of and whether an assessment is required."

In cases where the freeholder/managing agents don't have the form, then they will need to instruct a surveyor to survey the external wall construction, which can take 3 to 5 weeks.

The building's responsible person is legally required to have an up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment, which must consider the external wall system. If the FRA is out of date and a required external wall system form has not been obtained for the building by now, this is a huge red flag for the buyer and may be enough to put you off buying a property in the building altogether.

If your building owner refuses to undertake the necessary assessment, either because they won't acknowledge their responsibility or they are unreachable, contact your local council for further advice and report the issue to the local fire and rescue service.


What happens during the EWS1 survey?

The surveyor will determine what investigation is required to make an adequate assessment but should follow the PAS 9980 methodology published in 2022.

The investigation must include evidence of the fire performance of materials used in the cladding. Paperwork submitted by the original developer or the building owner can form part of the evidence. Still, photographic evidence of the cladding system will be required, and a physical inspection will be required where this is unavailable or inconclusive.

The review will also include investigating the construction standards of key fire safety installations, such as cavity barriers. Given the nature of external walls, this would typically involve investigations in a limited number of locations (actual number to be determined by the surveyor). The surveyor may also review design drawings. However, Form EWS1 can't be signed by reviewing these alone. If the wall construction includes multiple wall types, the investigation should include each type.

External wall materials are typically insulation, filler materials and cladding.

If the makeup and composition of the external wall system are still unclear, intrusive tests may be required, as well as a more detailed review by a higher-level professional. This often includes drilling holes or removing sections of cladding in many locations. It is essential to identify the make-up and installation of the whole system, so it is not enough to determine that a specific material has been used in one place and assume that it has been used throughout the building.


What is the EWS1 rating system?


Option A

External wall materials are unlikely to support combustion

Option B

Combustible materials are present in an external wall with sub-options of either;

B1

fire risk is sufficiently low that no remedial works are required, or

B2

Fire risk is high enough that remedial works are required.


What if remediation is needed?

Where a building is found to need remedial works, this will need to be carried out by the building owner to ensure the safety of the building before a mortgage can proceed unless the lender agrees otherwise.


The lender will only be able to do a valuation on a B2 property if there is a clear roadmap for remediation, including the cost of works and time to completion. Most lenders will not lend until remedial work has been completed, which will likely mean an end to this purchase. Some lenders may choose to do so on a case-by-case basis. If you are set on this property, we recommend you speak to an independent mortgage advisor who is best positioned to find you a product suitable for the property.

A valuer may give a 'nil valuation' if they require further information before a valuation can be made. It doesn't mean the property is worthless or unsellable.


How long does a Form EWS1 External Wall Fire Review last?

The form is valid for up to 5 years from when the RICS surveyor signed it. This allows any transaction in the block or building during the five-year window to use the same form. It must be updated every five years to capture maintenance, renovation or adaptation work done during that period. If substantial works are completed within the five-year period, which would affect the original conclusions, a new EWS1 certificate will be required to reassess the new external wall system.


Key changes to EWS1 requirements in 2022

The form was updated to reflect the Government Building Safety announcement. The Consolidated Advice Note was withdrawn and replaced with PAS 9980:2022. The form is now electronic with version control.

Forms issued before the introduction of the newer methodology are still valid for five years from the date they were signed. Your conveyancing solicitor will have to check your lender's policy, as some lenders may not accept the older versions of the form. The building owner may also choose to commission a new Form EWS1 using PAS 9980, which may or may not score differently from the original one.

New government announcements regarding EWS1 requirements do not make any existing EWS1 certificates obsolete or invalid. Where a building may have more than one EWS1 form, the building owner is responsible for clarifying which form is current, whether the form is still required, or why more than one form was produced.


Can any surveyor undertake a Form EWS1 survey?

The survey must be undertaken by a qualified and competent professional.

RICS guidance states:
"The EWS1 form must be completed by a fully qualified competent member of a relevant professional body within the construction industry with sufficient expertise to identify and assess the relevant materials within the external wall cladding and attachments, including whether fire resisting cavity barriers and fire stopping have been installed correctly."

RICS has been providing training to participating MRICS/FRICS chartered building surveyors and chartered building control surveyors:
"Completers of the RICS External Wall Assessment Training Programme should be capable of completing Option A or B of the EWS1 form below 18m. If the building is very complex or high risk, completers should consult an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or a Chartered Engineer (CEng) registered with the Engineering Council through the IFE for advice on Option B if in any doubt.

For high-risk residential buildings above 18m, it is still expected that this assessment will be carried out by an Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or a Chartered Engineer (CEng) registered with the Engineering Council through the IFE. In some instances, course completers may be instructed to undertake the investigations and compile a survey report of a building wall for an IEng/CEng fire engineer to make the overall assessment."

The person instructing the EWS1 survey (the building owner or manager) is responsible for obtaining satisfaction that the signatory meets the requirements above. If you are using a RICS surveyor, you can check their membership online.

Due to this survey's specialist nature, we do not have any RICS surveyors on our panel who can undertake this work.


Can a mortgage surveyor undertake the survey?

Whilst the surveyor for the mortgage valuation is a member of RICS, they wouldn't be able to undertake the review because there may be a conflict of interest, but it is most likely that they don't have the expertise.


EWS1 requirements outside of England

The Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales governments are handling the issue independently. While the EWS1 process applies equally in Wales and Northern Ireland, separate forms in Scotland may be required flat by flat, as Scotland has a different legal system.


How will EWS1 requirements change in the future?

Under the PAS 9980 code of practice, all legally required fire risk assessments will include a FRAEW (Fire Risk Appraisal of External Walls). RICS anticipate that the need for separate EWS1s will drop away once all buildings have this assessment.

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Andrew Boast of Sam Conveyancing
Written by:
Andrew started his career in 2000 working within conveyancing solicitor firms and grew hands-on knowledge of a wide variety of conveyancing challenges and solutions. After helping in excess of 50,000 clients in his career, he uses all this experience within his article writing for SAM, mainstream media and his self published book How to Buy a House Without Killing Anyone.
Caragh Bailey, Digital Marketing Manager
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Caragh is an excellent writer in her own right as well as an accomplished copy editor for both fiction and non-fiction books, news articles and editorials. She has written extensively for SAM for a variety of conveyancing, survey and mortgage related articles.


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