How To Check If My Building Require An EWS1 Certificate?
Currently live in a flat? Thinking about purchasing one? Mortgage lenders often ask about building’s EWS1 certificate if you’re about to ask for a loan on that kind of property, but what is an EWS1 certificate and how do you even get one? This guide can help you sort through the frustrations.
What Is an EWS1 Certificate?
The first step in the process is finding the answer to “What is an EWS1 Certificate.” To understand these documents and where they came from, you’ll need to dig back a bit in history. In June of 2017, a fire broke out in the Grenfell Tower Flats in West London. The flats were 24-storeys high. It was a horrific fire, but it started fairly simply – an electrical problem with a refrigerator on the fourth floor. The building’s cladding and insulation, though, created a stack effect that caused the fire to burn for 60 hours. During the fire and in its aftermath, 72 people died, and 70 others were seriously injured. The horrific nature of this fire meant new fire safety regulations for the cladding on any residential building. To ensure that cladding was now compliant, the external wall systems (or EWS, for short) must now be property assessed for fire safety. That regulation gave rise to the introduction of the EWS1 form in 2018.
Before this form was put into place, residential high-rise properties didn’t have to meet requirements that the external wall systems should be constructed solely of elements that had limited combustibility. It was fine for a system to achieve a much less difficult classification.
The form itself serves as evidence that any building with combustible cladding has been recently assessed for fire safety. While rules once said that any residential building of any height had to be inspected and have the appropriate EWS1 form, now only those buildings over 18 metres are required to have an EWS1 certificate.
The form itself assigns each building a rating. Option A on the form means that “External wall materials are unlikely to support combustion.” Buildings are split into three further categories at this stage. A1 means none of the cladding on the building has significant material that might be combustible in it. A2 means a risk assessment has been conducted, and nothing more needs to be done. A3 means the cladding probably won’t support combustion, but there is some work that will need to be done.
Option B ratings mean that the cladding does have combustible materials in it. It’s further divided into two categories. B1 indicates that the fire risk is low enough nothing needs to be done about it. B2 means the fire risk is high enough that additional work should be done.
Do I Need an EWS1 Certificate?
Wondering about the answer to “Do I need an EWS1 certificate”? You’re not alone. Many people wonder about whether they’ll be required to have one as well. Generally, if you live in a residential building that is higher than 18 metres, and it has either cladding or a combustible timber balcony, an EWS1 is required. The Royal Institute of Surveyors (RICS), though, offers quite a bit of guidance on whether EWS1 forms are actually required. While many mortgage lenders are asking for these forms on a number of different buildings, the number of qualified engineers to inspect the buildings has gone down in recent years, creating a demand that just can’t be filled. As a result, RICS guidance hopes to reduce the overall demand for EWS1 certificates. The new advice hopes to stop the unnecessary delays that are so common with the buying, selling, and remortgaging process of properties throughout the UK. Today, mortgage lenders are supposed to have a rationale to justify their request for an EWS1 certificate. The criteria should include the building’s height, the material used for the cladding, and how much cladding is on the building as a whole. This guidance has been quite helpful, as now just 92% of valuations for mortgages no longer required an EWS1 form. Moreover, buildings constructed after 2018 do not require these forms, as new regulations prevent builders from using combustible cladding.
In short, if your building does not have cladding or a wooden balcony, there’s little reason for anyone requiring you to have an EWS1 certificate. Keep in mind, though, that just because a building doesn’t look like it has cladding, it still might. Buildings today can look as if they’re traditionally constructed, but brick and stone slip wall external systems are often classified as cladding. Even those that are brick built, often include decorative cladding panels that will push your lender to ask for an EWS1.
It’s important to note that even if previous years’ sales in the building haven’t required an EWS1 certificate, that doesn’t mean that the sale of your own property won’t require it. Instead, it depends entirely on the lender. It’s a good sign that it hasn’t been requested in the past, but you may get surprised by a lender asking you for one.
How to Get an EWS1 Certificate
Learning how to get an EWS1 certificate isn’t hard. A qualified professional simply completes a fire-risk appraisal of the external wall system and cladding. Once they’re satisfied all necessary preventative measures have been taken to help protect a building in the event of a fire, they sign an EWS1 form. A single form covers the entire building, and it’s valid for five years in England and Wales. In Scotland, however, separate EWS1 forms are often required for each flat. These forms work to signal to lenders a mortgage is a safe bet on flats within that building.
Fire Safety Assessments Are a Separate Part of the Process
It’s important to note that Fire Safety Assessments are a completely separate part of the process. Valuation professionals and lenders are who needs an EWS1 certificate to understand that the external wall construction of the building is safe in case of fire. Other things are covered on Fire Safety Assessments. Other kinds of buildings are subject to fire risk assessments too. In fact, any occupied building, whether it’s a residence, a school, a workplace, or even an aircraft, must have a fire risk assessment. The resulting document in these cases is far more extensive. The responsible person – like the owner or landlord – must comply with any problems found on these forms.
Keep in mind that an EWS1 does not make a building “safe.” It’s a fairly limited assessment – just a quick look at the potential fire risk that is posed as a result of the external wall system itself. It doesn’t evaluate the structural stability of a building, the ventilation concerns in a building, or even the presence of any potentially hazardous materials in a building. In fact, it doesn’t even certify building regulation compliance. Instead, only a completion certificate from local authorities certifies that to be the case.
The Timeline on EWS1 Forms
If you’re currently a leaseholder or a freeholder who needs an EWS1 certificate because you’re trying to sell or remortgage the property, you’ll need to get the form as soon as a mortgage valuer asks for it. Remember, they’re not a legal requirement, but you may not be able to obtain the loan you want without them. They’re just another away to help a mortgage company feel safe in lending money on that property. No mortgage lender will definitely ask you for an EWS1, and no mortgage lender will definitely not ask you for a form. If you own or are selling a property in a residential building that has cladding, it’s best to just assume you’ll be asked for one.
Those who need an EWS1 certificate need to chat with the building owner to obtain it. As a leaseholder (or a potential leaseholder), you cannot arrange for the inspection to obtain an EWS1. Neither can your valuer or lender. Instead, the legal owner of the building must ask for one. If the building’s owner won’t ask for one, work with other leaseholders in the building to push for one. If that still doesn’t work, you can ask the local council for assistance.
If your building owner has already had the inspection and has a current EWS1 form, you should be able to simply ask for it. You can also get to the Building Safety Information Portal to view all EWS1 forms. Keep in mind, though, that many delays have happened during the upload process, so you may have trouble finding your form online.
The Overall EWS1 Certificate Cost
Obtaining an EWS1 can be quite costly, and it is the freeholder’s responsibility to do so, not the person who needs an EWS1 certificate to get a loan. The freeholder, however, can pass some of the costs onto the leaseholder, depending on exactly what the lease says about specific maintenance and safety requests. Typically the costs can vary based on the building’s overall size and the amount and type of cladding it has. The average EWS1 certificate cost is £6,000, but in buildings or situations that are fairly complex, that number can go up as high as £21,000. If leaseholders do end up having to pay those costs, they’re typically rolled in with the annual service charge. It shouldn’t, however, cost a new potential property owner anything to obtain a copy of an already completed EWS1 form.
Do Remortgages Require EWS1 Forms?
Who needs an EWS1 certificate is entirely up to the lender in every situation. If you want to remortgage in a building that has cladding, the lender might ask you to see the EWS1 form. They may also look at the new RICS criteria and decide an EWS1 form simply isn’t necessary.
What if a Building has Unsafe Cladding?
Even with all of the new regulations, buildings today may still have unsafe cladding. If they do, and an inspection occurs, the EWS1 form will be marked as a B1 or a B2. If the building is more than 11 metres tall, the government pays for the unsafe cladding to be removed. The cost is covered completely by funds major housing developers created in February 2021 to help making cladding safe around the UK. If your building is less than 11 metres in height, however, the leaseholders in the building must pay for the costs. The government is currently working on a plan to help cover the costs of these shorter buildings too.
Moreover, if a building’s EWS1 certificate requirements indicate work is required, it affects the valuation of everyone’s property. In most cases, if you’re trying to sell with an EWS1 form rating of B1 or B2, you may need to have a specialist property valuation from a member of RICS. That will help to factor in any renovation costs so potential buyers know what those costs might be and who will be responsible for paying them. These valuations tend to be more expensive – usually they cost about £1,500 – but they’re worth it if you’re motivated to sell.
How Often do EWS1 Forms Need to Be Renewed?
Any EWS1 certificate requirements say is valid for five years from the date the initial survey was completed. In the event that any significant changes have been made to the external walls of the building or the five years expires, the building will need to be reinspected to get a brand-new form on file. Who needs an EWS1 certificate updated is entirely up to the lenders.
Who Can Perform an EWS1 Inspection?
These inspections can be performed by a number of different kinds of professionals. If there is no cladding or no material on the external wall that is combustible, qualified architects, engineers, and surveyors can complete the form.
If cladding is present or there are materials on the external walls that are combustible, an individual with additional expertise is required. That person should usually be a Chartered or Incorporated Engineer who has full membership in the Institution of Fire Engineers or a qualified member of another professional body that deals with fire safety.
My Building Shouldn’t Need an EWS1 Inspection, But My Lender is Asking for It?
If you’re considering a purchase or a remortgage with a building that shouldn’t require EWS1 certificates, but your lender is still asking for that documentation, it may help to have a conversation with the lender. Help them understand the current regulations involved and that the certification isn’t required. If they’re still hoping to have you get one, you may want to have your solicitor discuss this requirement with them. A lender has to have a clear rationale for the request for an EWS1 Certificate mortgage. If they still require one, and they have a clear rationale for the request, but the building owner refuses to undertake the assessment, there’s very little you can do besides choose not to work with that lender. Leaseholders cannot force a building owner to get EWS1 certificates, and there are no legal requirements that buildings have one on file. As a result, you can speak with the local council, work with a leaseholders’ association, and take other steps to make certain the building is safe and mortgages are approved, but there’s just not much you can do. Lenders don’t have to work with you to mortgage or remortgage the property, and if an assessor deems the property needs remedial work but the freeholder won’t undertake it, you’re simply stuck with the consequences involved.
The Real Benefits of the Form
There are a number of benefits of having this form. It can help lenders truly understand what the risks of making a loan on a property are thanks to the EWS1 certificate mortgage, but more than that, it can help people identify whether they’d want to live in that building if they have safety concerns. The form has to be completed by a qualified expert who understands the cladding on buildings and how it might affect the overall safety should a fire ever occur, so it does offer quite a bit of peace of mind to people. There are some drawbacks, though, given that the form isn’t mandatory, yet many lenders may still require it. It can also help people feel a bit more unsafe if the form is required, yet the freeholder won’t actually pay the money to have the building inspected.
If You Can’t Sell Because of an EWS1 Form
If you can’t sell your home because you need an EWS1 form but the freeholder refuses to get one for you, there’s really very little you can do. Lenders generally won’t make a loan on your property in this condition, and even if the property doesn’t meet the requirements for one – for example, those properties under 18 metres – they don’t have to lend money on it, and that can put you in an incredibly tight spot. In some cases, your best bet is to look for a cash buyer who can afford to buy your property without a loan. In situations like that, you wouldn’t have to fight with a mortgage company so they’ll lend money on your property. While you might make less overall when you work with a cash buyer, the simple truth is that it would easily allow you to get out from under a property if the freeholder refuses to have an EWS1 inspection. It is, however, necessary to disclose that information to any potential new buyer so they understand the potential for the problem before they make a property purchase.
Cash buyer sales have a lot of other advantages too. Typically, they’re incredibly quick, turning around in as little as a fortnight depending on the property, the buyers, and the sellers, and on top of that, they’re easy to execute. Because so few people are involved with these kinds of sales, it means that a leaseholder can be out from under his property in a matter of days. What’s more is that if a leaseholder doesn’t want to go through the traditional hassles of property sales, like the cleaning, staging, and repairs that are so often necessary, they don’t have to. Instead, they can just sell the property in as-is condition to help make the sale go much faster, even without the hassles of problems like EWS1 certificates and inspections. This can help everyone get the peace of mind they need to help a sale move forward quickly without regulations from lenders holding things up. In most cases, full disclosures about the property will still need to be made if there are serious problems, you just don’t have to wait on paperwork.
The Future of EWS1 Certificates
While many have found his certification program to be quite helpful, just as many have found it to be incredibly frustrating. In the future, it is hoped that the Government will begin to realise and address the potential challenges associated with this form and the process of getting one. Then they can offer some guidance with regard to the form as well as additional financial assistance to freeholders to have problems addressed for the safety of their tenants. Moreover, this would help many more people to be able to obtain mortgages on properties where lenders are concerned about the potential fire risk from the external wall systems. Until that time comes, though, leaseholders who want to sell or potential leaseholders who want to purchase properties without an EWS1 on file will simply have to continue to make sense of things themselves.