The government has reached an agreement with major lenders to scrap the requirement for EWS1 forms on properties that are below 18 metres, but critics argue the safety of home owners in these blocks remains unclear.
Following advice, the government says there is “no systemic risk of fire in blocks of flats under 18 metres”.
It says that EWS1 forms should not be requested for cladded buildings under this height “which should free leaseholders from cost and delay and provide confidence to the housing market”.
The minister says this step is “designed to reduce needless and costly remediation in lower rise buildings and is part of wider efforts to restore balance to the market, helping flat owners to buy, sell or remortgage homes.”
Instead, fire risks should be “managed wherever possible through measures such as alarm systems or sprinklers” and that “the overwhelming majority of medium and low-rise buildings with cladding should not require expensive remediation”.
HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and others have agreed to review their guidance on EWS1 forms.
But speaking in Parliament today following the announcement, Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “Sadly, this bill is deficient in many areas.
“It focuses on higher risk buildings currently defined as those over 18 metres, leaving the safety of residents in buildings under 18 metres unclear.
“So does today’s EWS1 announcement now means that combustible cladding under 18 metres should be ignored?
“On the issue of funding, this is still not adequately addressed as the government well knows the building safe people only covers unsafe cladding yet 70% of buildings surveyed have non-cladding fire safety defects.”
The government states that “for buildings under 18m which do require remediation, the government will introduce a financing scheme so that no leaseholder will have to pay more than £50 a month for the cost of replacing unsafe cladding.
“Further details of this scheme will be set out in due course.”
Housing minister Robert Jenrick says: “Today’s announcement is a significant step forward for leaseholders in medium and lower-rise buildings who have faced difficulty in selling, anxiety at the potential cost of remediation and concern at the safety of their homes.
“While we are strengthening the overall regulatory system, leaseholders cannot remain stuck in homes they cannot sell because of excessive industry caution, nor should they feel that they are living in homes that are unsafe, when the evidence demonstrates otherwise.
“That’s why I commissioned an expert group to further examine the issue, and have already agreed with many major lenders that lower-rise buildings will no longer need an EWS1 form, and the presumption should be that these homes can be bought and sold as normal.
“We hope that this intervention will help restore balance to the market and provide reassurance for existing and aspiring homeowners alike.”
Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety Dame Judith Hackitt says: “I am pleased to see the support and commitment to returning to an evidence-based proportionate approach to fire and building safety.
“It’s critical, given the significant – and in many cases unnecessary – impact this is having on people who live in and own homes in blocks of flats.
“What’s needed now is for the remaining bodies and lenders to get onboard so we have a collective, fact-based system that is reflective of the reality of the situation and reassures leaseholders that they, their homes and their investments are safe.
Institution of Fire Engineers chief executive Steve Hamm says: “The IFE supports the expert statement issued today.
“We expect this will lead to a significant reduction in the demand for the EWS1 process from mortgage valuers, particularly for buildings under 18m in height.
“Today’s statement will support competent fire engineers to use their professional training, judgement and expertise to assess buildings based on professional appraisal of risk.
“This should enable a move away from the often risk-averse and overly cautious approach that has been seen in many cases.”