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8 MAR 2021

Cladding External Wall System (EWS) FAQs

1. What is an external wall system?

The external wall system (EWS) is made up of the outside wall of a residential building, including cladding, insulation, fire break systems, etc.

2. What is the EWS1 process/ form?

The EWS1 form is designed to be used for residential properties such as blocks of flats (including those owned by housing associations and social housing providers as well as privately owned), student accommodation, dormitories, assisted living, care homes and Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs).

The EWS1 form is not specifically designed for use of short-term accommodation such as hotels. EWS1 does, however, apply to an entire building or block so where required, may also be relevant to mixed use.

The EWS process, and resulting form, is a set way for a building owner to confirm that an external wall system on residential buildings has been assessed for safety by a suitable expert, in line with government guidance.

The EWS1 process delivers assurance for lenders, valuers, residents, buyers and sellers. The process was developed through extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including fire engineers, lenders, insurers, valuers, and other cross industry representatives.

The process itself involves a "qualified professional" (see download on this page) conducting a fire-risk assessment on the external wall system, before signing an EWS1 form, which is valid for the entire building for five years.

The form was originally designed following Government advice regarding external wall systems on buildings above 18m and was created to ensure residential buildings over 18m tall could be assessed for safety to allow lenders to offer mortgages. Changes in Government advice in January 2020, brought all residential buildings of any height potentially within scope.

However not every building will require an EWS1 form. RICS has published guidance for valuers on 8 March 2021 and will be working with UK government and other stakeholders to ensure the guidance is implemented post the effective date of 5 April 2021. This guidance includes criteria that will be used to help decide whether a particular building should need an EWS1 form. Valuers will always need to follow instructions given by their lender clients.

The criteria considers the height of the building, the type of cladding and (in some circumstances) how much of it there is on the building. There are also criteria relating to balconies and combustible material. You should always have a rationale to justify the request for the EWS1 form.

3. Do any new government announcements about what buildings are in scope for an EWS assessment render any existing completed EWS1 forms obsolete?

No, they remain valid until such time as a new EWS1 form or fire risk assessment is completed.

RICS is aware of blocks of flats where more than one EWS1 Form has been produced. RICS is also aware that Government have advised, under ‘Ministerial Statement (HCWS228) on building safety in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats’ announced in Parliament on 21st July 2021that there are recommendations to review all existing EWS1 forms. The building owner is responsible for clarifying which EWS1 Form is current, whether the form is still required, or why more than one form was produced which will normally explain the situation. If needed, the building owner should refer to the professionals involved and where appropriate through the firm’s formal complaint handling procedures.

RICS regulated firms are required to have a formal complaints handling procedure in place  and are subject to regulatory oversight. Where there are concerns over a RICS member or firm’s competence or conduct, these can be raised through our formal regulatory process.

RICS can not become involved in professionals registered with other bodies.

4. Does each flat/ apartment have to get an individual EWS1 form for selling, buying, or re-mortgaging?

No. Each EWS1 form is valid for an entire block/ building. Each block will require it’s own EWS form. It is valid for five years.

5. How does the EWS1 form factor into the buying, selling or re-mortgaging of a flat/ apartment?

The EWS (external wall system) process, is agreed by representatives for developers, managing agents, fire engineers, lawyers, lenders, insurers, and valuers, and has been adopted across the industry.

Its purpose is to ensure that a valuation can be provided for a mortgage or re-mortgage on a property which features an external wall cladding system of uncertain make up, something that has both safety implications and which may affect value if remediation is required due to the fire risk associated.

The process results in a signed EWS1 form per building, with two options/ outcomes:
(A) external wall materials are unlikely to support combustion
(B) Combustible materials are present in an external wall with sub options of either, fire risk is sufficiently low that no remedial works are required, or fire risk is high enough that remedial works are required.

The EWS1 form itself certifies that the external wall cladding system has been assessed by someone who is suitably qualified to do so. A list of suggested bodies for a building owner or their agents to contact to source fire experts can be found here.

While the form applies to residential buildings, changes in Government advice introduced in January 2020, mean that all residential buildings of any height with a wall system may need to be risk assessed. RICS has produced guidance to help valuers decide when an EWS1 form should be required.

It is also important to note what the form will not do. It is not a life safety certificate. It is only for the use of a valuer and lender in determining if remediation costs affect value. Where a building is found to need remedial works this will need to be carried out by the building owner, to ensure safety of the building, before a mortgage can proceed unless the lender agrees otherwise.

RICS welcomed the Secretary of State announcement in February 2021,on the additional funding for the removal of dangerous cladding in all qualifying residential properties over 18m. Government funding is something RICS have long called for, and whilst we recognise the complexity of the funding mechanisms, it is critical that any loan scheme for sub-18m blocks should be affordable and viable.

6. If the building owner has not proactively tested the external wall materials what does the seller need to do?

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, and in 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.

7. Can the buyer or seller initiate the EWS process if the building owner has not?

The EWS process/ form is for building owners to undertake. Both sellers and buyers should be in contact with the building owner or their agent to ensure this takes place as quickly as possible.

8. If the building owner will not undertake the required assessment, what can the owner/lender/valuer do?

If the building owner does not acknowledge their responsibility and refuses to undertake the necessary assessment, the local council can provide further advice, or it should be referred to the Fire and Rescue Service. No one should be living in a building which is unsafe, and the building owners are the only ones who can progress this.

Building owners have a clear responsibility reinforced by MHCLG advice to arrange for the wall system to be checked and therefore have a route to remediation where needed. Leaseholders should continue to engage with the building owner or their managing agent to ensure this happens.

RICS is working with Government and other stakeholders as part of the Fire Safety Act, which gained Royal Assent at the end of April 2021.

9. Who carries out the EWS assessment, and what is their expertise?

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

In addition, in January 2021, RICS launched a new training programme for chartered building surveyors and chartered building control surveyors, to enable them to undertake external wall system assessments for low to medium rise residential buildings below 18m. The newly qualified professionals will help increase the number of professionals qualified to carry out such assessments and support the current market demand. Buildings over 18m or those which are high risk and require specialist testing will still require a qualified fire safety engineer.

We have been made aware that unqualified people may be signing off EWS1 forms. RICS condemns anyone using the current situation for their own personal gain, with potentially dangerous consequences for residents, and would urge that any further information related to this is made available to trading standards and RICS if appropriate.

UK banks and building societies have robust measures in place to protect people against fraud, which would pick up any EWS1 form that is suspicious, but we encourage everyone to check the signatory on a form with the profession’s institution. If an RICS member is completing your EWS1 form, you can check their membership with us on our website. There is a list of suggested bodies to contact to source fire experts. This list is not exhaustive, nor does it constitute an endorsement or approval from RICS, UKF or BSA, and other bodies with relevant expertise may be able to assist. Anybody instructing an EWS1 form must be satisfied that the signatory meets the requirements as described above.

10. How will the assessment be carried out?

This is up to the expert undertaking the assessment, but it must include evidence of the fire performance of materials used in the cladding.

While paperwork submitted by the building's original developer and/or owner can form part of the evidence, it cannot be solely relied upon. Photo evidence of the cladding will be required and a physical inspection where this is not available or inconclusive.

In some cases - even where all attempts to establish the cladding system have been taken – the make-up and composition of the external wall system may still be unclear. In such instances intrusive tests may be required, alongside a more detailed review by a professional of a higher level of expertise.

Such tests may involve a hole being drilled into the wall or a section of cladding to identify the external wall system materials and their composition. It is crucially important to identify the whole make-up of the external wall system and how it has been installed.

11. Why is an EWS assessment required every five years?

An EWS assessment is required every five years for each building or block. This means multiple sellers located in one block can use the same assessment to assist with the sale of their property.

Five years is intended to capture any renovation or adaptation work done to the building, as well as maintenance over that period.

However, a new EWS assessment may be required within the five-year period if substantial works have been completed to a property, affecting the original conclusions.

Now the Fire Safety Act has come into force, the building owners of all multi-storey, multi-occupied buildings in England will be required to undertake fire risk appraisals and assessments of their buildings, which includes, where appropriate, an assessment of the external wall system.

12. What happens if the EWS assessment identifies that remedial works are required?

If an external wall system requires remedial work then we would expect the valuer to take this into consideration in their valuation. A valuation will only be possible if there is clarity on cost of the work and a timeline for works to be completed. Lenders are unlikely to lend until remedial work has been completed, but some may choose to do so with retentions and the like based on their own risk appetite.

The EWS assessment is for the building owner to oversee, but the resulting report and EWS1 form should be available on request to all occupants in that block in the interests of transparency.

RICS welcomed the Secretary of State announcement in February 2021,on the additional funding for the removal of dangerous cladding in all qualifying residential properties over 18m. Upfront government funding is something RICS have long called for, and whilst we recognise the complexity of the funding mechanisms, it is critical that any loan scheme for sub-18m blocks should be affordable and viable.

13. Does the EWS assessment cover general fire safety measures?

The EWS1 form assessment is to be carried out for valuation purposes only. It’s about the safety of different types of external wall systems used in residential buildings located across the United Kingdom and will determine whether or not remedial works are required, thereby affecting value. It is not designed to assess other fire safety features or risks and should never be used to determine the overall risk of fire to a building. It is not a life safety certificate.

The person responsible for the building (Responsible Person under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) should have a fire risk assessment (FRA) for the building as this is an independent legal requirement that is already in place and does not commonly incorporate assessment of external wall materials. Note this has changed with the Fire Safety Act coming into force in England and FRAs will need to cover the external cladding where this exists.

14. Does a nil valuation mean a flat is worthless?

No. ‘Nil valuations’ are used in the process of valuing a property for mortgage lending purposes, where a valuer is unable to provide a value at that moment in time i.e. when the valuers’ inspection takes place due to insufficient information being available. Often a nil valuation signals that the lender requires further information before a valuation can be made, rather than a property being unsellable.

15. Why are lenders asking for EWS1 forms below 18m?

Changes in Government advice in January 2020, bringing all residential buildings into scope, mean some residential buildings below 18m may now require an EWS1 form. For buildings of five or six storeys, there could be a significant amount of cladding on the building, or a check could be due to the types of panels on the building. For buildings of four storeys or fewer, there may be present the most dangerous types of cladding present. The guidance note for Valuers published 08 March provides information on criteria where an EWS1 should be required.

A valuer should always have a rationale to justify the request for the EWS1 form.

16. Is the EWS1 form stopping homeowners from selling their flats?

EWS1 form assessments are not the cause of people finding themselves unable to move. In fact, they are helping to keep the home buying and selling market from stalling in exceptional circumstances.

Following Grenfell it became apparent, despite having building regulation certification, buildings may have fire safety concerns. This halted the market in some areas largely over concerns about the extent of future costs of remedial works, and where they would fall. The EWS1 form review process was introduced jointly by RICS and the two key UK mortgage lending umbrella bodies, to inform buyers, owners, lenders and valuers on the extent of works needed on the highest risk properties.

However, since the introduction of the EWS1 form, MHCLG advice to check a wall system has extended beyond the original scope, increasing the number of buildings needing checks.

Some of the issues arising from this change have now been addressed and eased following the latest RICS guidance, which clarifies where EWS1 forms are needed. Given the relatively small pool of fire engineers that are competent and have sufficient insurance to allow them to undertake these reviews, delays are unfortunately occurring in some cases (see below for more on the RICS training course). However, the latest guidance should result in fewer EWS1 form requests which will enable the fire engineers to focus on the high-risk buildings. Ultimately, the EWS1 form process provides much-needed clarity around where works are required, avoids financial loss and helps to keep people safe.

17. Following the release of the cladding guidance on the 8 March, can you clarify the difference between 25% or a significant amount? 

Our intention is that cladding that is on one quarter of all of the visible elevations, standing at ground level, equivalent to approximately one quarter of the whole building, is normally a significant amount.

For example, in considering whether there is a significant amount of cladding on a building, cladding that links multiple floors of a building or is around the main route of escape is likely to require remediation

As stated in the guidance, these criteria are guidance and professional judgement will need to be applied. We have received information that valuers will generally regard cladding that covers more than a quarter of any single elevation of the building (even if there is not cladding on a quarter of the whole building) as significant because this will link multiple floors and be more likely to require more expensive remediation. We have therefore amended the online decision tree to reflect this.

18: Does the BSI PAS 9980 consultation replace the need for an EWS1 form? 

No. The proposed code of practice for external walls is for building surveyors and fire engineers who will need to carry out mandatory EWS fire risk assessments on buildings as part of the Fire Safety Bill. Under the proposed PAS 9980 – the document which will provide a consistent methodology for carrying out an external wall assessment - there will still need to be a summary for valuers and lenders to ensure that the property is safe to lend on and does not have remediation costs affecting value.

19. What impact will the new Fire Safety Act have on EWS1?

This Act closes the loophole that the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 had overlooked 16 years ago - on the need for the external walls of a building and fire doors to individual flats to be assessed as part of the requirement for an Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) of the building.

Now there can be no question (in England & Wales) that from now on, the Responsible Person has a legal responsibility to commission an FRA with the external walls and fire doors assessed too.

Until such time as all relevant buildings have updated FRAs with EWS assessments, we envisage that there will still be a need for an EWS1 Form to inform lenders and valuers if there are any likely remediation costs affecting value.

If under the Fire Safety Act’s new requirements, remedial works are identified, this is likely to have an impact on the value of a home depending on the cost and/or the liability for payment for the remediation works. Valuers will have to be aware of any new FRA with an EWS assessment on the subject property, and also the properties being used as comparable evidence.


20. Following the publication of Ministerial Statement (HCWS228) on building safety in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats’ announced in Parliament on 21st July 2021 will the RICS guidance note on Valuation of properties in multi-storey, multi-occupancy residential buildings with cladding, UK 1st edition March 2021 change?  Should RICS Valuers working in this area revise their approach?

The Ministerial statement sets out the Government’s current views on fire safety risk and remediation, following updated advice from fire safety experts. We have always stressed that a holistic view of fire safety of buildings is needed, with proportionate routes to mitigation of risks.

The statement also sets out the Government’s view that EWS1 forms should no longer be required on buildings under 18m. We will now work with all stakeholders to understand the impact of this announcement on valuation practice.

Our guidance on valuing property in multi-occupancy residential buildings with cladding, published in March this year following extensive consultation, was produced with reference to the Government’s fire safety advice in the Consolidated Advice Note, published by MHCLG in January 2020. Although the 21st July Ministerial announcement indicates Government’s intention to withdraw the Consolidated Advice Note, it still remains in place. 

Against this backdrop, our guidance remains in effect and only once we have considered the impact of the new announcement with expert stakeholders (fire safety bodies, lenders, valuers, insurers, leaseholders and others), will we determine whether it should be reviewed.

If amendments are needed to RICS guidance they would be developed through a consultative process and decided on by the independently led RICS Standards and Regulation Board which is responsible for ensuring our regulation is undertaken in the public interest.

FOR VALUERS:

Currently, RICS valuers should continue to follow our guidance, which remains in effect, and to fulfil their professional obligation which is to advise lenders and purchasers, accurately on a property’s market value.

Valuers should continue an open dialogue with their lender clients and be guided by them as to any specific instruction to follow in light of the Government announcement.

A reminder that section 2.1 of the guidance already makes a provision for this. An excerpt, for ease, is set out below:

2.1 Criteria where an EWS1 should be required

A valuer should also follow any guidance issued by their lender client, who may give specific instructions about when they agree to a valuer making an assumption of this nature without an EWS1 form being required. Any such specific instructions should be clearly referenced in the valuer’s terms of engagement and valuation response.

We encourage valuers to discuss this with their lender clients to understand their intentions and to document these discussions on file.

21. Why isn’t RICS changing its guidance immediately, and if not now, will RICS change its guidance in the future?

The RICS guidance remains in place and already allows lenders to provide instructions to valuers that enable them to follow the statement made by the Secretary of State in Parliament on 21 July immediately.

While RICS understands that this is an urgent issue, which affects many leaseholders and prospective buyers, RICS’ guidance on valuing property in multi-occupancy residential buildings with cladding (published in March this year following extensive consultation), was produced with reference to fire safety advice, which is still in place.  The guidance also makes sure that valuers meet their legal responsibilities to lenders and buyers to give them accurate information on the value of a property - only asking for EWS1 forms on the riskiest properties.

We are talking urgently to lenders, valuers, insurers and fire safety assessors to review the impact of the expert statement on our guidance and also consider the effect of the forthcoming risk-proportionate guidelines for fire risk assessors. We will undertake this work as quickly as we can and will keep this Q&A page updated as we get more information.

RICS Training to increase the number of professionals available to carry out EWS1 checks

22. How many more qualified chartered professionals will this course provide?

RICS has secured government funding to train up to 2,000 professionals. Since its launch in late January 2021, the response has been very positive and we have enrolled qualified professionals in the RICS EWS Assessment training programme. There are currently around 800 professionals progressing through the training.

The Fire Safety Act 2021 closed the loophole that existed previously in the Fire Safety Order (FSO) and now EWS assessments will have to be carried out as part of updated Fire Risk Assessments. Regardless of whether a lender requires an EWS1 Form to be signed or not (lenders instruction vary), we still envisage a strong demand for qualified competent and regulated EWS assessors.

There are a number of factors that will help drive this number including the solution for accessing professional indemnity insurance (PII) that is being developed by the Government and key industry stakeholders.

23. Will you be able to train all these professionals without professional indemnity insurance (PII)?

The training will continue to progress, so yes RICS can continue to train them, it would be completing the assessments, reports (and EWS1 forms if required) post training that would be affected by PII. PII is an essential consumer protection mechanism.

However, the Government has committed to developing a Government backed indemnity scheme for professionals completing EWS assessments.

The scheme will be open to professionals who successfully complete the RICS’ External Wall System Assessment training. Building on our efforts so far to help develop the indemnity scheme, we will continue to work closely with all parties to ensure that the Government deliver an appropriate and affordable scheme.

24. What options can course completers sign off on and for what building height?

Completers of the RICS External Wall Assessment Training Programmeshould be capable of completing Option A or Option 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) 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 compile a survey report of a building wall for a IEng/CEng fire engineer to make the overall assessment.

The Government announcement of an underwritten PII scheme for course completers may impose restrictions on the work to be carried out which is eligible for this PII cover. Government is set to announce further details on this scheme as soon as possible.