Form EWS1: External Wall Fire Review

It is now standard practice for valuation surveyors to alert their client (their client being the flat owner) to the existence of material on their block, which may have an element of combustibility.

This includes external:

  • cladding
  • wall insulation
  • wall system

This new standard, which has been introduced by The Building Societies Association (BSA), and UK Finance (the bodies who represent mortgage lenders), and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS); is summarised by Form EWS1. The form is designed to inform any potential mortgage lender, of the risks associated with combustible material on the walls of the property.

This new lending standard has been introduced following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017.

These are the facts as we currently understand them, however it is important we stress that we are not experts, we are merely interpreting the information we have to hand, to the best of our ability. If you are in any doubt over any of the following, you should seek independent professional and legal guidance. If you are in the process of selling, please contact your solicitor for the most up to date advice.

Obtaining Form EWS1

The valuation surveyor who has been commissioned to carry out the Home Report, may state that the owner needs to obtain Form EWS1 for the potential purchaser’s mortgage purposes.

Following advice notes issued by The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG), UK Finance, BSA, and The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), a standardised document called Form EWS1 has been produced to inform potential mortgage lenders of how the building has been constructed, and how the external walls could perform in the event of a fire.

Originally envisaged to concern only flatted premises over 18 metres tall with any kind of external wall cladding or wall insulation, most recent combined advice notes from the MHCLG, recommend that the owners of all flatted premises of any height, assure themselves of the materials used in the construction of the premises, and their combustibility in the event of a fire.

This now means that in many cases, although your building or block may be lower than 18 metres, and despite reference to buildings over 18 metres tall on Form EWS1 (version 1 – December 2019), your building may be flagged by your valuation surveyor as requiring to have Form EWS1 for mortgage purposes.

Whilst guidelines arising from English departmental government advice isn’t necessarily applicable in Scotland, UK Finance and BSA, have insisted that properties in Scotland should also be surveyed in line with the guidance issued in England, and as such Form EWS1 is required to be completed by an appropriately qualified person.

This recommendation is regardless of whether your property currently meets Scottish building standards. It is likely that your property will have met Scottish building standards at the time of construction and will continue to meet these standardsNew building standards are not generally applied retrospectively. 

Form EWS1 can only be signed off by a suitably qualified fire safety expert who is a member of a professional body recognised by MHCLG. By signing the form, the qualified expert is certifying that in their opinion the wall system on a building has limited combustibility.

Due to issues with the professional indemnity (PI) insurance carried by the specialist surveyors who would complete these forms, the surveyor will likely only sign the form in respect of the “owner” of the flat or building involved. This is because the amount of insurance cover available to the surveyor or fire engineer, is limited and it cannot cover multiple owners in the form of a block Form EWS1.

While this new process may sound relatively straightforward, it is made more complicated by the way properties (such as flats), are owned in Scotland compared with what happens in England and Wales.

In England, the system of leasehold allows an individual or organisation to be identified as the overall “owner” of a building containing many flats. In Scotland, individual flats are owned outright by the individual owners. There is therefore no single “owner” of a block of flats who can instruct the completion of Form EWS1 on behalf of ALL flats in the building.

Therefore, in terms of the practicalities of instructing Form EWS1, and in part due to the limitations of the surveyor’s PI insurance, in Scotland an owner wishing to sell or re-mortgage their property must personally appoint their own specialist fire safety expert to commission Form EWS1.

Once the form is completed it is up to individual lenders to decide their lending criteria.