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Fire Safety Legislation Questions Answered

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower accident, the government has made significant amends to the fire safety legislation. These new regulations have been with regards to the external wall systems of buildings. The government has been trying to ensure the safety of every resident by banning the use of combustible materials in the EWS system of residential buildings. Today, we are going to answer all the questions you may have regarding these new regulations.

What is the external wall system?

The external wall system or the EWS consists of the outer wall of a residential building. This includes the cladding, fire break systems, insulation etc.

What is the new EWS process/form?

The new EWS process/form is a standard procedure by which building owners can confirm that the external walls of their building are in compliance with the latest fire safety regulations. This assessment can be carried out only by a qualified professional.

This form was developed after extensive consultation with various stakeholders, including fire engineers, valuers, lenders and other qualified professionals. It was developed following government advice regarding the new regulations regarding the EWS of residential buildings above 18 m. Buildings in the scope of this EWS form include student accommodation, blocks of residential flats, care homes, HMOs and dormitories.

Each EWS form is valid for five years for the entire block or building.

How does the EWS form affect the sale, buying, remortgaging of an apartment or a flat?

The EWS is a new industry standard which has been agreed upon by developers, fire engineers, lenders, valuers, lawyers and managing agents. The purpose of this is to ensure that the valuation of the property takes into account the EWS of uncertain makeup. This valuation is essential for a mortgage or a remortgage on a property.

The EWS evaluation can have two possible outcomes:

· Confirms that the EWS of the building does not use any combustible materials

· Recommends remedial works to be carried out

The form itself certifies that the cladding system of the building in question has been assessed by a qualified professional. If the building is found to need remedial work, the building owner needs to ensure that it is done. If not, the mortgage may not proceed unless the lender agrees to these terms.

What can the seller do if the building owner has not evaluated the EWS?

In case the building owner has not evaluated the EWS system, the seller can request him to do so. The assessment needs to be the one commissioning this process. It is the building owner or managing agents job to confirm the materials used in the EWS of the building after having it analysed by a qualified professional, as required by the EWS1 form.

Sellers cannot commission this form themselves as it is the building owner/managing agents responsibility to do so.

If the building owner refuses to get the EWS certification, what can the buyer or seller do about it?

The building owners have a clear responsibility reinforced by the MHCLG to ensure that the EWS is in compliance with the latest fire safety regulations. In case a building owner refuses to commission the necessary assessment, the buyer/seller/valuer should approach the local council for further advice or te fire and rescue service.

Who is qualified to carry out this EWS assessment, and how is it carried out?

The EWS form is required to be completed only by a qualified professional from the construction industry. He should be a member of a relevant professional body with sufficient expertise to identify relevant materials used in the external wall cladding, cavity barriers and attachments.

How is the assessment carried out?

The method of assessment is up to the expert conducting the assessment, as long as it contains relevant evidence with regards to the fire performance of every material used in the cladding. Paperwork submitted by the buildings original developer can be included as a part of the evidence, but other photo evidence of the cladding will also be needed. If photos are unavailable, a physical inspection will be required.

If at all, even post the physical examination if the materials used for the cladding cannot be established, more intrusive tests may need to be conducted. These tests may require drilling into a section of the wall to identify the EWS materials more closely. Identifying the whole makeup of the EWS and analysing how it has been installed is of utmost importance to provide the assessment.

How often does this assessment need to be done?

Each EWS form is valid for five years. Post that, the assessment needs to be commissioned again.

What happens if the EWS assessment declares that remedial work is required?

If post-assessment, the qualified professional declares that remedial work is required for the EWS of the building, the valuer would have to take this into consideration. The cost of work and timeline for the work to be completed will have to be considered in the process of valuation.

Further, most lenders may also be unwilling to lend until all remedial work is completed. You may be able to find some who might be willing to lend in spite of the risk.

What does a nil valuation mean?

A 'nil valuation' simply means that the valuer is unable to provide value at that given time. This happens when there is a lack of information available. A nill valuation simply indicates that the lender would need more information before any further valuation can be done.

Why are some lenders asking for an EWS1 form for buildings under 18m?

Based on the latest updates in the Government advice introduced in January 2020, all residential buildings including those below 18m that have 'specific concerns' would require an EWS1. This means that any residential building, including the 4-6 storey buildings, which may have combustible cladding or balconies with combustible materials, will need to be assessed.

1-3 storey buildings may not require an EWS form unless the type of occupation of the building significantly increases the risk to life in the event of a fire. For example, a three-story building being used as a care home for the elderly will be required to evaluate their EWS systems.

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