A fairer, faster process is needed to replace EWS and funding is necessary to ensure all buildings that require a form are surveyed within 12 months.

The ‘EWS crisis’ is what has transported cladding from the pages of Inside Housing to a major national issue.

In December 2018, government guidance was published which requires buildings to have either no combustible materials on their facades or be justified via a large-scale test. This requirement – Advice Note 14 – resulted in a freeze in buying and selling in purpose-built flats.

In a bid to fix this problem, the industry developed a new form called ‘External Wall System 1’ which a competent fire risk assessor could sign in order to confirm the safety of the facade without a test.

The problem was that this effort was doomed: there were not enough surveyors. Those that did exist struggled to get the right insurance and even when they did get inspections done, 90% of the time the building failed.

To make matters worse, the government boldly lowered the threshold at which the requirement for non-combustible facades applied to 11m in January, turbocharging the problem with the addition of 88,000 medium-rise buildings.

The upshot is that banks require EWS forms for almost all purpose-built flats and they are simply not available. These properties cannot then be sold and the residents cannot move. An estimated 1.5 million modern flats across the country are unsellable as a result of this, causing a deadlock which threatens the economy and is putting lives on hold.

The only way out is to scrap the system and start again. A means must be developed to value and sell properties which have some fire risk or an unconfirmed facade. Intervention is also required to ensure buildings can be surveyed within the next year as current estimates of 10-year waits are simply unconscionable.

Originally posted in Inside Housing on 27/09/20 by Peter Apps

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