Cladding campaigners have cautiously welcomed the government’s surprise announcement that blocks under eighteen metres have no ‘systemic fire risk’ and therefore will not require difficult and costly EWS1 forms to prove they are safe.
EWS1 forms can only be provided by qualified surveyors who confirm all remedial fire safety work needed has been completed.
After years of confusion and changing regulations after the Grenfell tower tragedy, delays in cladding removal, and a shortage of specialists to clear the backlog, a huge number of properties – including entire tower blocks in Southwark – have been left essentially unsellable and therefore worthless without these forms.
As we have reported in previous editions, many leaseholders and shared owners living in blocks under the eighteen metre threshold have been concerned the cladding scandal could spread further and leave them in a similar limbo.
On July 21 housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced, in a ‘major intervention’ that expert advice had informed the government’s new position that blocks under 18m with cladding did not face the same risks, paving the way for these properties to be sold without lengthy delays.
New guidance states that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of these properties do not need remediation and that risks can be managed with alarms and sprinkler systems, instead – potentially saving leaseholders huge costs. The National Fire Chiefs Council has supported the move.
Jenrick described the announcement as a ‘significant step forward’ for anyone in lower-rise homes anxious about potential future work or struggling to sell.
“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.
“The government has made its position very clear and I urge the rest of the market to show leadership and endorse this proportionate, evidence based, safety approach,” he said.
A spokesperson from the End our Cladding Scandal campaign said the ‘shock announcement’ was ‘cautiously welcomed’ and an example of ‘much needed common sense’ but said there remained concerns that lenders would fail to act without being pushed.
“In November, the ministry for housing, communities and local government triumphantly announced that blocks with ‘no cladding’ would not require EWS1 certification.
“It took just hours for the news to be shot down by UK Finance, which represents mortgage lenders, and the Building Societies Association, both of which said they had not given their sign-off. Some 450,000 leaseholders – despite the headline-grabbing press release – weren’t freed in the end.”
It is believed as many as three million leaseholders now live in unsaleable and unmortgageable flats, with just one in ten buildings thought to pass EWS1 checks.
In February this year we reported that 30,000 people in Southwark and Lambeth were still living in homes with dangerous cladding. At that time, at least 209 buildings had not had remediation works completed.
Southwark MPs Neil Coyle and Helen Hayes have both been actively lobbying for the government to intervene in the cladding scandal and protect leaseholders from skyrocketing remediation costs.
Coyle told the News: “Four years after Grenfell and still the government is not providing sufficient action to tackle problems it has created.
“Mortgage providers and insurers need greater guarantees and leaseholders need much more support from ministers who promised to protect them but have left tens of thousands facing astronomical charges, bills and legal fees instead.”
Helen Hayes echoed his concerns, arguing: “‘The government is once again offering too little, too late.”