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EWS-1 Form inclusion in standard fire risk assessments would “reduce market backlog”

19 December 2022

LONDON LETTINGS and estate agent Benham & Reeves has called for EWS-1 Forms, which concern the fire safety of external wall cladding used on high-rise buildings across the nation, to be incorporated into the standard fire risk assessment process rather than remain a standalone examination. The company firmly believes that such a move could help ease the clogged bottleneck that’s causing fall-through rates to rise and leaving owners trapped in homes they are unable to sell.

The fire safety of external cladding on high-rise buildings came into sharp focus following the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017. To minimise risk, it was decided that all buildings above a certain height should have their external wall cladding checked and approved with an EWS-1 certificate.

While the EWS-1 Form is not a legal requirement, mortgage providers are unwilling to lend on certain properties that do not have certification because the fire risk is deemed too high. This has long caused problems for the new build sector with developments unable to come to market before gaining the certification, a process which is taking up to 12 months to complete because there are simply not enough qualified examiners to meet demand.

Now, however, the EWS-1 bottleneck familiar to the new build market is starting to have a negative impact on the existing homes market. With mortgage providers refusing to lend without an EWS-1 Form, the market is experiencing massive delays and soaring fall-through rates. Buyers cannot buy, with many owners trapped in properties they cannot sell no matter how desperately they need to do so.

Rising fall-through rates

In the past year alone, fall-throughs have increased by 3.6%, from 87,063 in Q3 2021 to 90,188 in Q3 2022. This is an increase that Benham & Reeves believes has been heightened due to EWS-1 Form delays.

It’s thought that the issues posed by EWS-1 Forms affect roughly 9% of flats on the market. This might sound like a small number, but it impacts the sale of some 5,000 flats on a quarterly basis alone and some 60,000 per annum. All of these properties are being tied up in EWS-1 Form complications rather than being successfully bought and sold.

Until there are enough professionals trained to issue EWS-1 Form certification, a significant bottleneck is going to remain. To avoid becoming trapped, buyers and sellers might have to resort to dealing only in cash.

Cash buyers don’t need mortgages, which means the mortgage providers cannot insist on the EWS-1 Form and the transaction can be completed unfettered. Another option, however, and one that’s less reliant on buyers being ‘cash-rich’, is to rethink the certification process altogether.

Rather than a standalone inspection, the process could be incorporated into the fire risk assessment that, by law, must be completed for every high-rise residential building containing two or more sets of domestic premises.

More efficient solution

For its part, Benham & Reeves feels that this will be far more efficient, helping to eradicate the delays with which homebuyers and sellers are struggling.

Marc von Grundherr, director of Benham & Reeves, explained: “I don’t think anyone is arguing the necessity of EWS-1 certification. However, its implementation has proven to be extremely problematic from an operational point of view and we certainly need to consider how this can be improved moving forwards and how the industry can adapt to better facilitate the process.

One solution is to incorporate the EWS-1 process into the existing fire risk assessment process. Substantial waiting times that buyers and sellers are enduring at the moment can then be reduced by quite some margin.”