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Industry Insight- May 2021

25 April 2021

The External Wall Fire Review process for buildings requires a fire safety assessment to be conducted by a suitably qualified and competent professional using an EWS-1 Form to record the findings. Ian Moore recounts how the Fire Industry Association has facilitated an online hub for this documentation

EXTERNAL WALL systems comprise the outside walls of residential properties and encompass cladding, insulation and fire break systems, etc. Valuation and home survey processes have been deemed insufficient to establish whether or not external cladding on high-rise buildings (ie those over 18 metres in height) contains combustible material. If the cladding on buildings – those in scope include blocks of flats, student accommodation, dormitories, care homes and Houses in Multiple Occupation excluding hotels) – does play host to such material, this could well facilitate the spread of fire.

Following on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) – working alongside UK Finance and the Building Societies Association – developed EWS (External Wall Survey)-1 Forms as a means of enabling qualified and competent fire safety experts to assess whether the types of building mentioned are fire-safe and, if not, identify the fact that remedial work needs to be transacted.

The review process delivers assurances for lenders, valuers, residents, buyers and sellers and was developed by way of extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including fire engineers and numerous other cross-industry representatives.

Signed EWS-1 Forms are valid for the entire building to which they’re applicable for a period of five years. That timespan is intended to capture any renovation or adaptation work done to the building, as well as maintenance over this period. That said, a new EWS-1 Form may be required within the five-year period if substantial works have been completed to a property that impact the original review conclusions.

Not every building above 18 metres will require an EWS-1 Form. It’s only those with some form of combustible material present which potentially renders them unsafe or, for example, structures where there’s combustible material present on balconies.

Clear and consistent

The provision of EWS-1 Forms has proven successful in creating a clear and consistent means by which the market understands the documentation required to support the buying, selling or re-mortgaging of properties in high-rise buildings. However, while the EWS-1 Form had been downloaded from the RICS website over 8,000 times prior to the end of last year, there remained some key issues to be resolved in order to create a fully reliable and accessible process for the upload and retrieval of these documents.

That being so, last November the Fire Industry Association (FIA) stepped in to meet this requirement. In consultation with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and in collaboration with the RICS and other stakeholders (including lenders and insurers), we developed a portal to offer a central and readily accessible location for EWS-1 Forms and, for the first time, the ability for fire engineers to complete these documents online.

Regrettably, fraudulent EWS-1 Forms had been – and are still being – identified in the market. Such a situation can place lives at risk and simply isn’t acceptable. That being so, a rigorous approach has been applied to the portal to include manual checks at various stages of the process.

Each signatory wishing to submit EWS-1 Forms must present evidence that they’re fully qualified and competent to do so. This is interrogated prior to enabling their forms to be submitted to the portal. In addition, all existing forms and online submissions are subject to further checks to determine their validity before they appear as publicly available documents.

Suitably competent and qualified signatories must first register with the FIA in order to be able to upload EWS-1 Forms. A list of applicable memberships of professional bodies and qualifications is available on our website. Evidence of these memberships must be submitted for review prior to registration being approved. Those conducting review procedures on buildings must have sufficient expertise to identify the relevant materials within the external wall cladding and attachments, including whether fire-resisting cavity barriers and fire stopping solutions have been installed correctly.

Effective and efficient

It’s important to note that any external wall system assessment is for the building owner to oversee, but the resulting EWS-1 Form should be available on request to all occupants in that block in the interests of transparency.

Existing EWS-1 Forms may be submitted as PDF files and these will be checked prior to being uploaded to the site. New EWS-1 Forms may also be completed online. These will also be checked prior to upload.

The FIA is funding this portal in full and has employed software specialists to create an effective, efficient and user-friendly website that has been approved by the RICS Forum. Viewing and downloading of EWS-1 Forms is free of charge and publicly available to (among others) property sellers, valuers, buyers, insurers and mortgage lenders upon entering a valid e-mail address.

Ian Moore is CEO of the Fire Industry Association (www.fia.uk.com)