Following the introduction of the External Wall System 1 (“EWS1”) form in 2019, it is fair to say that confusion erupted across the residential property market. Building owners and managing agents faced great difficulty in locating surveyors with the relevant indemnity insurance to carry out the inspections and it was not clear which buildings actually needed them. This meant, lenders froze up on the issue and stopped lending on any residential multi-occupancy building, regardless of height or whether cladding had been identified, unless there was an EWS1.
This led to a rethink in January 2020 which produced a guidance note which, if anything, increased the uncertainty as to what buildings needed the assessment. So, there was a further review by RICS in March 2021 who issued their own guidance to provide “clarity” as to the scope of the need for the forms. More detail in our previous article here.
It was clear the forms needed to be further looked at following the highly controversial Consolidated Advice Note (“CAN”) being withdrawn earlier this year, this has been replaced by the PAS 9980 guidance. The difference being, the CAN advised that all buildings should be checked regardless of height and, if combustible materials were found, that they should be removed. The PAS 9980 instead aims to give assessors a framework to follow to assess risk posed by external walls.
In terms of the forms themselves, these have changed several times since they were created. The latest, published on 16 March 2022, has been carefully reviewed by stakeholders having reviewed consultations responses gathered by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The changes to the forms can be summarised as follows:-
- The objective on the form has been changed to identify “proportionate remediation to address fire safety risk.” This aims to send a firmer message as to the form’s purpose based on the PAS 9980 risk based approach.
- The form is now electronic, making it easier to access.
- The form states that those surveyors and engineers that have completed RICS EWS1 training programme may now complete the majority of the forms.
- Version controls will be added to each form to audit how many times a building has been assessed.
- The new form explicitly states now that investigations carried out as part of an EWS1 check should be carried out in accordance with PAS 9980 guidance and “allow for the possibility of mitigation as an acceptable investigation outcome”.
It is estimated that a total of 6,000 EWS1 assessments have been completed to date, with many of these now logged on the Fire Industry Association’s EWS portal, which includes information on whether EWS1 forms have been completed on certain buildings.
RICS has recommended that all managing agents upload EWS1 forms for buildings to the portal when completed. This will prevent unnecessary repetition and expense.