Homeowners trapped by External Wall Fire Review

An attempt to unblock the high-rise and leasehold housing market following renewed scrutiny with regards fire safety has hit problems, leading to potentially millions of people in the UK being trapped in unmortgageable homes. Relatively unreported so far, major exposure was given to the issue this week as LBC devoted segments of five radio shows to the issue, sparking an overwhelming response from affected homeowners.

External Wall Fire Review

Following the Grenfell tragedy, various building regulation updates and Government initiatives attempted to resolve the flammable cladding issue by outlawing combustible materials and mandating its replacement in existing buildings with non-combustible alternatives.

Progress, however, has been slow and there remain many high-rise buildings still clad in the same or similar material as that used on Grenfell Tower.

Major upheaval was caused in the property market as lenders became reluctant to provide mortgages for properties within buildings suspected to have combustible cladding on their external walls. Thousands of homeowners across the country found that their homes were now unsellable and effectively valueless.

The External Wall Fire Review/EWS1 process was developed as a solution to this issue via a cross-industry working group consisting of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Building Societies Association (BSA), and UK Finance. Launched in December 2019, this process was intended to provide a framework by which mortgage lenders could be assured that the risk on their loans was suitably mitigated, unblocking the logjam and allowing homeowners to sell their properties.

Unfortunately, the reality has been far removed from the hope.

Issues plague External Wall Fire Review/EWS1

The EWS1 process was, without doubt, developed with the best of intentions but there are clearly gaps in its executions through which many homeowners will continue to fall, including;

•    Profound shortage of qualified inspectors
•    Evolving Government advice expanding scale of problem
•    Huge number of buildings requiring survey
•    Risk-averse lenders over-applying EWS1
•    High cost of survey, running to many thousands of pounds
•    Requires building owners to initiate action
•    Limited validity (5 years) of EWS1 pass

Following shifting guidance from Government in January 2020 as the consolidated building safety Advice Note was published [1], many more buildings suddenly fell under the purview of the EWS1 scheme than ever anticipated, causing chaos in the process.

A major emerging issue, however, is the impact that combustible materials on balconies are having. Even buildings with no flammable cladding or any other fire safety issues are failing EWS1 inspection when the balconies have timber or composite materials in their construction, leading to lenders refusing to provide mortgages for any properties in the block.

External Wall Fire Review

Major Exposure given to issues surrounding External Wall Fire Review by LBC Radio features

The EWS1 scheme and the problems surrounding it received a spotlight in the national media this week as LBC devoted segments to the issue on its radio shows across consecutive days, sparking a flood of reaction from affected homeowners.

LBC journalist Rachael Venables first reported the story on the James O’Brien show on 24th August [2], relating how tower block residents in Zenith Close, Colindale, feel like “prisoners in their own homes” after being told their flats are worthless due to a B2 rating on their EWS1 survey indicating that “an adequate standard of safety is not achieved”.

When the clip was later shared by LBC on social media, many homeowners trapped in their properties reacted with their stories leading to additional reporting the following morning on the Nick Ferrari breakfast show on 25th August. Such a further overwhelming response from callers and social media was received that LBC revisited the story again on the subsequent James O’Brien show and then also on the Shelagh Fogarty afternoon show.

Many individuals called in to the various shows to share their distressing but increasingly familiar stories; that the EWS1 process had derailed their attempts to sell their homes and that there was apparently no resolution forthcoming anytime soon. It is clear that the EWS1 issue is affecting a great many people and that immeasurable distress is being caused.

The solution is to replace combustible materials immediately

The clearest solution to the issue of buildings failing to pass EWS1 surveys is for building owners to replace all combustible materials in the external envelope with non-combustible alternatives in advance of EWS1 surveys. These essential remedial works are complex and expensive, but until they are made the situation that leaseholders are finding themselves trapped in will continue as is.

Combustible timber and composite decking materials on balconies are able to be directly replaced with non-combustible aluminium decking options.

Richard Izzard, Managing Director of aluminium decking manufacturer AliDeck, said “It is distressing to see the turmoil and upset that homeowners are going through as a result of the EWS1 process. Achieving fire safety is, of course, absolutely essential for new and existing buildings but the impact on people trapped in unsellable homes, potentially for years to come, is unacceptable.”

“With many EWS1 failures arising due to issues with combustible materials on balconies rather than any cladding on the building, it is frustrating to see a continuing lack of action to remove and replace timber or composite materials from balcony elements. Doing so would solve much of the EWS1 problem at a stroke and allow these trapped homeowners to sell their flats and move on in their lives.”

A-Rated for fire-safety, aluminium decking provides no contribution to fire and will help building owners achieve compliance for their balconies, which in turn would help ensure the successful completion of the EWS1 process and allow homeowners to sell their flats and move forward in their lives.

Many building owners are taking positive, proactive steps on remedial works and AliDeck report that they are working with some who are undertaking replacement works in advance of EWS1 surveys to ensure their leaseholders are able to sell or re-mortgage their properties. With the increasing awareness of the issue as will come from reporting such as that by LBC [3], we hope and expect to see further positive action being undertaken in the country.

 

References:

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/building-safety-advice-for-b…

[2] https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/tower-block-prisoners-homes-safety-defects-r…

[3] https://www.lbc.co.uk/radio/presenters/nick-ferrari/homes-unsellable-fo…

 

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