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Leaseholders’ Q&A – Building & Fire Safety (EWS1)

Buying & selling your home

1. How is Government advice around building safety changing?

Since late 2018 the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published a series of advisory notes relating to building safety. In January 2020 this was consolidated into a single document: Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings. This advice asks that building owners should review and hold documentation on the design, installation and management of the structure of external wall systems (EWS). It covers the materials used and also how facades were put together, as well as certification of the methods taken and procedures followed during construction.

Initially, this requirement was applied to all properties over 18 metres (roughly 5 or 6 storeys). However, the more recent consolidated advice has extended this to all residential buildings where external wall systems are in place. It is estimated that nearly 1,500 buildings – covering over a half a million individual homes – are affected by this issue in some form.

2. How does the new consolidated advice relate to Advice Note 14 (AN14)?

Advice Note 14 (AN14) was one of the earliest new pieces of guidance published by Government in December 2018 and the first to require building owners to review the design, installation and composition of the structure of external wall systems. Residents in discussion with mortgage lenders may see references to this Advice Note alongside a request for a certificate of compliance or EWS1 form. AN14 itself has been consolidated and superseded by the most recent Government advice.

3. Is my building safe?

The residential buildings currently managed by FirstPort were designed and signed off by the appropriate building control authority in line with building regulations at the time of their construction. Since then, regular fire risk assessments have been undertaken to understand and manage safety risks.

What has changed now is that this new advice from Government proposes that buildings should be assessed in line with new standards.

In cases where there are concerns over the structure of a building, we will look to put steps in place to mitigate risks while these concerns are investigated further.

4. I am aware that regular fire risk assessments are undertaken at my building, why have they not picked up any concerns in the past?

Prior to the recent Government guidance, the UK fire risk assessment regime has been based on the understanding that the building itself – as built – is safe based on the measures put in place during design and construction. Buildings would have been built in accordance with standards at the time of their construction and signed off by independent building inspectors in line with those standards.

Subsequent fire risk assessments have therefore been designed to focus on changes to the building (such as the introduction of new doors or windows).

Although there is no specific reason to assume that safety measures deployed during design and construction are not in place in your property, the new Government guidance requires this to be checked thoroughly in a way that was not previously the case.

5. What is an EWS1 form and why is it needed?

Many mortgage lenders now request confirmation that the entire external wall system complies with new Government advice. This is usually requested as an EWS1 form which is a standardised process developed by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) to address the issue. The term ‘certificate of compliance’ is also often used.

This EWS1 form needs to be signed by an independent qualified professional advisor who belongs to one of 21 professional bodies recognised by MHCLG. It cannot be provided by either the building owner or the property manager, meaning that the capacity of suitably qualified fire engineers nationally is limited.

In the simplest cases, an EWS1 form can be completed based on researching the plans for the building provided by the original developer.

However, often the information available is insufficient in which case an invasive test (an ‘intrusive survey’) is required – enabling samples to be taken of external wall materials and an assessment of the construction of the entire wall system (typically comprising a combination of construction supports, insulation and external-facing materials).

In some cases, the building can be certified as compliant, but in many cases further testing may be required. Once intrusive survey works are completed, this does not guarantee that an EWS1 form can be provided. The complex nature of building structures means that in many cases further investigative work can be required, or remediation may be needed to retrospectively ensure the building meets the requirements of the new Government advice.

The increase in mortgage lender requests for EWS1 forms, and the forms to be signed off by a specific group of qualified advisors has created a backlog of work across the country. This situation has been made more challenging following further changes to guidance in January 2020 to also cover buildings below 18 metres.

The expertise needed to produce a report also requires a high level of professional indemnity insurance, which has further narrowed the pool of advisors available to do this work.

As a consequence of this situation, a large number of homeowners nationwide have found it difficult to mortgage, re-mortgage or sell their properties until an EWS1 form has been obtained.

6. What is the process and timeline to get an EWS1 form?

The timeline to get an EWS1 form will vary because this depends on what information is available about the building’s external wall systems, and whether this information satisfies the requirements of the EWS1 form or if further investigation and/or remediation work are required. The image below maps out the different steps we are taking to get this information so that an EWS1 form can be obtained for your building.

7. What do the differnt EWS1 ratings mean?

8. Why is the information for an EWS1 form not readily available for my mortgage provider?

As the Government advice is new, the information being requested by mortgage lenders will not always have been documented and held by building developers in the past. While in some cases it is possible to retrieve this information, for example from original developers’ plans and construction records, in many cases this detail does not exist or is not easily accessible.

9. What is an intrusive survey and why is this necessary?

If further information is needed about a building’s external wall system, an intrusive survey will help to provide this information and identify whether any remediation is needed to bring the building in line with the latest Government standards.

An intrusive survey will typically involve removing sections of the external wall system to determine the materials and composition of the wall beneath. Samples of this material may also be sent off for external testing. The survey will take place across several locations of the building to identify each material present so that a better understanding of the construction of the building can be achieved.

10. You previously advised me that my building is not clad in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), so why is it necessary to be surveyed?

Initial guidance from the Government following the Grenfell fire was focused on aluminium composite material (ACM). This specific type of cladding was found at Grenfell to have contributed to the spread of the fire.

Checks to identify the presence of ACM were completed as a matter of urgency after this tragedy, with steps put in place to remove it and remediate buildings where it was found.

The latest Government guidance goes further than just ACM cladding and looks at more complex façade systems which involve multiple materials. Importantly, the guidance focuses not just on the materials used, but the method of construction. Therefore, it’s important we follow this process to gain the information required about your building’s external wall system even if this is not ACM.

11. Will I need to move out while an intrusive survey is undertaken?

The survey work will take place on the outside of the building and there is no need for residents to move out while it takes place. In some cases, access may be required to individual properties so that we can examine parts of the building structure.

12. How long will it take to get an intrusive survey secured?

The time to secure an intrusive survey is determined by a number of factors.

Only a limited number of specialists can undertake these assessments, which are currently in high demand nationally due to the changing guidance. This group of advisors is also under increasing pressure over the availability of the level of professional indemnity insurance required to support this work.

The commissioning of intrusive surveys sometimes also relies on responses from other parties, such as the local authority if road closures are needed to access the building structure.

FirstPort has a dedicated building safety team who will keep you updated about the progress and timeline for commissioning an intrusive survey for your building.

13. What is FirstPort’s role in getting an EWS1 form for my building?

As the property manager, our role is to collect available information, working closely with the different parties involved in your building (e.g. the original developer and the freeholder/building owner). If the available information isn’t sufficient to satisfy the EWS1 requirements, then FirstPort will coordinate the necessary activity (e.g. a survey, any subsequent remediation work, and if applicable the registration and application for the Government’s Building Safety Fund).

While FirstPort will act as the coordinator, we do not issue the EWS1 form at the end of this process; we will obtain this from a fire safety expert with the appropriate expertise and insurance to be able to issue this form.

We are reliant on third parties’ timescales to complete the different steps in the process towards obtaining an EWS1 form for your building. However, our team is working hard to keep this moving forward and will continue to keep you updated throughout the process.

14. Whose responsibility is it to pay for an intrusive survey, if needed?

In most cases, survey costs are chargeable to leaseholders through the terms of individual leases. If we believe your development might need any an intrusive survey, then wherever possible we are planning ahead to build extra contingency funds within your next annual budget to cover these costs. This money will be held, as usual, in the separate bank account we hold on Trust for you and your neighbours. We can’t access the monies except to spend at your development. If it isn’t needed, then it will either be returned by a reduced collection the next financial year or spent on other work needed at your development.

15. How expensive is the intrusive survey?

The costs for surveys vary depending on the nature, location and size of the building. Where possible, we are seeking to keep costs down by obtaining multiple quotes while also making sure that the process is robust and delivered as quickly as possible.

16. Do all leaseholders need to agree to the costs before intrusive survey work can be carried out?

As an intrusive survey is conducted on the structure of the building, rather than the communal areas or in individual apartments, this can be initiated with the permission of the freeholder. Where works are expected to cost over a certain threshold, or to take a prolonged period of time, leaseholders will be consulted in accordance with the terms of their leases. We will of course keep leaseholders and residents updated on works taking place.

17. If there is a fault with the building shouldn’t the freeholder or original developer pay?

Typically, a freeholder has responsibility to maintain the structure and common parts of a building by facilitating regular maintenance on behalf of, and chargeable to, leaseholders. In your case the freeholder is fulfilling this through the appointment of FirstPort as the managing agent.

In the majority of cases it is not possible for building owners to seek support for costs from the original developer. Where possible, we are in contact with the building owner and original developer to see if they are able to help provide information on the building’s design and construction that might help reduce some costs and/or survey work required.

18. How much would it cost if remediation works are required?

In some cases, the intrusive survey will highlight areas where either further investigative or remedial action is required. It could also mean that safety mitigation measures have to be put into place. The cost of these works will depend entirely on their nature.

We worked with Freeholders to ensure any buildings we manage that are over 18 metres and might not meet the latest standards were registered for the Government’s Building Safety Fund (the deadline to register was 31st July 2020).

19. Will FirstPort contribute to the costs of a survey or remediation?

As the property manager, FirstPort is not able to offer funding or compensation. Our role is to coordinate activity to help you get an EWS1 form from an appropriate specialist, and organise works that might be needed to get your building to this point (e.g. an intrusive survey, remediation etc.), this also includes working with Freeholders to ensure any eligible buildings were registered for the Government’s Building Safety Fund, which we completed ahead of the registration deadline of 31st July 2020.

20. Will a Section 20 consultation be carried out for the intrusive survey provider?

Our team is working hard to gain competitive prices for intrusive surveys, which means that these usually do not meet the limit which triggers a Section 20 consultation.

21. What is the Government’s Building Safety Fund?

In June 2020 the Government announced a new £1bn Building Safety Fund which is open for buildings over 18 metres high where works are needed to upgrade or replace complex external wall systems. In February 2021, the Government announced an additional £3.5bn would be made available for this fund.

The fund is specifically targeted at buildings with non-ACM (aluminium composite material) cladding. It builds on funding already available for the removal of ACM cladding which was announced soon after this material was found to have contributed to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower.

Building safety issues, and the costs which they incur, continue to have a serious impact on residents up and down the country. FirstPort has worked with other property managers, building owners and residents to ask the Government to create the new fund following changes to building safety guidance that impacted thousands of properties across the UK.

We worked with Freeholders to ensure any buildings we manage that are over 18 metres and might not meet the latest standards were registered for the fund (the deadline was 31st July 2020).

We are now working through the next stage, which is the full application process.  Registrants must be invited to submit a formal application from Government before proceeding to this stage, which will remain open until 30th June 2021.  This stage involves additional development-specific information being submitted to allow Government to assess whether a development qualifies for financial support through the fund.

We have a dedicated team in FirstPort to manage applications to the Government fund.  The team is planning and preparing ahead as much as possible so that when invitations to proceed to the application stage are received, we can work to submit these quickly.

22. Is the Government’s Building Safety Fund “first come first served”?

The registration stage was not “first come first served” and was open to accept all registrations until 31st July 2020.  The next stage is the formal application.  While the application stage was previously badged as “first come first served”, no application can be submitted before Government has first responded to the registration and offered a formal invitation to apply and proceed to the next stage.  We are working hard to return applications for our developments as quickly as we can, once we have received an invitation to progress and apply from Government.  The application stage is now open until 30th June 2021.

23. Why can’t the application process be started now?

The Government controls the invitations to progress to the next stage and apply.   This application stage is now open until 30th June 2021.  As soon as we receive an invitation to proceed and formally apply for a building we’ve registered, the team is working hard to start progressing the application as quickly as possible.

24. What does the Building Safety Fund cover?

The Building Safety Fund is intended to help cover remediation costs for non-ACM cladding on buildings over 18 metres high where works are needed to upgrade or replace complex external wall systems. This fund does not cover other costs incurred by fire safety measures – for example, interim safety measures like fire watches and alarm systems that are in place on some buildings until remediation can be completed. Applications for such funding can now be made via the Government’s Waking Watch Relief Fund, which is explained below.

25. How do we apply for the Waking Watch Relief Fund?

Government announced a new £30m Waking Watch Relief Fund on 17th December 2020.  This fund is intended to help pay for fire alarm systems to be installed in high-rise buildings with cladding so that interim ‘waking watch’ costs can be removed or reduced.  Further information about this Fund and how to apply is expected in January 2021.  If this applies to your building then we will of course update you on the next steps to register for this potential support as soon as more information becomes available.

26. Will my building be eligible for the Government Waking Watch Relief Fund?

The Government has recently announced a new £30 million Waking Watch Relief Fund, to help pay for fire alarm systems to be installed in residential buildings over 18 metres in height, with specific cladding systems, so that interim ‘waking watch’ costs can be reduced or removed. We are currently submitting funding applications for buildings which are eligible in line with government criteria and we are keeping customers of these buildings updated.

It is important to note this government fund is not unlimited, therefore it unfortunately cannot be guaranteed that any application will be successful.

We will continue to update affected customers as this progresses.

27. What if my building is under 18m?

Unfortunately, buildings under 18m / four – six storeys in height are not eligible for Government funding through the Building Safety Fund or Waking Watch Relief Fund. We understand that this causes a number of safety and financial concerns for our residents.

In February 2021, the Government announced a new long-term low interest loan scheme is to be introduced for leaseholders in buildings under 18m / four – six storeys in height, to pay for cladding removal (where needed). Any repayments will be capped at £50 a month.

We are currently waiting for more details about the scheme, including the eligibility criteria and the loan application process, which we will update you with as soon as this information is released by the Government.

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