Surveyors draft plan to free homeowners from fire safety limbo

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Flatowners who have struggled to sell their homes because of fire safety risks, despite not having any cladding on their building, could soon be able to find buyers after surveyors proposed changes to how the properties are valued.

Following the Grenfell fire tragedy banks and building societies have taken extra steps to ensure buildings have passed fire safety checks before offering mortgages on homes within them.

Since December 2019, surveyors working for lenders have relied on proof of an inspection by an expert outlined in an ESW1 form to show that a building does not have any dangerous cladding and will not need expensive works to put right.

However, some homeowners have been asked for a form when selling or remortgaging flats where there is no cladding in place, and found that their properties are effectively worthless without one.

Last year, the government said 450,000 flatowners had been “stuck in limbo” in properties with no cladding which might be deemed unmortgageable and lifted its requirement for checks on these buildings.

Now a consultation from the surveyors’ group Rics has proposed new guidelines for its members to decide whether an EWS1 form is needed.

For buildings below four storeys it says it is unlikely that an EWS1 is needed if there is no aluminium or metal composite (ACM or MCM) cladding in place. On higher buildings, it has outlined rules on balconies, and when other kinds of cladding should prompt an inspection.

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Ben Elder, head of valuation standards at Rics, said government advice and lending criteria had changed since the form was introduced.

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“EWS1 was never intended to hold up the market, indeed without it, no one would be moving,” he added.

The National Housing Federation (NHF), which represents housing associations that own some of the buildings in question, said the proposals were encouraging.

Victoria Moffett, head of building and fire safety programmes at the NHF, said: “This situation is now critical, with many leaseholders, also affected by the pandemic, at serious risk of losing their homes or becoming bankrupt because they cannot remortgage or sell.”

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However, she said upfront funding for safety work was needed from the government.

“This is the only way to satisfy lenders that leaseholders will not face large bills for potential safety work in the future, and ultimately allow people to sell and remortgages.”

The consultation will close on 25 January 2021, with the new guidance given to surveyors in the spring.