The government has scrapped the requirement for leaseholders in blocks of flats under 18 metres to need to provide EWS1 forms to lenders.
The announcement, made during the second reading of the Building Safety Bill yesterday, follows new advice from fire safety experts that there is “no systemic risk of fire” in medium- and low-rise buildings after a government-commissioned review.
Several everal high-street lenders such as HSBC UK, Barclays and Lloyds have consequently committed to review their practices and no longer require the certificates for buildings under 18 metres.
The news has been cautiously welcomed by leaseholders who have found themselves unable to buy, sell or remortgage their homes due to excessive lender caution during the UK’s cladding crisis.
The housing secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “Today’s announcement is a significant step forward for leaseholders in medium and lower-rise buildings who have faced difficulty in selling, anxiety at the potential cost of remediation and concern at the safety of their homes.
“While we are strengthening the overall regulatory system, leaseholders cannot remain stuck in homes they cannot sell because of excessive industry caution, nor should they feel that they are living in homes that are unsafe, when the evidence demonstrates otherwise.
“That’s why I commissioned an expert group to further examine the issue, and have already agreed with many major lenders that lower-rise buildings will no longer need an EWS1 form, and the presumption should be that these homes can be bought and sold as normal.
“We hope that this intervention will help restore balance to the market and provide reassurance for existing and aspiring homeowners alike. The government has made its position very clear and I urge the rest of the market to show leadership and endorse this proportionate, evidence-based, safety approach.”
The advice was commissioned by the government as leaseholders in medium- and low-rise tower blocks have faced bills for unnecessary remediation work following the deadly 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.
The advice states that fire risks should be managed wherever possible through measures such as alarm systems or sprinklers, and that the overwhelming majority of buildings under 18 metres with cladding should not require remediation.
Earlier this year the government announced that it would introduce a new financing scheme for buildings under 18 metres which do require remediation, capping costs to leaseholders at £50 a month.
The government’s latest announcement has received backing from the fire safety profession and major lenders. However, resident-led campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal (EOCS) was more cautiously optimistic.
Mark Hardinghan, chair of the NFCC, said: “We fully support this new advice and welcome the challenge to those who are applying an overly risk-averse approach in many buildings below 18 metres. We expect this will start to redress the balance where disproportionate measures have been put in place to manage fire risks.
“We want to ensure that buildings are safe and will work closely with fire and rescue services to apply the advice for buildings in their area.”
A statement on behalf of EOCS read: “We cautiously welcome today’s shock government announcement on EWS1 and the need to inject some much-needed common sense into how building safety is being handled for low- and medium-rise apartment buildings; a true and proportionate-risk based approach is something we have been calling for since we relaunched our campaign.”
The group has expressed doubts about the government’s reliance on industry to solve the cladding crisis, arguing that previous government interventions, such as scrapping EWS1 forms for buildings without cladding, were not as successful as hoped.
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