Government and mortgage lenders back changes after research finds ‘no systemic risk of fire’ in smaller blocks

EWS1 forms will no longer be required for buildings below 18m in height, the government has said.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick described the move as a “significant intervention by government and lenders” as he opened  the Building Safety Bill’s second reading debate in parliament today.

The decision comes after an expert panel commissioned by the government found there was no “systemic risk” of fire in smaller blocks.

Instead, the government is recommending a more “proportionate and evidence-based” approach to fire safety. It said risk should be managed through measures such as alarm systems or sprinklers, and that the overwhelming majority of medium and low- rise buildings (those under 18m) with cladding should not require expensive remediation.

The government said the move would “unlock the housing market”. Lenders HSBC, Barclays and Lloyds voiced their support and are updating their practices to implement the new approach.

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Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced the changes  (picture: Stuart Graham)

The EWS1 form was introduced in 2019 in response to the Grenfell tower fire which killed 72 people in 2017. It was intended to record in a consistent way what assessments have been carried out on the external wall construction of residential buildings. Lenders have asked for EWS1 forms to be completed to allow them to value the properties.

However, a lack of accurate information about blocks, particularly of smaller blocks which have often not been prioritised for fire safety work, have led to difficulties in getting blocks valued and meant leaseholders have struggled to sell or remortgage their homes.

Geeta Nanda, chair of the G15 group of large housing associations in London, welcomed the announcement, saying that 1,200 transactions are currently on hold among its members alone.

See also: The Building Safety Bill has been published - what happens next?

However, she said: “Ensuring this guidance is adhered to by lenders and insurers remains the critical issue and we look forward to working with government, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and others to make sure this happens.”

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, also welcomed the move but called for the government to provide upfront funding to protect leaseholders and social housing residents from costs where safety works are still required.

Stephen McPartland, a backbench Conservative MP,  said the measures had to be backed up by legislation and pledged to table his own amendments to the bill.

McPartland said: “Does this mean buildings under 18 metres are no longer required to undertake expensive remediation costs? What about those builds that have already had EWS1 and are currently facing huge bills?”

In other Building Safety Bill news, the government published a consultation on plans to introduce a Building Safety Levy to help meet the £5.1bn cost of grants to help leaseholders in high-rise blocks.

The government is proposing the levy will apply to developers seeking building control approval for new high-rise residential buildings. Affordable housing schemes and refurbishments are excluded. The government estimates the levy will affect around 200 developments a year, which equates to between 12,000 and 14,000 units.

It is seeking views on whether to base the levy calculation on a charge per square metre of the entire internal floor area or on a fee per residential unit in scope of the levy. The consultation runs until 15 October.

The government also today published more information about the Building Safety Bill’s proposed requirement for developers to hand over a ‘golden thread’ of information about a building’s safety risk to the regulator.