Ministers’ plan to free up the housing market by reducing the use of controversial fire safety information forms faces setback
The government’s drive to ensure smaller housing blocks are no longer subject to EWS1 form requirements has hit a setback with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) refusing to change its current guidance on their use.
This flies in the face of the recent insistence by ministers that housing blocks below 18m in height should no longer require fire safety checks.
However, following a five-month consultation, RICS has decided to retain its current advice, which recommends valuers use the controversial fire safety information forms on blocks of under four metres in some circumstances (see box below). RICS says the move will “protect both the public and the stability of the property market”.
Ministers in the summer said EWS1 forms, which have been blamed for widespread difficulties in getting homes valued and mortgaged, should no longer be required on buildings under 18 metres in height. Former housing secretary Robert Jenrick talked about his hope that lenders will now pave the way for this to happen and that the RICS would rapidly reflect on the expert advice and update its guidance accordingly.
However in a statement today, Dame Janet Paraskeva, chair of RICS’ independent standards and regulation board, said the guidance should stay in place to “safeguard the public interest”.
“This is so that purchasers do not risk finding themselves trapped in flats of any height because potentially crippling costs are ignored and passed unwittingly on to them, which so many current owners have discovered too late”, she said.
“In taking this position the board has heard the views of the lenders, valuers and conveyancers and is clear that RICS must not let this critical issue be swept under the carpet because the correct inspections have not taken place.”
In August several key lenders including HSBC and Lloyds told Housing Today of the need to work with RICS to update its guidance.
UK Finance, a trade association for lenders, said at the time that once all documents, including the RICS guidance, are updated “borrowers and lenders should be in a clearer position” about what they should do regarding smaller blocks.
A spokesperson said DLUHC was “disappointed” by the decision. Housing secretary Michael Gove last month said he is aiming for the government to withdraw its own Consolidated Advice Note requiring the use of EWS1 forms on all blocks “before Christmas”. If the government proceeds, lenders could be left with conflicting advice from government and RICS over the use of EWS1 forms.
According to analysis last year by the new Build Database and the Daily Telegraph, 3.7 million properties in blocks between 11 metres and 18 metres are affected by the EWS1 form rules.
The RICS guidance
For buildings over six storeys an EWS1 form should be required where:
- There is cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building or
- there are balconies which stack vertically above each other and either both the balustrades and decking are constructed with combustible materials (e.g. timber) or the decking is constructed with combustible materials and the balconies are directly linked by combustible material.
For buildings of five or six storeys an EWS1 form should be required where:
- There is a significant amount of cladding on the building (for the purpose of this guidance, approximately one quarter of the whole elevation estimated from what is visible standing at ground level is a significant amount) or
- there are ACM, MCM or HPL panels on the building or
- there are balconies which stack vertically above each other and either both the balustrades and decking are constructed with combustible materials (e.g. timber), or the decking is constructed with combustible materials and the balconies are directly linked by combustible materials.
For buildings of four storeys or fewer an EWS1 form should be required where:
- There are ACM, MCM or HPL panels on the building