Keeping our residents and buildings safe is our first priority as a responsible housing provider and we want to keep you updated on our approach to fire and building safety, as well as our programme to investigate any existing safety issues and ensure they are put right.
Many leaseholders who want to sell their home, remortgage or staircase may find lenders request an EWS1 form, which was developed to demonstrated that buildings over 18 metres tall meet the latest guidelines. The form is produced after an assessment by a fire engineer assessing the likelihood of a fire spreading across the external wall or into the building.
Without an EWS1 form, it may be impossible to secure finance on your home.
We understand that residents and leaseholders have a lot of questions and we want to answer the most common of those. We've focused on the issues of building safety measures and the effects of current government guidance on leaseholders who wish to sell their home, remortgage or buy more shares (known as staircasing).
If you have any additional questions, please speak to your housing officer or property management officer.
Government announcement on EWS1 - November 2020
On 21 November the government announced that buildings without cladding on them no longer needed an EWS1 form. The intention is to provide clarity on these buildings and ensure mortgage lenders would start lending on them again without the need for an EWS1 form. The government announcement said this initiative had the backing of mortgage lenders but following the announcement, mortgage lenders have distanced themselves from it by saying they did not consent to being a signatory to the changes.
Without the full support of mortgage lenders any initiative like this is unlikely to translate into lending being unlocked on these buildings. It is also unclear how this affects other elements of building safety covered by the consolidated government advice note released in January 2020.
Mortgage lenders may still seek reassurances on the general construction of walls or balconies. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), also agreed the announcement but will also be reviewing the government guidance before issuing guidance to mortgage valuers.
This means that at the moment it is difficult for us to say how mortgage lenders are going to react to this and what information they may ask for on buildings without cladding. We will be monitoring the situation and will do everything we can to assist our residents with their remortgaging requests and sales.
Is my building safe?
We are committed to ensuring fire safety across all our buildings. Each building is regularly assessed by qualified experts via Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) to and we have a programme of continuous day-to-day safety and maintenance which is separate to our remedial work. Many of our buildings will require a certificate of compliance under government guidelines but the process of obtaining that does not mean the building is unsafe. Your building will have been signed off by Building Control at the time it was built and been subject to regular FRAs ever since. You can find advice on how to keep your building safe in our Fire Safety FAQs.
What fire safety measures are in place?
When we carry out intrusive surveys, guided by our fire safety team and fire engineers, we sometimes discover that buildings need additional mitigation measures in place until all remedial work is complete. These have included changes to evacuation strategies, the introduction for 24-hour patrols and the installation of temporary fire alarms.
Will you be applying for the government funding?
The current fund of £1bn is for the removal of non-ACM (Aluminium Composite Material) cladding from high-rise buildings, though the industry believes the cost of that work will far exceed that amount. The fund will not cover any safety issues beyond that.
We have been working closely with the Greater London Authority (GLA) and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) with regards to registering properties for the government's Building Safety Fund and are in the process of applying for a number of buildings we believe are eligible. This may allow us to get a grant equivalent to any increase in service charge that would otherwise be levied on leaseholders to pay for remediation works.
There are no guarantees that we will receive any of this funding and if none is available we will need to have further conversations with leaseholders about how remedial works will be paid for.
Which buildings are being investigated?
Our programme is currently focused on tall buildings of 18 metres or higher. The most recent government advice note, from January 2020, makes clear that all multi-storey and multi-occupiles residential blocks must be investigated regardless of height. This has hugely increased the number of buildings that will require investigation. We are reviewing the guidance to ensure our plans align with it, but for now only investigating our buildings over 18m.
What is an intrusive survey?
Intrusive surveys look at how the building was constructed, the materials used and whether fire safety standards are met. These surveys are carried out by specialist fire experts approved by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The surveys can involve samples being taken of the external wall system, such as cladding, so its performance in fire can be examined.
When will my block have an intrusive survey?
We have categorised all our tall buildings, those 18m-plus, on factors such as height, construction material, types of cladding and fire mitigation measures and have undertaken surveys on a number of blocks . Other priority buildings will be looked at over the next two years but this is a national issue affecting all building owners and there is huge demand on a limited number of approved fire engineers qualified to carry out this expert work. This means if we haven’t already been in contact with you it is unlikely your building will be surveyed prior to 2021. It is difficult to predict when surveys will start on any particular building but we will keep residents informed as we progress through our programmes.
Will I receive a copy of the survey report and how will you keep us informed of the next steps?
The report is produced expressly for the use of Notting Hill Genesis. Disclosing this information could compromise our ability to pursue the original developer and would not be in the best interests or residents or NHG. We will, hpwever, produce a summary of the findings to share with residents and keep you informed of the next steps.
How long will it take for any required work to be completed?
This is dependent on the level of remediation required and any negotiations that are required with developers.
What are you doing to ensure you have contractors in place for surveys and remedial works?
We do have contractors to deliver these works at present but are also in the process of procuring a new multi-provider framework, which will ensure we have access to a higher number of suitably qualified contractors to fulfil our requirements to the highest possible standards, at scale and in a short a time as possible.
All contractors appointed to the framework will conduct investigations as well as plan and manage any required works to ensure they are delivered to a compliant standard, at a reasonable cost and that all work is documented. They will also prepare a building safety case, communicate with residents and produce the EWS1 form if required.
Who do I speak to if I have any questions relating to building safety and the survey?
If you need any more information, please speak to your housing officer or property management officer. They will be able to liaise with our building safety team to answer any questions or provide the most up-to-date information. If required, this will be escalated via the appropriate channels directing your query to the head of building safety.
Advice for leaseholders
What if I want to sell my home, remortgage or staircase?
Since their introduction late last year, mortgage lenders have been asking for a certificate of compliance, known as an EWS1 form, in certain instances as evidence that buildings comply with the latest fire safety standards. The form is issued by an approved fire engineer once they have carried out full intrusive surveys. Lenders and valuers use this form to help them decide whether to approve a loan. We are aware that this is having a significant impact on affected residents. We are doing all we can to progress our programme of having buildings surveyed and certified, but if you are considering selling your home, remortgaging or staircasing, please speak to us before making any financial commitment. For those who have already been affected, we will offer whatever support we can.
Could my sale or application for finance fall through?
Unfortunately, yes . In our experience sales in affected buildings of 18m or more are now very unlikely to achieve lending without an EWS1 form. While smaller buildings face fewer difficulties, some applications have still been declined. The response of lenders is evolving all the time and we recommend you speak to your lender about your building before making any application.
My building is over 18m. When will we receive an EWS1 form?
This is dependent on the findings of the intrusive survey. Where no or minimal remediation work is required, we have been able to produce EWS1 forms reasonably quickly. Where more complex remediation is needed the form would not be provided until that work is completed to the satisfaction of the fire engineers.
We can offer guidance on expected timeframes at each stage but this is a complex process that often requires us to engage with original developers or warranty providers. In these circumstances, it can take some time to negotiate a successful conclusion.
The order in which these initial surveys are carried out is based on priority, with factors such as height, construction material, type of cladding and existing fire mitigation measures being considered. We are currently investigating buildings of 18m and above where we believe there may be issues with the cladding.
All of our remaining buildings of 18m and above will be investigated in either late 2020/21 or the 2021/21 financial year.
My building is below 18m but my lender is asking for an EWS1 form. Is that right?
EWS1 forms were previously only required for buildings over 18m, but lenders have started to request them for shorter buildings. We would recommend that in the first instance you challenge the lender's rationale for requestig the form, stating that as your building is under 18m it should not require an EWS1 according to RICS guidance.
The instances where buildings below 18m may require an EWS1 form is where there are specific concerns, which includes 4-6 storey buildings with combustible materials.
We have a large number of buildings to review and have prioritised buildings over 18m. We are investigating alternative options that we hope will satisfy lenders on smaller buildings we do not expect to require remedial works.
If we believe an intrusive survey on a smaller building is required, there is likely to be a wait for that survey as our current programme is for buildings over 18m. Our programme of intrusive surveys on buildings under 18m is not due to begin until 2022/23.
Can I pay for an intrusive survey on my building rather than wait?
Regrettably, we cannot allow individual leaseholders or groups to carry out their own surveys. As the landlord, we retain this responsibility and where a survey identified remediation works, we will allocate the required resources for this work to take place. It is important we can oversee contractors surveying our buildings including their respective findings.
What if I live in a building where NHG is not both the freeholder and the managing agent?
If we are not the freeholder we will work with landlords and managing agents to get the EWS1 form. Where we are the freeholder but there is a separate managing agent we will provide any support we can on issues like appointing contractors, fire guardians and compliance so they can gain an EWS1 form.
What can I do if I am unable to sell my home or obtain finance?
We can always consider transactions funded in cash, but of course recognise the vast majority of cases require a mortgage of some kind. Where you need to move but cannot sell your home we can also consider providing permission for you to sublet your home. If this would be of interest, please speak to your property management officer.
I'm still unhappy with this situation. What can I do?
This is a national issue that is affecting all building owners whether public or private. We are working closely with other housing associations to try and resolve these lender issues and together are in dialogue with government about the impact its latest guidance is having on residents. Ideally, we would like to see a transitional arrangement that supports normal lending while building requirements are met. We would urge you to contact your MP, ask them to raise this issue in Parliament and lobby for a solution that would allow residents and leaseholders to plan their future more securely and have greater peace of mind.
I am feeling stressed. What support is available?
Our leasehold team has prepared information on where residents can seek help if they are feeling stressed or anxious about this situation. Your property management officer can provide this.