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.
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.
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? How are they funded?
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. In these cases we seek to pursue contractors and insurers where they are responsible to avoid passing any costs onto residents, but we cannot rule out that leaseholders may be required to contribute through their service charge.
Will you be applying for the government's Building Safety Fund?
We are committed to considering all potential avenues for funding these remediation works and we will continue to investigate the possibility of using this funding but, at this stage, it appears very unlikely NHG would qualify as work will only be funded in situations where the financial viability of the landlord is risked by the cost of remediation works.
Information about a second fund, aimed at supporting leaseholders and shared owners, is due to be released in July. This is expected to allow any portion of costs passed on to residents to be refunded and we look forward to finding out more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Can I pay for an intrusive survey on my building rather than wait?
We cannot allow individual leaseholders to carry out their own surveys as if there is any requirement for remediation, our resources will have already been allocated to priority buildings. We would also lose control over which contractors are surveying our buildings, and their findings, which would negatively impact any discussions with contractors and insurers around costs.
My building is below 18m but my lender is asking for an EWS1 form. Is that right?
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) have produced guidance on the EWS1 form. This suggests that no building below four storeys should require an EWS1 form. It also says buildings of four or five storeys may need one as an exception but this should only be if there is a specific concern. In any case, the lender should have a rationale for requesting it and you can ask what that is.
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.