Cladding FAQs for homeowners


The new government building safety advice relates to all residential blocks with cladding, regardless of their height.

Many leaseholders in these affected blocks are struggling to sell, remortgage or staircase at this time.

Why can’t I sell, remortgage or staircase my flat?

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, surveyors have struggled to provide proper valuations of homes in high-rises with cladding due to uncertainty over building safety issues.

Because of this, many lenders have been reluctant to agree loans on such homes unless they receive independent certification that the external wall systems are safe.

What certification do lenders want?

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) worked with UK finance bodies to devise a process to give lenders assurances about the external wall systems of high-rise blocks and, where there were specific safety concerns, shorter residential blocks. These assurances are detailed on a form called External Wall System 1 (EWS1).

But when the government extended its safety advice to buildings of all heights, lenders similarly extended their demands for EWS1 forms.

How do I get an EWS1 form?

Building owners, rather than the residents living in them, are responsible for contracting fire safety engineers to investigate a building's external wall structure and test the combustibility of component materials Please beware of fraudsters offering to provide EWS1 checks to individuals.

The experts use the EWS1 form to state either

  1. that the external wall system is compliant or
  2. that remedial work is needed to make the external wall system compliant.

Lenders are unlikely to approve mortgages until any remedial work has been carried out.

Why am I waiting for my building’s EWS1 form?

The new government advice now affects thousands of blocks of flats across the country.

The EWS1 system was created for buildings taller than 18m, but after the government broadened the scope of its advice on combustible materials in January 2020, some mortgage providers are now demanding the forms for shorter buildings as well.

There is a limited number (around 291, according to the Institution of Fire Engineers) of suitably-qualified experts to carry out investigations of external wall systems (including cladding, insulation and fire-stopping) and issue EWS1 certificates, and the demand for their services is huge.

This pool has been narrowed further since many chartered fire engineers have been advised against signing the EWS1 form by their insurers who are concerned that it may shift responsibility for a building’s future safety onto their clients.

This is causing prolonged delays which are preventing many of our leaseholders and shared owners from selling or remortgaging their homes and causing the wider housing market to stall.

On 21 November 2020, the government announced that it would be funding the training of around 2,000 more fire engineers to carry out EWS1 assessments and help reduce the backlog.

It is investing nearly £700,000 in the training, which will be delivered by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and should see 200 additional assessors qualified for EWS1 assessments within a month, 900 within three months and 2,000 within six months.

Like other housing associations, we are testing and remediating our highest-risk blocks first. By November 2020, we had surveyed 78 of the 170 buildings over 11m in our cladding remediation programme.

We are drawing up a schedule for the other 92 buildings which we should be able to share with residents in 2021.

What are you doing to help?

We are working tirelessly alongside other housing associations, leaseholder groups, the building industry, mortgage lenders and surveyors to lobby government for urgent action.

Speaking on behalf of housing associations across the country, the National Housing Federation sets out our stance: "It is absolutely not right that... people are trapped in homes they cannot sell.

"The government must lead a national, coordinated fire safety programme to prioritise works on buildings that are most at risk, whilst ensuring there are enough experts and resources to complete all safety works.

"... In the meantime, the government must find a viable solution which gives lenders confidence and allows people to sell and re-mortgage their homes."

When will remedial work on my building start?

The extent of the new government guidance means that most affected blocks will require some remediation work.

A survey carried out by campaign group Leasehold Knowledge Partnership between June and August 2020 found that 89% of respondents (who live in blocks on which EWS1 checks had been completed) said that remediation work was required before they could sell their homes.

Where remedial work is necessary, a complex and lengthy process will begin.

In many cases, this includes exploring all funding options on behalf of our leaseholders, before we can plan and procure remedial work.

We are finalising contracts for the remediation of buildings in the first year of our cladding remediation programme. Surveying work is already under way and we are dealing with local councils and planning departments before the contractors go on site. It’s the start of a rolling programme that will only end when we have remediated our last property.

Who will pay for any remediation work?

The housing, communities and local government committee (HCLGC) estimates that it could cost up to £15bn to fix outstanding fire safety issues across the country.

As a charitable organisation with a social purpose, our assets and income must be used only for specific charitable purposes. Our income pays for the management and maintenance of buildings, and we are also one of the largest providers of care and support services in London and the South East, with approximately 9,000 customers. We cannot put that at risk.

We are doing everything we can to minimise any costs to leaseholders, including taking legal action against developers to recover costs (wherever the statute of limitations allows), pursuing warranty claims and applying to the government's Building Safety Fund. We have recently registered 28 applications for a total of £41.3m in grant from the fund.

We have also set aside £120m for any immediate works, which we aim to complete as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have been paying for services such as waking watch and the intrusive surveys. It is predicted that these will cost us £3m this year alone - a cost that will not be passed on to residents.

If it is necessary for leaseholders to contribute more than £250 per household to the costs, a Section 20 consultation will take place.

Speaking on behalf of housing associations across the country, the National Housing Federation sets out our stance: "It is absolutely not right that the crippling costs of this widespread failure of regulation should fall on the shoulders of individual leaseholders who bought their homes in good faith, and charitable not-for-profit organisations who are responsible for building the majority of affordable housing in this country.

"The government must lead a national, coordinated fire safety programme to prioritise works on buildings that are most at risk, whilst ensuring there are enough experts and resources to complete all safety works.

"Crucially it must make sure there is enough upfront funding to pay for these works and speed up the process, which the current fund does not achieve - this money can be re-couped later through the courts once liability is established."

Why was my block constructed with materials that may be unsafe in the first place?

At the time it was built, your block complied with all government safety guidance. It received Building Control sign off and approval from a licensed warranty provider after construction.

The government changed its building safety guidelines after the Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 and has added to them many times since.

Is my building safe in the meantime?

The safety of our buildings is our top concern, which is why we are committed to testing them and remediating any safety issues, with priority given to our highest risk blocks. This is a complex, lengthy and costly process. Meanwhile, we are also following professional advice on managing any risks that the testing highlights. In some buildings, for instance, we have introduced round-the-clock fire marshals.

We also carry out regular fire risk assessments on all our properties that require them, with any recommended actions programmed and completed on a risk basis.

What can I do to help?

Join the 'Safe Homes for all' campaign, run by the Sunday Times and Inside Housing magazine. It calls for urgent, national action by government, demanding that it pays for remedial works up front and recoups costs through court cases brought against the original builders, as well as levies on new schemes.

The campaign already has the backing of survivors of Grenfell and the families of its victims, as well as cross-party MPs and mayors. Also signed up are many organisations, including those representing housing associations, leaseholders, fire brigades and British architects.

Join a resident-led campaign group, such as UK Cladding Action Group, to help raise awareness and press government to intervene. Most of these regional and national groups base their campaigns on social media.

Write to your local MP to highlight the national issue, and the effect it is having on the lives of so many leaseholders, and ask them to raise it in Parliament.

If you're struggling to access a loan on a property in a block below 18m in height, speak to your lender. At least, make sure they are aware that an EWS1 form should not be required. Of course, they might still insist on the certification before approving a mortgage.

You might also want to consider sharing your story with local or national media.

More information

If you have questions regarding the safety of your building, please email ask@onehousing.co.uk.

If you are concerned that your ability to remortgage, staircase or sell your home might be affected by these changes, please seek advice directly from your lender or mortgage provider.