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 – particularly those in high-rises – are struggling to sell, remortgage or staircase at this time.
Many lenders are reluctant to agree mortgages on homes with cladding. Although it is not a legal requirement that a building complies with the government guidance, the lenders are refusing loans on affected properties unless they receive independent certification that the external wall systems are safe.
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.
The experts use the EWS1 form to state either
- that the external wall system is compliant or
- 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.
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 the demand for their services is high.
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 delays and, unfortunately, means we aren’t able to provide a precise timetable for the assessments. It is also causing the wider housing market to stall.
We are working tirelessly alongside local authorities, landlords and other housing associations to find a solution and are lobbying government for urgent action.
Speaking on behalf of housing associations across the country, the National Housing Federation set 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. Nor is it 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.
"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.
"In the meantime, the government must find a viable solution which gives lenders confidence and allows people to sell and re-mortgage their homes."
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.
This includes exploring all funding options on behalf of our leaseholders, before we can plan and procure work across all our affected blocks, prioritising those at potentially higher risk.
The housing, communities and local government committee (HCLGC) estimates that it could cost up to £15bn to fix outstanding fire safety issues.
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) 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.
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.
The safety of our buildings is our top priority.
We carry out regular fire risk assessments on all our properties that require them, with any recommended actions programmed and completed on a risk basis.
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.