New guidance for lenders about fire safety checks

Your home

Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) published new guidance that aims to reduce the number of buildings for which mortgage lenders ask for fire safety checks, making it easier to buy, sell and remortgage these properties.

RICS guidance for lenders

While we welcome this news, it is important to consider what this guidance means, how it might affect your building and what you can expect from us at this point.

Why has RICS issued this guidance?

The main purpose of the new RICS guidance is to make it easier for people living in multi-storey and multi-occupancy residential buildings to buy, sell and remortgage. It aims to do this by clarifying which buildings need External Wall System (EWS1) forms, a document that mortgage lenders and valuers use when deciding to approve a loan. To date it has been difficult to obtain these forms, partly due to a national shortage in qualified fire safety experts who carry out fire risk inspections and issue them. The new guidance is expected to result in a reduction in the number of EWS1 requests by lenders.

What does the new guidance say?

The new guidance sets out 3 main criteria:

  1. Buildings 4 storeys and under will not need an external wall system check unless they contain certain materials
  2. For buildings between 5 and 6 storeys, an external wall system check is not needed if cladding covers less than one quarter of the building and is not ACM, MCM or HPL. An external wall system check will be required if the balconies 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.
  3. Most buildings above 6 storeys with any form of cladding will need an external wall system check before they can be sold.

When will the guidance be applied?

RICS has said it will work with the UK government and other stakeholders to implement their new guidance by 5 April 2021. They have also said they will produce additional guidance to help buyers and sellers understand the risks of properties in multi-story, multi-occupancy buildings. 

Does this mean I don’t need an EWS1?

Whether or not you need an EWS1 form will depend on:

  • The height of the building you live in
  • The type of cladding materials used in the external wall safety system and balconies of your building
  • The individual requirements of your lender

This final point is very important. Since the new guidance is a set of recommendations rather than law, individual lenders may continue to request an EWS1 form before they will approve a loan.

Does this mean I can get an EWS1 quickly?

If your building needs an EWS1, we are hopeful that the new guidance from RICS – in time – will make it easier to get one. At this stage, however, we are still facing a national shortage in the fire safety experts who can issue these forms, and we don’t expect there to be a rapid change in how quickly this documentation can be provided. We will monitor the situation closely to ensure we are making the most of any changes and improvements to the EWS1 form process, to get the best possible outcome for you and all our customers affected by this situation.

Can you tell me the type of cladding on my building?

We understand you will be keen to know the type of cladding and external wall system materials on your building, so you have a better understanding of whether you might need an EWS1 form. We ask you to please be patient with us while we work with our consultants to digest the new RICS guidance, plan the best way to respond to it, and consider the most efficient way to provide you with the information you need. We have hundreds of buildings that require fire safety remediation, and we are working hard to prioritise getting this done.

Next steps

We expect it will take us several weeks to understand the implications of the new guidance and ensure that our approach continues to provide the best outcomes for you, our customers. At this stage we will not be making any immediate changes to our priorities and programme of work. We will provide updates here on our website as soon as we have more to tell and will contact you individually when we have information specific to your home and building. In the meantime, we will continue to deliver on our programme of fire safety inspections and remediation work, with the safety of our customers as our top priority.

Further information

We have a dedicated section on our website about building safety, including frequently asked questions about building surveys and inspections, fire risk assessments, EWS1 forms, remortgaging and selling, and costs and funding.

You can find out about the building and fire safety story so far and the government’s latest fire safety remediation funding announcement via our customer newsroom.

There is more about the latest guidance from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors on the RICS website.