Advice for leaseholders living in blocks with external wall systems (EWS)

Updated 04 May 2022

Swan’s priority is the safety and security of our customers and their homes. We have taken pro-active steps following the tragic Grenfell fire in 2017 to work with our development partners and specialist advisors to identify buildings over 18 metres in height where external wall systems are present and require remediation.

We are now starting a program to survey and assess the wall systems on blocks between 11 and 18m in height (over four storeys). Due to the number of blocks within this height range, this may take more than twelve months to complete.

What action has Swan taken so far for buildings over 18m (seven storeys) in height?

We have completed inspections of all our blocks over 18m (seven storeys) in height where an external wall system and /or balconies are present and attained a Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) External Wall System Fire Review certificate (EWS1).

Where the EWS1 inspection has identified defects in the external wall system, we have commissioned further detailed inspections to confirm the extent of work required to address the defects, understand the cost implications and put plans in place to ensure the wall system is remediated in line with current Building Regulations.

We are working with the original developers and designers of the buildings to ensure that remediation works are completed as quickly as possible.

What about buildings below 18m (seven storeys) in height?

We have prioritised the completion of inspections across our taller building in line with government guidance.

We will now be instructing PAS9980 assessments (a fire risk appraisal of external wall construction) of buildings between 11 and 18m in height, where the fire risk assessment has identified the presence of an external wall system or balcony attachment.

We will attain an EWS1 form on building below 18m (7 storeys in height) in-line with current guidance from the RICS, where:

  • there is a significant amount of cladding on the building (for the purpose of this guidance, approximately one quarter of the whole elevation estimated from what is visible standing at ground level is a significant amount) or
  • there are Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), Metal Composite Material (MCM) or High Pressure Laminate (HPL) panels on the building* or
  • there are balconies which 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.

Due to the number of blocks we manage and the ongoing high demand for this service, nationally, we expect this programme to take more than12 months to complete.

We will be prioritising blocks where we have confirmation that ACM, MCM or HPL is present in accordance with the risk profile of the building.

If you wish to sell your home, access staircase lending or re-mortgage and your mortgage valuer requests a copy of an EWS1 form for your building, please email claddingenquiries@swan.org.uk and we will confirm if an EWS1 form is available.

If an EWS1 form has not currently been completed for your building, but is programmed, we will be able to advise you when we expect the form to be available. Unfortunately, we are unable to prioritise the completion of forms for individual properties/ leaseholders.

Please note that some valuers are still requesting EWS1 forms for buildings which do not fulfil the criteria above. In these circumstances, we will confirm that an EWS1 form is not a requirement and recommend that you refer the valuer to the RICS guidance, available here.

Once we have completed our programme for blocks over 11m in height, we will then proceed to survey the remainder of our buildings, prioritising blocks where we have confirmation that ACM, MCM or HPL is present in the wall system.

We apologise to leaseholders living in buildings below 11m where ACM, MCM or HPL is present, but currently we are unable to supply or confirm when an EWS1 form for your home will be available.

How do I confirm if my building is 18 metres or more in height?

If your building is over seven storeys in height, it will usually be more than 18 metres in height. We have now measured all our six storey plus blocks and can confirm actual building heights.

If your building is between four to five storeys it will usually be between 11 and18 metres in height.

What is an EWS 1 form and why is my mortgage company requesting one?

Following the fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 and the resulting concerns raised across sector regarding the safety of external wall systems on high rise residential buildings, the Government’s expert panel issued a number of guidance notes to the sector. These required building owners to inspect and confirm the design and performance of wall systems

In December 2019, as a response to the slow-down in the sale of flats across the UK due to ongoing concerns regarding the safety of wall systems, the RICS, in conjunction with mortgage lenders created the EWS1 form. This is a way for building owners to confirm to mortgage companies that wall systems are free from defects and do not pose a risk to their financial investment, should they provide a mortgage to an individual. The EWS1 form, once provided, is valid for five years.

It should be noted that the attainment by a building owner of an EWS1 form is not a legal requirement and nor does it demonstrate that the wall system is safe or unsafe. It is merely a tool by which mortgage companies can determine the risk associated with offering lending.

The EWS 1 form for my building has returned a B2 result. Does this mean that my building is unsafe?

A B2 result, which states that remediation of the wall system is required, does not automatically mean that a building is unsafe for occupation. Where we identify a risk with a wall system, we undertake a review of the buildings fire risk assessment and ensure appropriate interim measures are implemented to manage any risk.

We will advise all customers where defects are identified to the external wall system and any interim measures, including where changes to the buildings evacuation strategy are required to manage risks.

Unfortunately, in instances where the EWS1 form confirms a B2 result, it is unlikely that a mortgage lender will provide further lending until remediation works have been completed.

In all buildings where external wall remediation is required, we are providing customers with a monthly newsletter outlining our progress in ensuring all systems are remediated.

Will Swan be providing customers with copies of all documents relating to the wall system remediation?

We will provide documents to customers where possible. However, where we are seeking to recover costs from third parties, we will be unable to share documents, such as intrusive survey reports, expert witness statements, remediation and cost plans, until we have concluded the legal process.

What is the process of remediation?  

The process for remediation can be lengthy and we have appointed Project Managers to oversee this process that includes:

  • procurement of forensic investigation of the building
  • production of a scope of remedial works
  • procurement of a professional design team
  • formal approach to the original contractors/sub-contractors/designers
  • development of a design for the remedial solution
  • production of a cost estimate and programme of works
  • review of cost to ensure value for money
  • tender exercise
  • award of contract – only at this point will costs be confirmed
  • mobilisation
  • delivery of works.

We will continue to keep customers informed throughout the remediation process through our monthly newsletter and we will organise resident meetings at appropriate stages of the process, to ensure customers are well-informed.

How long will it take Swan to remediate wall systems?

We anticipate that our programme of inspections, testing and remedial works is likely to take several years to conclude.

In the meantime, we would like to apologise to our customers who will need to wait for their building to be inspected – we understand how difficult this situation is for you.

Our teams continue to offer various types of support to customers who may find themselves unable to staircase, re-mortgage or sell their home (see below).

Does an EWS1 form B2 outcome affect the building’s insurance?

We keep our insurance providers up to date on any building safety related issues. It is possible that if a building receives a B2 outcome that insurance premiums may rise. This cost will be passed on via the service charge.

Does an EWS1 F B2 outcome invalidate residents’ home content insurance?

Swan is unable to advise on contents policy matters and cannot advise whether this issue will affect your home contents insurance. You should contact your policy provider for advice.

What will you do if I can’t sell/staircase/re-mortgage my property?

We want to do what we can to support leaseholders whose mortgage application or sales process has been disrupted because of the approach that lenders are taking.

Some homeowners paid money to us to cover administration or application fees while trying to sell, staircase or re-mortgage their home. We’ve already issued refunds for these fees to the homeowners we know have been refused a mortgage because of the new guidance.

In addition, if you began a sale or re-mortgaging process that was stopped from progressing by your or your buyer’s lender, we will waive our administration fees.

Should you wish to begin this process again once a EWS1 form (if applicable) has been obtained, we will honour this for up to two years. (Please note that this offer does not include the resale nomination fee, which we are obliged to charge as a condition of the lease; however, it does include valuation and landlord’s enquiry pack fees.)

If you believe you’re entitled to a refund and haven’t received one, please contact our Leasehold Team on 0300 303 2500 or our Hera Team on 0345 683 8812.

We are advising any leaseholders who would like to re-mortgage, staircase or sell their home to seek advice directly from their lender or mortgage broker before beginning this process.

In instances where an EWS1 form has returned an A3 or B2 rating and remediation works is required, lenders have confirmed that they will continue to lend where the building owner, can confirm the cost of the works and confirm project timescales. For projects where we have reached this stage of the process and are able to provide this information, we are happy to provide lenders with this information, to assist our customers.

Can home owners commission an EWS1 form?

Customers can appoint a chartered fire engineer to undertake an EWS1 form at their own cost. However, due to the intrusive nature of the survey process, customers must attain Swan’s consent before any intrusive work is carried out.

The cost associated in attaining an EWS1 form for a building over 18m in height is currently around £15-20,000, depending on the height and nature of construction of the block.  If this an option you would like to consider, please email claddingenquiries@swan.org.uk

Who is Swan using to complete their EWS1 forms?

Swan is using a chartered fire engineering consultancy, who hold the relevant professional qualifications, memberships and indemnity insurance to complete EWS1 forms.

Will there be any costs charged to leaseholders for the remediation of external wall systems?  

In line with the Government’s position that no leaseholder should have to pay for the remediation of external wall systems, Swan will not be seeking to recover costs associated with remediating external wall systems from leasehold or shared owners.

Will Swan make a claim for government funding?

We are working closely with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) to ensure that we access any funding that is available to us.

Will Swan make a claim under the buildings NHBC warranty?

Many of our customers have an NHBC Buildmark Choice policy relating to their property. Swan is generally unable to make a claim on this policy after 10 years. Where policies do still apply, NHBC has been notified of issues with blocks. Historically, NHBC do not accept claims for defects in the external wall construction (cladding issues) unless they also provided Building Control services.  Swan is currently exploring the legal situation on each block with cladding issues to determine whether a claim can be made against the NHBC policy and will pursue all routes to recover the costs for remedial works.

Who ensured that buildings complied with the Building Regulations? 

All buildings have been approved via either an approved inspector (such as the NHBC) or by the local authority’s building control department.  All Swan buildings were signed off as compliant with Building Regulations at time of construction.