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

Reviewed 19 October 2021

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

We appreciate that leasehold and shared owners, living in our blocks where systems require remediation, will be concerned about  the potential costs associated with external wall system remediation, which we are seeing being publicised across the sector. We would like to assure our customers that we will, wherever possible, protect leaseholders from bills, by seeking recovery of costs from third parties or via accessing, central government funding schemes open to us.

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

We have completed inspections for the majority of our blocks over 18m (or seven storeys in height) in height where an external wall system and /or balconies, are present and attained a RICS EWS1 Form.

Where this 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 Regulation standards.

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

We have prioritized the completion of EWS surveys across our taller building in line with government guidance.

For buildings below 18m in height we will now be inspecting buildings between 18-11m in height, in-line with guidance from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which states:

An EWS1 form should be provided 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 (eg 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, across the sector, we expect this programme to take in excess of 12 months to complete.

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

Should customers wish to sell their home, staircase lending or re-mortgage and your mortgage valuer, requests a copy of an EWS1 Form for your building, please email us at 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 prioritize 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 stock, 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 in excess of 18 metres in height.

If your building is between four to five storyes it will usually fall between 18-11 metres in height.

We are currently confirming the physical height of all our six storey blocks to confirm if they fall into the over 18 metres and above category.

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

Following the tragic 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, which 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, as a way for building owners to confirm to mortgage companies that wall systems were free from defects and did 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 neither does it demonstrate that the wall system is safe or unsafe. It is merely a tool, which by 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 residents with a monthly newsletter that details 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 or fire risk assessments, 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 proactively engaged.

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 F B2 outcome effect 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 as a result 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 as a result of the new guidance.

In addition to this, if you began a sale or re-mortgaging process which 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.

Can home owners commission an EWS 1 Form?

In theory yes, 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 EWS for a building over 18m in height are 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 us at 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?  

At this stage we cannot guarantee that there will not be any costs recharged to leaseholders. However, we are doing all we can to recover costs from third parties and access government funding. Any costs that might be charged will be done in accordance with the covenants within your lease and the Section 20 consultation process.

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 open 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 building control department.  All Swan buildings were signed off as compliant with Building Regulations at time of construction.

Misinformation

Swan has been made aware that in some blocks, customers have received messages and letters stating that costs of works are known by Swan, and even in some cases, stating figures. We understand this is alarming and confusing. Swan has not identified the extent of costs of remedial works at this stage.  When this work is complete, and if it is deemed necessary to recharge leaseholders, any potential costs will be shared in writing as part of a Section 20 consultation.

Please send copies or images of any such misleading correspondence to claddingenquiries@swan.org.uk to assist us in identifying the source.