EWS1 Certification – important but how realistic in practice?

EWS1 Certification – important but how realistic in practice?

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The RICS External Wall Fire Review Process (EWS), launched in December 2019 as a means to support the valuation of high-rise residential properties in the post Grenfell era, has caused confusion and considerable headache, for owners, landlords, surveyors and funders alike. 

Several residential property types fall under the scope of the EWS process, however the necessity for external wall systems to be assessed for fire safety is predominantly affecting owners and prospective purchasers of apartments in high-rise buildings who are struggling to sell or buy as lenders are reluctant to borrow against such assets without an assessment being completed.   This is resulting in frustration for individual owners of apartments as they have little control over an assessment being undertaken by a building owner or long leaseholder.  The differing ownership structures and associated responsibilities and liabilities is slowing down the process further. 

The assessment of external wall systems is not currently a legal requirement but was developed by the RICS in response to Government advice with the aim of helping people buy, sell and re-mortgage.  However, to date the process is creating a major sticking point as the number of people qualified to undertake the assessments and complete a EWS1 form is limited.  This is not helped by the limitations imposed by insurers providing professional indemnity insurance in this field.  Whilst various qualified professionals are typically required to undertake investigations into the composition of external wall systems as part of the assessment, only qualified Fire Engineers should complete EWS1 forms.   

Paragon has encountered the need for assessments and EWS1 forms on a number of projects in recent months.  On one such project the situation is further complicated where the Client owns the freehold of a large mixed use building, with the apartment block being held on a long lease and individual apartment owners requesting the EWS1 forms.  The freeholder remains responsible for managing and overseeing the investigations, hence Paragon’s involvement, but the long leaseholder is responsible for all costs which in turn are likely passed down to the owners of the apartments. These relationships and layers add to the dynamic and create additional pressures where the various stakeholders have differing viewpoints.

For each of these projects, Paragon as lead consultant has engaged a team of appropriately qualified professionals to assist in the investigations including Fire Engineers who have advised on the implications of the fire safety risks of the external wall systems within the context of the overall fire strategy for the building.  This holistic review includes an assessment of how the building is operated, the evacuation policy, etc. alongside a review of fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, means of escape provision and any other fire safety measures that may be in place.  It is not simply a case of determining the standard of fire safety provided by the external walls.
As stated, the completion and issue of a EWS1 form should only be done by a qualified Fire Engineer and Paragon continues to work alongside a number of Fire Engineers across the UK where investigations on clients’ high-rise residential properties, which includes student accommodation as well as private apartments, are ongoing or are planned.

In summary: the EWS process is an important guidance development for the industry; however it is currently lacking clarity with some work to be done to develop the understanding and its application to ensure this doesn’t hold up the transaction process more than necessary. 

For further information please contact Keith Quigley 

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