Over the last 20 years, many high-rise buildings in the UK have been built with exterior finishes which comprise of metal sheet cladding. The type of cladding material on the exterior of the Grenfell Tower was the main cause of the fire spread in June 2017. Grenfell Tower was built with Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding on the exterior. This type of cladding was later found to have no flame retardant properties.
It has been a legal requirement since the 1980s in accordance with Building Regulations, to consider the risk of all buildings from fire spread. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 also requires that any purpose-built block of flats, regardless of height, should have an up to date fire risk assessment and appropriate fire precautions in place.
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Ministry for Housing Communities and Local Government published Advice Note 14 (AN14) in December 2018. AN14 aimed to address concerns about the fire safety implications of systems which did not incorporate Aluminium Composite Material and provide guidance for anyone responsible for, or advising on, the fire safety of external wall systems of residential buildings 18 metres or above in height.
The risk of both ACM and non-ACM cladding on high rise buildings and changes to building regulations and government advice on guidance, has affected the ability of leasehold owners of such flats to sell or re-mortgage their properties.
In late December 2018, RICS, the Building Societies Association and UK Finance, agreed an industry-wide External Wall Fire Review process to be used by valuers, lenders, building owners and fire safety experts in the valuation of high-rise properties. The process requires a fire safety assessment to be conducted by a suitably qualified and competent professional and confirmed using Form External Wall System 1 (EWS1). One assessment is required for each building and remains valid for five years. Government advice does not require an EWS1 to be completed to demonstrate compliance, but it has acknowledged the existence of the form.
In January 2020, the Government published a further Advice Note which now supersedes AN14 and all other previous Advice Notes. The latest advice states that the owners of all multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings should investigate and remedy the risks of combustible cladding.
The government has also announced its intention to introduce a Fire Safety Bill which will clarify that building owners and managers of multi-occupied residential buildings of any height must fully consider and mitigate the risks of any external wall systems and fire doors in discharging their duties under the Fire Safety Order.
Many mortgage lenders require an EWS1 certificate to be issued as a condition of offer where there is cladding present on the building. This certificate needs to be signed by an independent qualified professional adviser who belongs to one of 21 professional bodies recognised by MHCLG. This can take several months to obtain as there are a shortage of inspectors qualified to undertake the EWS1 process (and many inspectors are unable to obtain professional indemnity insurance cover for such checks) As a result, a large number of homeowners nationwide, are finding it difficult to mortgage, re-mortgage or sell their properties. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), UK Finance and the Building Societies Association are still working to find a solution to the issue.
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