A couple expecting a baby are trapped in their East London flat because their housing association cannot produce the fire safety certificate now required by many lenders to offer a mortgage on homes in multi-storey buildings.
Siobhan Frost and her partner have been warned by their housing association Peabody it could be “several years” before the EWS1 form is ready.
Under the terms of their lease, they are not allowed to rent out the property and are now left feeling frustrated over the issue which MPs say is a “huge problem”.
The couple bought the two-bedroom flat in a seven-storey block in Mint Street, Bethnal Green on a shared-ownership basis five years ago.
At the end of last year, they were in a position to ‘staircase’ up to buy the remaining share of the property from the housing association, meaning they would own the flat in full, and be able to sell it on the open market.
Frost and her partner paid Peabody around £250 for the valuation and were offered a mortgage on the proviso of producing an EWS1 form.
But then the problems began.
Fire safety forms introduced last year
EWS1 forms were brought in at the end of last year to give lenders more confidence in offering mortgages on multi-storey buildings following the Grenfell disaster.
A valuer could request the one-page-form from a building owner or representative, which would confirm the material on the walls posed a limited risk or was non-combustible.
If materials did pose a risk a description of fixing the problem is needed.
Frost said she found it difficult to get hold of anyone at the housing association who could provide any information on how to get hold of the form to give to the lender.
In the mean time the mortgage offer expired.
After weeks of chasing, the couple were told by Peabody that it had over 500 buildings to look at and it couldn’t provide a date of when the form would be available.
Frost told Mortgage Solutions: “We were told by Peabody they don’t know how long it’s going to take for the form, it may take a couple of years.
“We also can’t rent it out because of Peabody rules.
“We’re stuck and left in limbo – and about to have a baby. It’s a really frustrating situation.”
System ‘not working’
One of the main problems is that there are a lack of qualified insured Chartered Fire Engineers to carry out the surveys.
Furthermore, lenders are requesting the forms more than had been anticipated when they were introduced.
Housing minister Christopher Pincer recently admitted borrowers trying to get a mortgage on properties in multi-storey buildings may have suffered.
He said lenders had agreed “a nuanced approach to risk” was required and to review their policies and advice to valuers after a meeting with minister for building safety Lord Stephen Greenhalgh.
It comes after a report last month from MPs on the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee said the EWS1 process was not working and called for the government to urgently make changes.
It’s estimated around 2,000 buildings still remain unsafe three years after the Grenfell tragedy.
The building containing Frost and her partner’s flat has cladding on the top floor, which will likely need removing before the EWS1 form can give the building the green light.
The cladding itself is a safety concern for Frost, though the housing association has put in extra fire alarms since the Grenfell disaster.
‘Unacceptable to be left in limbo’
A ministry of housing communities and local government spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable that some residents have found themselves in limbo.
“The EWS1 process is designed to support valuations for high rises where cladding may be a concern – this is because of the exceptional risk fire can present at height.
“While not all lenders require an EWS1 form, owners of buildings 18m and over should be as transparent as possible about the construction of their building and fire safety measures in place”
A spokesman for Peabody said: “We understand the frustration and anxiety felt by leaseholders who are in this difficult position through no fault of their own. Regrettably it is an issue affecting thousands of people up and down the country.
“As you will be aware, the problem arose last year and is being driven by mortgage lenders and valuers wanting evidence that is complex and difficult to obtain.
“Many will not lend on a property unless they have evidence that a building is compliant with the latest government advice issued in January this year.
“This evidence is an EWS1 form and to get this we have to carry out a detailed, sometimes intrusive, survey which then has to be signed off by a chartered fire engineer.
“With many thousands of buildings affected there are a limited number of qualified fire experts in the UK who can assess buildings, carry out inspections, confirm whether remediation work is required, and issue EWS1 certification.
“At Mint Street, works will involve replacing the cladding on the upper floors, as well as investigating the external wall system to resolve any issues. These two things will happen at the same time, which means that the fire engineer can sign an EWS1 form based on their assessment of the building after the work is completed.
“We are aware that residents have been concerned about our communications on this. We’ve apologised and wrote to all residents at the development last week to update them on our plans.
“We’ll now be providing monthly updates to keep them up to date on our progress.”