Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has warned of serious failings in the government’s approach to handling high rise properties with cladding and called for greater clarity for lenders.
Writing to housing secretary Robert Jenrick, Khan said it was “unacceptable” that thousands of people’s lives were on hold while the market for leasehold flats had ground to a halt.
He demanded “greater clarity” on which buildings require an External Wall Survey (EWS1) form and for government to work with industry to publish guidance for lenders and leaseholders setting this out.
He said a replacement to the EWS1 form was needed and that the mental and financial health of residents was being severely affected.
Khan added that with an estimated 600,000 leaseholders nationwide currently in limbo, at the current rate it would “take years” to certify the buildings as safe.
The EWS1 form was launched at the end of 2019 to help lenders verify the safety of cladding attached to high rise buildings and solve the issue of nil valuations preventing lending.
However, the situation has proved difficult with a shortage of qualified surveyors and lenders using forms more widely than intended.
This has led to meetings with government officials to assess the situation and push lenders to review the position.
Resolving the crisis
In his letter earlier this week, Khan called for a major overhaul of the entire situation.
“The shortage of competent professionals to inspect the safety of external walls has resulted in severe delays and reports of fake EWS1 forms from unqualified sources, further adding to leaseholders’ stress and financial pressure.
“Exacerbating this issue is the large number of professionals who cannot access professional indemnity (PI) insurance for this work.
“Furthermore, there is insufficient government funding on offer to protect leaseholders from the financial burden of remediation costs if they are identified.”
He added: “To resolve this crisis, the dual objectives of ensuring buildings are safe and unlocking the market must both be pursued.
Five “urgent” key points were raised to solve the situation:
- The government must urgently find a long-term funding solution for external wall remediation which protects leaseholders, with government fully funding remediation costs where recovery from those responsible is not successful or possible.
- With the market unlocked, the need for EWS1 forms would be removed. A much more comprehensive method for tracking and enforcing building owners’ responsibility to inspect and remediate their external walls, including oversight and intervention, would be required.
- While the EWS1 form is still in use, greater clarity is needed on which buildings require an EWS1 form and which do not. The government should work with industry to publish guidance for lenders and leaseholders which sets this out.
- A training and accreditation programme should be created to vastly increase the number of competent professionals that can carry out safety inspections of external walls.
- Government must work with the insurers to ensure there are clear standards of professional competence to build confidence in providing appropriate PI cover for those with the appropriate qualifications and experience to work on external wall safety.
Khan concluded: “Taking action now is critical to ensure the safety of residents and to stop the devastating effects the EWS1 crisis is having.”
Government under pressure
The government has continued to face questions from MPs over its handling of the situation, with housing minister Christopher Pincher responding to several written questions this week.
Replying to shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury, Pincher revealed that the department was piloting a data collection exercise to understand the prevalence of different external wall system materials on residential buildings between 11 and 18 metres in height.
Pincher told Regulatory Reform Committee chairman Stephen McPartland that the government recognised there were wider remediation costs which would need to be met to ensure the safety of existing blocks of flats.
As a result it has asked departmental adviser Michael Wade to “accelerate work on identifying options for financing solutions that remove barriers to fixing historic defects and protect leaseholders from unaffordable costs”.
He added that the bill must not fall on taxpayers and that the new building safety regime will prevent similar safety defects occurring in future new builds and will also systematically address historic defects.
Finally, Pincher confirmed to Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans Daisy Cooper that no mortgage lender had said they would request an EWS1 form when an existing borrower was renewing their mortgage on the same terms and was not seeking to borrow more.
Owain Thomas is features and contributing editor of Mortgage Solutions and editor of Specialist Lending Solutions.
He also has experience in the protection, pensions, workplace benefits and HR areas.
Owain has won two Headline Money Awards and the Protection Review’s Journalist of the Year award.