inside the cladding circle of blame

Mr Buckmaster said 90pc of the buildings his firm has inspected would fail the EWS1 check in some way, most commonly because of timber balconies. A further issue is that there are not enough engineers qualified to carry out inspections, meaning that residents face long waits if they are able to persuade their building owner to carry out checks.

The banking and surveying trade bodies have called on the Government to ensure that all blocks of flats which are at risk are assessed and remediated as quickly as possible, without costs being passed on to individual homeowners.

A spokesman for MHCLG said it was providing £1.6bn to speed up the replacement of unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings, making homes safer and protecting leaseholders from significant remediation costs. 

However, critics said that although the Government has created two funds to cover the cost of remediation work, these only cover properties worth over 18 meters tall, meaning many homeowners will be excluded.

MHCLG said problems with the EWS1 regime were the responsibility of surveyors and mortgage lenders, given the form is not a Government regulatory requirement. While a handful of banks are willing to offer mortgages without a valid EWS1 certificate, so long as it has an up-to-date fire risk assessment, many lenders are unwilling to advertise this fact as they fear they will be deluged with cases. 

Further pain ahead

Since launching, about 1,000 EWS1 forms have been completed and have allowed property owners to buy and sell homes once more. Privately, those in the banking industry claim the form is working, despite the Government’s repeated rule changes.  

They warn that even if the form was abolished, the current problems would remain as they have been created by the Government shifting the goal posts.

However, progress has been slow because of the lack of qualified engineers who can sign buildings off. There have been multiple cases of freeholders refusing to carry out EWS1 checks, even in cases where the residents have been willing to pay for the certificate, because they are concerned about the cost of remediation. 

The tests cannot be carried out without permission of the building owner as the process involves removing part of the building for testing.

Mary-Anne Bowring, of property firm Ringley, believes the Government is the only party that can break the deadlock, but that more funds would be needed.

“The number one duty of any government is to ensure its citizens safety,” she said. “The government should make an open-ended commitment to fund whatever work is necessary to ensure that every single block of flats is safe.”

Further rule changes are on the horizon as the Government has tabled a new Building Safety Bill, which could take effect as soon as October. 

It is hoped that this will place a great obligation on freeholders to act. But Mr Buckmaster feared that extra rules would lead to a sharp increase in the amount of non-compliant housing stock, with few experts willing to certify buildings as safe given the lack of information available.

“In all of this, the people that are suffering most are the homeowners who have paid good money and expected basic standards,” he said. “But they have and will continue to lose everything, not even considering they may be forced to stay in unsafe properties.

“Britain will become the slums of Europe if we do not smarten up our entire game.”

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