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Frequently asked questions (EWS) External Wall Systems

If you own a home in a Hyde building and are considering re-mortgaging or selling; or if you are a shared owner wanting to staircase, then please read the answers to our FAQS below regarding EWS assessments, EWS1 forms, and what you can do. For more information view Re-mortgaging, staircasing or selling properties in our buildings.

I live in a tall block – is my home safe?

Yes, it is. We are legally-obliged to carry out regular fire risk assessments of our buildings to ensure the safety of everyone who lives in them. Since 2017 we have also carried out intrusive fire risk assessments of 86 of our tall blocks, which saw us investigate internal compartmentation of these buildings and the cladding systems as well as external wall systems that at the time were deemed to require further investigation. We have, or are in the process of, replacing cladding on 11 of our blocks.

What is an external wall system (EWS)?

A building’s external wall system (EWS) includes (but is not limited to) brickwork, cladding, insulation, balconies, external walkways and fire break systems. We cannot just inspect an EWS visually, we must open up different areas of a building’s exterior covering to investigate what is behind.

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Which buildings are included in the EWS guidance?

Originally, only a building more than 18m high (typically, six or seven floors), needed to have its external wall system assessed. The Government has since advised that some buildings may need an EWS inspection, where a risk assessment considers it necessary, regardless of height.

Who can inspect an external wall system?

An inspection of an external wall system (EWS) must be carried out by a qualified member of a relevant professional body (a list can be downloaded from the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ website. The surveyor must have sufficient expertise to identify the materials within the external wall cladding and attachments, including whether fire-resistant cavity barriers and fire-stopping measures have been installed correctly.

How is an EWS assessed?

The surveyor looks at all the documents detailing how a building was constructed before carrying out an intrusive survey, which involves removing parts of the external wall system and taking them away for testing. The assessor issues a report to the building’s owner (which can take up to 90 days after the assessment is finished).

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What is the EWS1 form?

In December 2019, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) published the EWS1 form, which was agreed with the Building Societies Association and UK Finance (which represents banks and mortgage lenders).

The EWS1 form is produced by an external wall system surveyor, following an EWS1 assessment, which is different from the EWS inspection we may carry out as part of a Type 4 intrusive fire risk assessment.

Some lenders are now requiring an EWS1 form before they will offer mortgages to home buyers, allow leaseholders to re-mortgage and allow shared owners to ‘staircase’ (increase how much of their home they own).

The form is valid for five years and summarises the results of the EWS1 assessment. The building is giving a rating and, depending on this rating, the form recommends further remedial safety work.

  • A: There are no combustible materials in the EWS
  • B1: Despite combustible materials being present, the risk is low and remedial works are not needed
  • B2: Remedial works are recommended.
It is important to remember that Hyde already ensures its buildings are safe, through fire risk assessments. Find out more: I live in a tall block – is my home safe?

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Which buildings are included in the EWS guidance?

Originally, the EWS1 form only applied to buildings more than 18m high – equivalent to six or seven floors, depending on how the building was built. The Government has since advised that an EWS assessment may be needed for buildings where a risk assessment considers it necessary, regardless of height.

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Does Hyde have to provide an EWS1 form for my building?

No. Despite some lenders insisting an EWS1 form, building owners are not currently legally-obliged to provide one. This is a condition being imposed by lenders, based on Government advice.

All our buildings, regardless of how tall they are, have fire risk assessments (FRAs), which will be provided as part of a pre-sales pack. Alternatively, you can request an FRA by contacting us directly.

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My building is more than 18m high, why doesn’t it have an EWS1 form?

The EWS1 form is produced by an external wall system surveyor, following an EWS1 assessment, which is different from an EWS inspection that we may carry out as part of a Type 4 fire risk assessment.

Despite some lenders insisting an EWS1 form, building owners are not currently legally-obliged to provide one. This is a condition being imposed by lenders, based on Government advice.

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Will Hyde pay for an EWS1 assessment?

Hyde is, first and foremost, a housing association. We are a not-for-profit and charitable organisation, which means we are bound by Charity Commission rules and laws governing how charitable funds can be used.

This means, unfortunately, because EWS1 assessments and any recommended follow-on work are not a legal requirement, we have to pass on the cost of carrying them out to homeowners.

Depending on the size of the building, the cost of an EWS1 assessment could run into tens of thousands of pounds. While we have no option but to ask homeowners to contribute to paying for EWS1 assessments, we are committed to minimising this financial impact, wherever we can.

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Can I arrange for an EWS1 assessment myself?

No. The EWS1 assessment involves removing parts of the building’s external wall system and we do not allow homeowners to carry out, or instruct someone else to carry out, this sort of work (and you would be in breach of our lease agreement if you did). This is to ensure the safety of everyone living in our buildings.

There have been several cases where fraudsters have charged homeowners thousands of pounds and issued fake EWS1 forms. Our rigorous tendering process will ensure that the assessors we appoint will be fully-qualified and that their findings (and the EWS1 form), will be accepted by lenders.

Lenders will only accept an EWS1 form from an approved EWS1 assessor. Demand for EWS1 forms is very high and there are fewer than 300 qualified assessors in the UK, which is leading to delays of months, and potentially years, in completing EWS1 forms.


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Can Hyde’s EWS surveyors carry out EWS1 assessments on behalf of homeowners, if they want to pay for one?

At the moment, due to the severe shortage of EWS surveyors, we are unable to commission EWS1 assessments on behalf of homeowners, even if they want to pay for one.

We are now starting the process of appointing a new framework of external wall system surveyors, to enable us to carry out external wall inspections of more of our buildings – to meet the demands of upcoming building safety legislation that will require us to carry out more intrusive fire risk assessments.

These surveyors will also be able to provide EWS1 assessments (and EWS1 forms) for homeowners, after we have completed our fire risk assessments.

However, we will have to pass the cost of EWS1 assessments onto homeowners because they are not a legal requirement. We are, first and foremost, a housing association. We are a not-for-profit and charitable organisation, which means we are bound by Charity Commission rules and laws governing how charitable funds can be used. However, we are committed to minimising this financial impact, wherever we can.

We must follow a formal procurement process to ensure surveyors are qualified to undertake both the EWS inspections we are legally-obliged to carry out, and EWS1 assessments that will be accepted by lenders, and can provide a level of service that delivers value for money.

We expect this process to be complete by the end of June 2021. After that date, we will be happy to commission EWS1 assessments on behalf of homeowners, following our external wall inspections.

However, with potentially hundreds of EWS inspections needed across all our buildings, we expect that carrying out these inspections will take some time; it could take years to work through the backlog.

Who will pay for any work recommended by the EWS1 assessment? 

Lenders will not accept an EWS1 form if the building’s rating (B2) recommends that further investigation or building safety work is needed. A new EWS1 form will only be issued once work is completed.

According to the Leaseholder Knowledge Partnership, 90% of EWS assessments recommend further work. We are, first and foremost, a housing association. We are a not-for-profit and charitable organisation, which means we are bound by Charity Commission rules and laws governing how charitable funds can be used. However, we are committed to minimising this financial impact, wherever we can.

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Does a nil valuation mean my home is worthless?

Absolutely not. ‘Nil valuations’ are used by lenders when valuing a property when someone applies for a mortgage. A nil valuation often just means that the lender needs more information before it can make a valuation. It doesn’t mean that you can’t sell your home.

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Can I sublet my home if I can’t sell it?

Shared ownership are not allowed to sublet; this is to stop people becoming shared owners for financial gain.

Leaseholders can sublet their homes but they must have a buy-to-let mortgage. Without an EWS1 form, it is unlikely lenders will offer these.

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I can’t sell my home without an EWS1 – what can I do?

Unfortunately, there is no simple fix. All our buildings have fire risk assessments (FRAs), which will be provided as part of a pre-sales pack. Alternatively, you can request an FRA by contacting us directly.

If you have provided the FRA to the lender and they still insist on seeing an EWS1 form, then you need to ask them why they want one. The same applies if you live in a building that is less than 18m high and your lender, or your buyer’s lender, is insisting that you have an EWS1 form.

We have drafted an example letter to lenders (PDF 128KB) for you to use when talking to lenders. 

We are also lobbying Government to ask for a clear direction for building owners, leaseholders, shared owners, private and social landlords, and lenders. If you want to help us, we have an example letter for you to use to contact your MP - example letter to an MP (PDF 88KB).

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I’m a tenant – how does this affect me?

As your landlord, we carry out fire risk assessments on all our buildings and are confident that all of them are safe. Some tenants will contribute to the cost of fire risk assessments, safety measures (such as waking watch) and building safety works, through their service charges and major works costs.

What is a waking watch?

Where we identify issues with a building’s external wall system, we may have to change the evacuation strategy from ‘stay put’ to ‘simultaneous evacuation’. We may also have to install a waking watch, which is a team of qualified people who routinely patrol a building, both inside and out, and raise the alarm should they discover a fire. They also notify the fire service and coordinate the evacuation of residents who need additional help.

We may also install a temporary fire alarm system in a building, which allows us to reduce the size of the waking watch team, although evacuation marshals are still required to help residents in the event of a fire.

Who pays for a waking watch? 

We are, first and foremost, a housing association. We are a not-for-profit and charitable organisation, which means we are bound by Charity Commission rules and laws governing how charitable funds can be used. This means we aren’t allowed to cover the costs of building safety for leaseholders, which includes waking watches, so unfortunately, we may have to pass on some of these in the future. We will notify and formally consult with you about these in advance. We are committed to minimising these costs by working with contractors, developers and using Government funding, such as the Waking watch relief fund, whenever we can.

Return to Remortgaging, selling and staircasing properties in our buildings page.