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Fire safety update

Following the Grenfell Tower fire the Government issued a succession of advice notes and guidance for landlords relating to the fire safety of buildings. These require building owners to review the fire safety of external cladding and insulation, external fire stopping and all internal fire stopping measures.

As a response Newlon set up a special projects team and appointed specialist fire safety engineers and forensic architects to carry out investigation works for buildings we own. In a few places we have homes as part of larger developments where there are separate freeholders and managing agents who will hold these responsibilities. In line with Government advice we are prioritising these works for taller buildings (over 18 metres) and where we consider there is most potential risk. For example we have prioritised taller buildings with any kind of rain screen cladding over buildings that are brick clad.

As this issue affects many thousands of buildings nationally and there are only a limited number of suitably qualified experts this programme will take some time to complete. It is therefore possible that we have not yet been able to carry out these investigations where you live.

We also carry out a range of other regular checks at all of our buildings, including Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs), to check the fire safety of your building.

It is possible that once we have completed detailed investigations remedial fire safety works will be required. In this instance we will contact residents to explain the works that are needed and the timescale for them to be completed. Where works are required we will need to create a detailed specification, as well as going through a procurement process to appoint contractors and carrying out consultation with leasehold residents. It is therefore likely to be several months before works can commence. If we are applying for funding to help cover the cost of remedial works through the Government’s Building Safety Fund this has a range of specific requirements and we will contact residents separately to update them on the process of bidding for funding and works schedules.

In some cases as a result of FRA actions or where we have already carried out detailed inspections and determined that remedial works are required we have appointed fire wardens until such a time as works are completed. This is resulting in significant ongoing costs which we have not passed back to residents.

Advice and guidance for Shared Owners and leaseholders if you are thinking of selling, staircasing or re-mortgaging your home

If you are planning to sell, staircase or re-mortgage your home you may find that this is currently difficult because of the approach lenders are taking to the Government’s advice notes. Since the start of 2020 many lenders are asking for a form EWS1. This is a standardised form signed off by a suitably qualified chartered professional (often a fire engineer) to assess a building’s fire safety compliance.

Form EWS1 is being requested for many thousands of buildings nationally and as with the inspection process there are only a small number of suitably qualified experts able to undertake this work. This means that although we can request an EWS1 where required we have no control over when it will be received. In addition if a building has not been through the detailed inspection programme or if it has been through the process and remedial works are required, the EWS1 will reflect this position. It is uncertain how different lenders will view a non-compliant EWS1 and whether they will only accept applications for compliant buildings. It has been reported that some lenders are rejecting applications even with compliant EWS1 forms for a variety of reasons. It may therefore be very difficult to sell your home or you may find it hard to staircase or re-mortgage. Some lenders are additionally asking for separate cladding compliance certification which may also prove difficult to provide where remedial works have been identified or detailed inspections have not yet been carried out.

However, please note that approaches differ between lenders, from building to building and according to people’s individual circumstances and Newlon has no control over valuations or the granting of mortgages and the terms attached to them.

Form EWS1 is specifically designed for buildings over 18 metres in height or in exceptional circumstances where there are concerns about the cladding materials used on lower rise buildings. We are aware of a few instances where lenders have asked for an EWS1 for a building below 18 metres. If this is the case we will not be able to provide an EWS1 form unless the materials used in the construction of the building bring it within the scope of the EWS1 guidance for valuers. We will be able to provide a statement confirming that your building is under 18 metres and the status of the cladding used on your building. If a lender does request an EWS1 for a building under 18 metres the guidance is that they should include justification about why they have asked for this as part of the request.

Following consultation work with the Government, The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) issued new guidance to valuers in relation to form EWS1 in March 2021. This guidance is designed to take many buildings out of the ESW1 programme and to clarify when it could be required. The guidance includes specific criteria for when an EWS1 could be required. These are as follows:

For buildings over six storeys an EWS1 form should be required where:

  • There is cladding or curtain wall glazing on the building; or
  • There are balconies which stack vertically above each other and either both the balustrades and decking are constructed with combustible materials (e.g. timber) or the decking is constructed with combustible materials and the balconies are directly linked by combustible material.

For buildings of five or six storeys an EWS1 form should be required where:

  • There is a significant amount of cladding on the building (for the purpose of this guidance, approximately one quarter of the whole elevation estimated from what is visible standing at ground level is a significant amount); or
  • There are ACM, MCM or HPL panels on the building; or
  • There are balconies which stack vertically above each other and either both the balustrades and decking are constructed with combustible materials (e.g. timber), or the decking is constructed with combustible materials and the balconies are directly linked by combustible materials.

For buildings of four storeys or fewer an EWS1 form should be required where:

  • There are ACM, MCM or HPL panels on the building.

Support and advice for selling your home

If you are a considering selling your home it is a requirement of your lease that you inform us of your intention to do so, even if you are a 100% leaseholder. We recommend contacting us before you incur any costs or make any long-term plans dependent on being able to sell your home. We also recommend that both you and any prospective buyer should speak to a mortgage adviser if you are using one, or any lenders involved, to understand their approach to the Government’s advice notes before spending any money.

Our resident sales team will provide as much support and advice as we can with the sales process.

For any enquiries about selling, staircasing or re-mortgaging please email resident.sales@newlon.org.uk.

Option to sublet

We have introduced a new policy to allow people to sublet if they want to move, but are struggling to sell their home because of issues related to the Government’s fire safety guidance. Applications can be made by filling in the form on the subletting page.

In these circumstances you can sublet for a year at a time and then for a further six months once any works have been completed.

Some residents have asked if we can buy back their home or their share, but we are not able to do this. Not only is this a national issue over which we have no control but we are already incurring significant extra costs for fire safety works, investigations and additional short term safety measures such as patrolling fire wardens, which we are doing our best not to pass back to residents.

New staircasing applications

Newlon is continuing to allow people to apply to staircase, but if you are considering doing so this needs to be at your own risk and we will not be able to refund fees if the process is unsuccessful.

This issue has started to achieve a level of national prominence and we are hopeful that lobbying by the social housing sector as well as private landlords and MPs will result in a new approach from lenders that will allow people to move home and staircase more easily.

We realise that this is a difficult time for many of residents and want to reassure you that we are doing everything we can to carry out any works and investigations required and to maintain the fire safety of our buildings.

Contacting us about fire safety

If you have any questions or enquiries about fire safety please email firesafety@newlon.org.uk. If you have a more urgent enquiry please call our Service Centre on 020 7613 8080. In an emergency please always dial 999.