There has been a drastic change in the wind when it comes to AMC cladding and the Government's aim to improve building safety standards in the UK. Currently, there is a broad scope of disillusion and confusion amongst Block Managing Agents, Landlords, RMC's and those responsible for the management of buildings. This article aims to focus on what we currently know about the plans and how this impacts those involved.
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As a significant impact of Grenfell and in particular, in January of this year, The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick issued guidance on AMC Cladding, and Government aims, which they dubbed would bring about the most significant change in building safety for a generation.
Here is the article; https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-measures-to-improve-building-safety-standards
The changes determined that all building owners of residential buildings over 18m or more to the height of the top occupied storey, and also buildings at any height with residents who need significant assistance to evacuate should check their external wall systems in line with Government advice.
In two parts, the Government Guidance which places responsibility on building owners to understand their property's external wall system to ensure it does not contain combustible materials. ACM cladding (and other metal composite material cladding) with an unmodified polyethene filler (Category 3) present a significant fire hazard on residential buildings at any height and with any form of insulation. The qualifying form being the EWS1 form. However, the Government is issuing this as guidance.
Additionally, we see a growing requirement from mortgage companies for the EWS1 form, which is, unfortunately, affecting sales and re-mortgages all over the country, and the demand will only increase as time goes on.
Where building owners cannot determine the material used from the operation and construction manuals, the only way to find this out is to seek the advice of a competent person. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has released a list of qualified personnel which include building surveyors or other similar competent persons with suitable experience of high-rise buildings. The highest form of building safety in the UK is currently BR135 certification.
The EWS1 contains two options/audit types for the assessment. The RICS EWS1 guidance states the audit should be carried out by a suitably qualified and competent professional with appropriate professional membership equivalent to the type of audit as detailed in the MHCLG guidance. It recommends the Option 1 audit person/s have adequate training, competence in building fire safety, such as a fire safety professional, to undertake the audit. In contrast, for the Option 2 audit, it recommends a chartered fire engineer to complete the assessment. It is believed that there is only around 250 of these in the UK.
It is therefore essential to distinguish between the two options when determining your property category. To establish this, you need to know when the last Fire Risk Assessment report was conducted. The new Government guidance was issued on 20th January 2020. If your previous FRA was after this date, and the advice from the Risk Assessor is that an EWS1 form is not required, then this makes matters easier for the short term. However, if your last FRA were conducted before this date, we would recommend that you arrange for an up to date Fire Risk Assessment. This new Fire Risk Assessment will then provide you with an independent recommendation on whether or not an EWS1 Form is required.
A hypothetical scenario would be that a property with no cladding, no render and no balconies may fall into a lower risk category, option 1 audit on the EWS1 form, which is for buildings where the materials used in the external wall would be unlikely to support combustion. For this option on the EWS1 form, the signatory would need the expertise to identify the relevant materials within the external wall and also identify whether the cavity barriers and fire-stopping have been installed correctly. In any case, seek consultation and advise with your Risk Assessor and comply with the requirements of your assessment advice.
Once completed, the EWS1 form does have an expiry and doesn't last forever. It lasts for five years before the same process would need to be conducted.
Some believe that the 'building owner' is responsible for fulfilling the Government Guidance related to the EDW1 form and this may be the case in a two-party scenario with a Landlord and a Tenant (or Leaseholder). However, there are also Resident Management Companies, Right to Manage companies and various other entities to consider depending on your legal framework.
The term 'Building owner' means the owner of the building or the person, group, company or other entity on whom the duties are imposed or enforcement action could be taken under the following legislation; i) the Housing Act 2004 in regulation to specific hazards, or ii) the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) order 2005 to ensure the safety of occupants of the building from fire.
In terms of the survey and EWS1 form, you should understand what would be involved. Generally speaking, a competent firm would issue one of the qualifying persons along with a building contractor to the site to undertake the audit of the buildings external walls to establish the primary materials used, where possible inspect any cavity barriers, any attachments to the external walls, confirm the combustibility of materials used, standards of build are appropriate, and any risk of spread of fire.
They would audit to establish the external walls:
Ability to adequately resist the spread of fire and smoke so far as is reasonably necessary to inhibit the spread of fire within the building.
Construction so that the unseen spread of fire and smoke within concealed spaces is inhibited.
Assess the walls against current regulations and guidance, as well as that which was present at the time of construction.
On completion, they would provide a full risk assessment audit report for the building, detailing findings, and any remedial recommendations that may be necessary, including issuing the EWS1 certificate in accordance with the results. The remedial recommendations would be dependent on any issues discovered during the audit and based on what would be necessary to resolve these issues.
The Government published a prospectus for the fund intended to meet the cost of remediation of unsafe non-ACM Cladding systems on residential buildings. To qualify the building must be at least 18 meters in height with the intended remedial works to be conducted before 31st March 2020, amongst other considerations. You can register for the fund by visiting https://research.net/r/bsfregistration
For additional support, information and articles related to the subject of AMC Cladding and the Governments advise, you may find some of the following resources useful.
Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) https://www.irpm.org.uk
Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) https://arma.org.uk
Leasehold Advisory Service (LEASE) https://www.lease-advice.org
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) https://www.rics.org/uk
News On The Block magazine http://www.newsontheblock.com/
Flat Living magazine http://www.flat-living.co.uk/