On 21 July 2021, the government announced that it will support the recommendations made in the Independent expert statement on building safety in medium and lower-rise blocks of flats (21 July 2021) (expert statement).
The expert statement recommends that owners of blocks of flats under 18 metres should not be required to provide an EWS1 form on a sale or re-mortgage. The housing secretary when opening a debate on the Building Safety Bill stated that low rates of dwelling fires, deaths and blazes that spread beyond the room of origin meant, “lenders should not be acting as if there was a widespread and systemic issue”. Although he did note that, some fire remediation works may be required on some medium and lower-rise buildings.
The expert statement also recommends that:
- Where there are issues these should be addressed primarily through risk management and mitigation.
- There should be a clear route for leaseholders to challenge costly remediation work and seek assurance that proposals are proportionate and cost-effective.
- Government should work with the Building Safety Regulator to consider how to implement an audit process to check that fire risk assessments are produced in accordance with guidelines.
- Fire risk assessors and lenders should not presume that there is significant risk to life unless there is evidence to support this. This would ensure that they adopt a more proportionate and balanced approach.
There has already been a commitment by major high street lenders including HSBC UK, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and others to review their practices in light of the expert statement. The government is expecting other lenders to follow suit swiftly. However, it should be borne in mind that the recommendations made are only effective if lenders choose to follow them and presently there is no obligation on them to do so.