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MP warns RICS and FIA of false EWS1 signatures

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  • 21/05/2024
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MP warns RICS and FIA of false EWS1 signatures
An MP has written to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the Fire Industry Association (FIA) over concerns that signatures on External Wall System (EWS1) forms could be falsified.

Clive Betts, chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) committee, asked for there to be an assessment on the possible scale of the problem and the impact it might have on the EWS1 process. 

The EWS1 form process was developed by Fiona Haggett, head of valuations at Barclays Mortgages, in 2019 to provide transparency around high-rise buildings with possible cladding. 

It has since gone through a number of updates to revise the guidance for surveyors when assessing the safety of a property. 

Some lenders request an EWS1 form for properties that are to be sold or remortgaged. 

Betts raised the alarm with RICS and the FIA in March. RICS replied in April to say it had no data to suggest this was a “widespread issue” and, since the EWS1 process was introduced in 2019, only three cases of concerns had been reported to RICS. 

One of these cases resulted in a criminal conviction, the association said. The other two were investigated, but no evidence was given to support the allegations of fake signatures. 

The FIA also responded in April to say that, while it learned of fake documents through third parties and its own investigations, it was hard to give an accurate picture of the scale of forgeries. 

The FIA said only assessors had access to upload EWS1 forms to its portal, and if the name and signature did not match, this would not be accepted. However, there is no requirement to upload forms to the portal, and this depends on whether a lender requests this. 

Based on the 8,000 buildings that need an EWS1 form according to government figures, the FIA estimated that at least 6,500 had not been uploaded to the portal. 

The association said 100 assessors were registered to the portal, while RICS estimated around 300 engineers were qualified. It said if all engineers registered to the portal, this could clear the outstanding forms.

Betts said: “It is concerning that there may have been cases of fake signatures being used on EWS1 forms during the sale of properties. I hope people will take the opportunity to ask that any assessor providing an EWS1 form uploads it to the Fire Industry Association Building Safety Information Portal to help ensure the form signatories are indeed genuine. 

“In the past, the cost of registration fees has been part of the reason that thousands of EWS1 forms were not uploaded, and I hope this will prompt government and lenders to now explore ways to help cover the costs of this process.” 

 

Hindrances to EWS1 forms

Betts also asked if the cost of uploading an EWS1 form was prohibitive. RICS said fees were a deterrent to all professionals and suggested it was in the public’s interest for the government to provide a free portal. The FIA said the cost, which starts from £150, could be passed on to an assessor’s customer, who may be the building owner or the property’s leaseholder. For engineers to register their credentials so they can use the portal, there is a one-off £200 cost.

The FIA said after lenders offered to cover these costs, it was not aware of this continuing following the initial period.

The bodies were also asked what impact the use of PAS 9980, a separate assessment of fire risk in a building, would have on the use of EWS1 forms.

The FIA said using a PAS 9980 as a standalone could be fraudulent, as there was “currently little or no verification done on who is carrying them out”. It also noted it was not intended as an alternative to the EWS1 form, as the EWS1 form determines whether a building needs remediation, while the PAS 9980 appraises the fire risk.

“Although, it may be possible to serve as a suitable report to support or inform an EWS1 form. However, any EWS1 form uploaded to the portal will still need to be uploaded by a pre-registered assessor who [has] had their qualifications verified,” the FIA added.

RICS said the PAS 9980 offered a “consistent methodology” for assessments, and its continued use could result in the decline of the use of EWS1 forms.

RICS added: “It is still early days yet, in our opinion, and we anticipate it may be a few more years yet before EWS1 forms fade away completely. The EWS1 forms do, in the interim, provide a mechanism for public protection, especially until the PAS 9980 is fully understood and implemented by all stakeholders.”

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