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More than a quarter of cladding safety certificates 'invalid'

29 March 2021, 10:47 | Updated: 29 March 2021, 18:07

Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

It is a scandal that has already trapped millions of people in worthless, potentially dangerous homes, and the Government has already promised to put up billions of pounds to try and find a solution.

But post-Grenfell, LBC can reveal how the crisis in confidence over building safety continues to spiral.

A new survey of cladding safety forms finds more than a quarter are being signed by individuals who 'aren't qualified' to do the work.

These are External Wall Systems forms (EWS1s) which were introduced by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors to assess whether a building's wall system is safe.

The forms cost thousands of pounds to acquire, and without one, any flat within a building with cladding is 'unsellable' in the eyes of the banks.

Given what's at stake, and the level of expertise required for such work, RICs guidance says these forms for buildings with 'combustible materials' on, should only be signed by Chartered or Incorporated Engineers, or ‘equivalent’.

That very high bar is thought to have left only a few hundred people in the UK actually qualified to sign the all-important documents.

But a survey of more than 80 EWS1 certificates by the Building Safety Register found more than a quarter held 'invalid' signatures.

Matt Hodges-Long is their co-founder. He said: "In our data set, 28% have what we classify as an 'invalid signatory.'"

That, he says, doesn't just risk 'misdiagnosis,' from inexperienced individuals; it also means most lenders will just reject the forms outright, no matter how safe the building really is.

"That's leaving even more people that can't move, can't re-mortgage, as a result of spending a lot of money on a survey that isn't worth anything in the eyes of the bank."

'A year wasted' with paperwork

Lisa lives with her partner in his London flat, which he's been trying to sell since 2019.

The couple want to move into a house and start a family.

There's no combustible cladding at all on the building, just some timber on the external walls, and after finding a buyer at the start of 2020, they were given their first EWS1 form which ‘passed’ the building: "We were told at the time that it was signed by a third party.

"But we tried several lenders and they all rejected it.

"We lost that buyer, found another buyer, but again several lenders kept rejecting the form.

"We're now on our third buyer, and it was only in January 2021 that the Housing Association said to us, you shouldn't be using the form," she said.

It turns out, not only was the form not signed by a chartered engineer, it had actually come from an employee of the housing association .

The Housing Association eventually paid for a second form.

But, it turned out, that too was signed by someone without the right credentials. They’re still stuck:

"We've gone through three sales so far. It's cost a lot of money through solicitors obviously.

"It's wasted over a year of our life.

"And the stress - honestly - it's all we think about."

The problem, according to Mr Hodges-Long, is a mixture of unclear guidance, high demand, and a lot of money on offer: "We've reached the point of chaos based on really loose guidance."

"There's been real confusion over who's actually qualified to sign a B grade EWS1 form. [This is when there is some combustible material on a building.]

"It's either B1 (pass) or B2 (fail).

"And a number of companies who perhaps shouldn't be doing the work have been coming into the market because they can exploit the weakness of the guidance by RICS.

"It's a great opportunity for companies to come in and make money."

The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has said: "We have been made aware that unqualified people may be signing off EWS1 forms.

"RICS condemns anyone using the current situation for their own personal gain, with potentially dangerous consequences for residents, and would urge that any further information related to this is made available to trading standards and RICS if appropriate."

"UK banks and building societies have robust measures in place to protect people against fraud, which would pick up any EWS1 form that is suspicious, but we encourage everyone to check the signatory on a form with the profession's institution. If an RICS member is completing your EWS1 form, you can check their membership with us on our website."