Residents in a Hackney Council block have spoken out amid continuing uncertainty over when the Town Hall will act after their building was found not to meet an “adequate standard” of fire safety.
A March survey requested by mortgage lenders for Morris Blitz House identified aluminium cladding and gas cupboards with cavity walls made of chipboard and apparently insulated with polystyrene.
The findings raise questions about how much work is required across the rest of the Town Hall’s housing stock.
The EWS1 survey, undertaken as part of the process developed to check all potentially unsafe cladding systems for buildings over 18m after the Grenfell Tower fire, is the first to suggest remedial work, with another two currently under review by the council.
Leaseholders in the block are now caught up in the cladding crisis, unable to remortgage their properties and with some having to swallow swingeing interest payments.
The Town Hall is staying quiet on the potential timeline for fixes, and said that EWS1s are not legal documents, with Morris Blitz still regarded by the borough’s assessors as a ‘Medium’ fire risk.
Hackney Council has been a campaigning organisation on the cladding crisis in recent months, with borough Mayor Philip Glanville throwing his support behind cladding campaigners in February, and councillors calling on other housing providers in Homerton to cooperate with residents in March.
One leaseholder, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: “[The council] were quite helpful at first. I believe they think they are doing a great service by proactively getting [surveys] done and I was led to believe Morris Blitz would get a satisfactory rating.
“When it came back that it wasn’t, I asked when it would be repaired, and they kept not quite answering the question. When pushed they finally told me they did not consider it to be high priority because the building is only a medium risk by there own rating system. So we’re trapped.”
They added: “It’s outrageous how they can just hang us all out to dry because they say it isn’t a legal requirement to pass the EWS1 form, it is just advisory for banks.”
The survey form, carried out by a fire safety engineer and a senior building surveyor, recommends replacing the building’s aluminium cladding systems, woodwool slabs, chipboard wall linings to the gas cupboard and polystyrene insulation with non-combustible materials.
The council has confirmed that having reviewed its fire risk assessment for Morris Blitz in light of the survey results, the block’s overall risk remains medium due to other safety measures including fire alarms, internal fire stops, compartmentalisation, and fire doors.
The leaseholder added: “They said that they are working with the London Fire Brigade, have done a risk assessment and assessed this building as Amber, as medium.
“That’s all well and good, but I don’t see how as a freeholder that they are able to not do work that they know values your asset as nothing for mortgage purposes.”
A Town Hall spokesperson said: “We have been in regular contact with the leaseholder affected at Morris Blitz, including informing them of our next steps, which are: we will continue to assess what work may be required to improve the rating of the block, and then decide when that work will be carried out. We will provide any works timeline as soon as we can.
“Hackney Council made the decision to carry out EWS1 surveys upon request by leaseholders in order to help homeowners with the mortgage or selling process. Many councils do not provide this service at all.
“This situation, in which leaseholders are unable to obtain a mortgage due to an EWS1 survey rating, is not unique to Hackney; there are currently over 1.5 million leaseholders across the country similarly affected. The council continues to lobby government for a solution to this complicated process.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The EWS1 is not a government form nor a legal requirement and we’re disappointed if this is still being asked for in some cases where it’s not needed.
“The new guidance from RICS means nearly 500,000 leaseholders should no longer need a form to sell or re-mortgage their homes – and we continue to encourage a sensible, proportionate approach to risk. Backed by nearly £700,000 Government funding, over 700 assessors have now started training so that where valuations are needed these can be done more quickly.
“Our £5 billion funding will also protect those in the highest risk buildings from unaffordable costs, ensuring no leaseholder will ever pay more than £50 a month to remove unsafe cladding, as part of a new Government-backed scheme.”
Update: this article was amended at 11:00 on 1 June 2021 to include a quote from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.