Principle cautiously welcomes easing of flat cladding safety checks

One of the UK’s top estate management companies has cautiously welcomed the easing of the need for flat owners to have cladding safety checks before selling or remortgaging their properties.

The comments from Principle Estate Management follow housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s announcement that flats without cladding will no longer need an external wall safety certificate (EWS1), which involves a survey.

The extra safety checks were introduced after 72 people died at Grenfell Tower when a fire spread along unsafe cladding on outside walls.

Initially, the checks only affected flats in tall buildings with flammable cladding, but in January this was extended to smaller properties and mortgage lenders began demanding fire surveys for a far wider range of flats.

A national shortage of qualified surveyors made it impossible for surveys to be quickly done, leaving hundreds of thousands of flat owners in limbo as they were unable to sell or remortgage their properties.

Brett Williams, managing director of Principle Estate Management, said: “We welcome the government’s announcement as a good first step in clarifying a complex area that had led to a glut of survey requests and huge delays to mortgages and sales.

“Importantly, it should be noted that this will not change the process for flats with cladding that must still have EWS1 safety checks to make sure they are not dangerous.

“However, by making it clear that flats without cladding don’t need to go through this process, the new guidance could reduce delays and untie red tape from blameless flat owners.”

Mr Williams pointed out that while the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) had agreed the announcement, it still wanted to review the government advice before deciding what guidance to issue to surveyors.

He also noted that not all mortgage lenders had agreed with the change, which meant that more discussions were needed for it to make a difference.

Mr Williams said: “Housing minister Robert Jenrick must now liaise closely with both RICS and mortgage lenders on the detail of what this means, as without the whole sector’s full backing the change he has proposed could end up being pretty meaningless.”

He added: “While the government is focused on this crucial issue, it must also urgently do more work on its £1 billion building safety fund set up to remove dangerous cladding from high rise buildings.

“The deadlines to access this fund are far too tight for flat owners to benefit because of the complexity involved.”

Mr Williams, a chartered surveyor and past-chairman of the Association of Residential Managing Agents with nearly 30 years of experience in the sector, launched Principle in 2018.

The Birmingham-based company has since grown from a one-man band into what is now 26 staff looking after a portfolio approaching 6,500 units in around 250 developments across the UK.