On 14 June 2017, 72 people lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower fire in London. The fire started in the kitchen of a fourth floor flat but quickly spread up the exterior of the building and then around all four sides via the external wall system. This advice note is concerned solely with the risk to life posed by external wall systems. This Foreword sets out where the Scottish Advice Note on external wall systems sits in the context of related Scottish Government policy and in the context of wider developments elsewhere in the UK. Therefore this Advice Note should not be read in isolation and reference should be made to other guidance documents as appropriate.
In January 2020, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published guidance for building owners of multi-storey, multi-occupied residential buildings (commonly referred to as the "Consolidated Advice Note"). A supplementary note was issued in November 2020 to clarify that the Consolidated Advice Note is concerned with life safety and is not a guide for valuation or insurance purposes. Both of these documents have since been withdrawn following publication of a Code of Practice, PAS 9980: 2022 Fire risk appraisal and assessment of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats. See PAS 9980 Executive briefing form | BSI (bsigroup.com) for further information.
The UK mortgage lending and valuation industries have also been impacted by concerns about external wall systems. Some privately owned flats have received zero valuations. Although this does not mean they have no value, it does mean that because of uncertainty about the cost of putting right any unsafe cladding, mortgage valuers have been unable to accurately value the property. This has led to friction in the market.
In response, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the Building Societies Association, and UK Finance developed a cross-industry approach to enable assessments of external wall systems in blocks of flats to be undertaken for mortgage lending valuation purposes (EWS1 assessment form). RICS valuation guidance, information on EWS1 including a supplementary information paper 'Cladding for surveyors' and a list of relevant professional institutions who may be able to carry out the assessment, is also available on the RICS website.
It should be noted that mortgage lending and valuation are reserved matters to the UK Government. Calling for an EWS1 assessment is a matter of professional judgement by valuers having regard to the RICS guidance and the instructions of their lender clients. This may result in a more onerous standard of fire performance being applied.
In England and Wales, a "freeholder" is normally responsible for fire safety in private blocks; an entity that does not exist in Scotland. As a result, in England and Wales, a single EWS1 will normally cover the whole block whereas in Scotland, multiple owners in a single block have been asked to obtain individual EWS1 forms.
To overcome this and provide support to home owners in Scotland, Scottish Ministers announced on the 19 March 2021 that the recommendations from the Ministerial Working Group on Mortgages and Cladding would be accepted. One of those recommendations was the introduction of a Single Building Assessment (SBA) programme. The programme offers a single, Scottish Government funded assessment of the whole building against robust criteria involving fire safety risk assessments and appraisals of external wall systems. Whilst both assessments are expected to largely supersede the use of the EWS1 form in Scotland, the EWS1 will remain available where owners have not opted for, or are not eligible for, a Single Building Assessment.
This Scottish Advice Note has been amended to recognise the SBA programme and incorporate practical guidance to support the programme whilst reflecting the different housing, building standards and fire safety regimes in Scotland.
Taken together the Scottish Advice Note, SBA, RICS guidance and PAS 9980 methodology, should not only minimise the risk to life safety, but will also assist those undertaking Single Building Assessments and help in resolving the difficulties people have faced in buying, selling and re-mortgaging their homes.
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