External wall systems in existing multi-storey residential buildings - fire risk: advice note

This Scottish Advice Note (SAN) provides advice for those responsible for fire safety in residential buildings including building owners/managers/residents groups responsible for determining the fire risk posed by external wall systems on existing multi-storey residential buildings. It will also be of interest to fire risk assessors and specialist external wall appraisal experts.

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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 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. This Scottish Advice Note has been produced to address the same need, but reflects the different housing, building standards and fire safety regimes in Scotland, including the related work and recommendations of the Ministerial Working Group on Mortgage Lending & Cladding which published its report in March this year. It also complements existing fire safety guidance and should be read in that context.

The British Standards Institution is also developing a Code of Practice, PAS 9980: Fire risk appraisal and assessment of external wall construction and cladding of existing blocks of flats. This methodology also has a life safety focus and, in conjunction with this Note, may assist those who are assessing the risk posed by external wall systems. The Code of Practice is expected to be published later this year (2021).

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 and 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 available on the RICS website.

It should be noted that mortgage lending and valuation are reserved matters. 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 higher standard of fire performance for external wall systems than contained within this advice note.

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 EWS1 forms. To overcome this and provide support to Scottish owners in line with the recommendations of the Working Group earlier this year, the Scottish Government has established a Single Building Assessment scheme. This will offer a single, Scottish Government funded assessment of the whole building against robust criteria. Single Building Assessments, involving appraisals of external wall systems and fire safety risk assessments, are expected to largely supersede the use of the EWS1 form in Scotland, although the EWS1 will remain available where owners have not opted for, or are not eligible for, a Single Building Assessment. Further information on the scheme can be found on the Single Building Assessment website (currently under development).

Taken together, the Single Building Assessment scheme and guidance, Scottish Advice Note, RICS guidance and PAS 9980 methodology (when published), 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 remortgaging their homes in Scotland. By supporting an approach which provides robust assessments of buildings, with a focus on the safety of people and buildings and provides a pathway to any required remediation based on common and robust criteria, this will allow safe buildings to be bought and sold freely with any minority prioritised for remediation.


Email: Buildingstandards@gov.scot

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