The lack of affordable and available professional indemnity insurance for surveyors has been identified as a barrier by the government 

The government is working towards creating a state-backed professional indemnity scheme for surveyors that sign off EWS1 forms, as many are struggling to get appropriate insurance coverage. 

While the external wall system (EWS) form is not a legal requirement, many insurers have adopted it to identify whether fire safety measures have been addressed.

The EWS1 form is intended to record fire safety assessments for relevant residential multi-storey buildings over 18 metres in height, stating whether it is low or high risk and signed off by surveyors. It gives a selection of risk options and signals whether remediation work is needed.

The introduction of the EWS1 form was intended to give building owners and residents comfort that the external wall system had been assessed by a suitable fire safety professional and considered the presence of combustible materials.

Speaking at law firm Weightmans recent Building Safety Bill webinar, its construction principal associate Natalie Keyes said: “Last month, the government admitted that securing professional indemnity insurance [for surveyors] was a barrier.”

Meanwhile, the upcoming Building Safety Bill intends to “significantly bolster” weaknesses in the processes required for building safety sign off, one of these being the EWS1 form.

Addressing the backlog

It has been widely reported that many residents have experienced delays with EWS1 forms, but Keyes pointed out that this is an area where the insurance industry could make a significant impact.

According to Keyes, other reasons for delays with the form include the scope of buildings above 18 metres being more than expected, lack of funding, complications of remedial work and a lack of surveyors with the appropriate professional indemnity insurance to sign off these forms.

In November last year, the government announced that the EWS1 form will only apply to buildings with cladding, reducing the number of buildings subject to this regime by 450,000. Following the Grenfell Tower fire, cladding was banned as a building material.

The government also committed to training 2,000 building assessors last year in a bid to reduce the current backlog.

At present, the EWS1 form is only valid for five years, which Keyes said creates a “continued obligation”. The government has referred to the building crisis dilemma as a “legal quagmire”.

Despite all these challenges, there seems to be positive momentum to address identified issues, Keyes added.