Last week we posted an article about the fast-growing issue of EWS1 Fraud. In that article, we covered why it was so easy to commit Fraud with the EWS1 Form and how to spot it.
This article shares our ideas for what the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), creators of the EWS1 process, and other stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), should be doing right now to secure the process and save innocent residents from further harm.
Call the whole thing off?
The solution to EWS1 is not as easy as scrapping it. Whether we agree with the EWS1 concept or not we have to recognise it was launched in December 2019 by RICS on behalf of the lending banks. The purpose of the EWS1 Form was to give the banks better visibility of the external wall fire safety and valuation of the assets they were lending against.
Post Grenfell, the banks could no longer trust the Building Regulations, construction quality or the inspection regime that determined compliance with the regulations. Banks are commercial operations and they do not have to lend. In a functioning building control system, they would be able to trust in good governance, however, Grenfell demonstrated a catastrophic failure of governance over decades.
We cannot undo the mistakes of the past, but trusted institutions such as the RICS can choose not to perpetuate them.
What follows is our plan for how to secure and restore trust in the EWS1 process (for full disclosure most of this detail was shared with senior RICS executives by telephone and emails between 3rd and 28th September 2020).
Stopping the rot
Every day the flawed EWS1 process is producing more and more signed forms.
Some of these forms are legitimate and produced by competent individuals with adequate Professional Indemnity insurance. Others are produced by surveyors that do not have the necessary competence to do the work and some are produced by fraudsters.
Right now there is no way of telling how many of each are being produced, as EWS1 forms are not formally registered or reviewed by an accredited body or even by peer review.
This is not an exhaustive list, these are immediate actions that can be implemented within days to stabilise the crisis situation.
Further refinement can follow once a greater degree of control and trust has been established:
Create a digital EWS1 Register to secure the production and distribution of EWS1. Competent Surveyors, Building Information, EWS1 Survey Report and Completed EWS1 Form can be tracked and securely shared with Building Managers, Residents and Lenders.
Adapt the EWS1 Form to include the unique ID of the digital record and the Unique Property Reference Number (UPRN) of the block.
Clarify the exact competence criteria for surveyors and the minimum body of work required to constitute a reliable EWS1. The current form includes 17 ambiguous ‘Could’, ‘May’, ‘Should’ references with only 1 definitive ‘Must’.
In parallel with securing the process for newly commissioned EWS1, we need to urgently review the survey performed between December 2019 when EWS1 was launched and today. As mentioned earlier, nobody knows how many EWS1 Forms have been produced to date and how many are valid.
Collate all existing EWS1 forms and survey reports. Utilise the power of the ‘crowd’ (Surveyors, Residents, Building Managers, Banks, Media) to track down as many EWS1 Forms as possible.
Expert review of submitted EWS1 data, categorise as Fraudulent, Further Detail Needed or Competent. Follow workflow for each category including reporting to the Police and intervention where residents’ lives and livelihoods are at risk (unrequired expenditure on remediation and interim measures). Competent EWS1 to be added to the digital EWS1 Register.
Issue monthly updates on the progress of EWS1 at each stage of review and classification.
An open offer of help
We have given multiple offers of help to RICS and MHCLG in private to help fix the failed EWS1 process. Our offer has never been accepted. Despite this, our now public offer of help is still open.