Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ for homeowners who live in our apartment blocks

By September 14, 2020 No Comments

Important information if you’re thinking about remortgaging, staircasing, or selling your apartment

Since mid-2019 mortgage lenders have been asking people seeking to buy, staircase or remortgage properties in some apartment blocks for independent certification that the building meets new government safety guidelines.

This means that in some cases it may not be possible for leaseholders to remortgage, staircase or sell their homes.

Town & Country Housing would like to apologise to residents who have been affected by this issue. We understand how upsetting and frustrating this is.

Below is some information which explains why this is happening, what Town & Country Housing is doing, and what help you are entitled to.

What is happening?

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017, the government changed its building safety guidelines by issuing a series of advice notes.

These advice notes were intended to give building owners clear guidance about how to make sure their properties are constructed and maintained safely.

In 2019, mortgage lenders and valuers began asking people who applied for mortgages on properties in some apartment blocks to provide independent certification that the building met the requirements of Advice Note 14.

This advice note stated that all materials used in the construction of external walls should be of limited combustibility (or have passed certain safety tests) and have been installed and maintained correctly.

These requirements were not in place when the blocks were built. In most cases, to prove that a building meets the new requirements, building owners must now go back and undertake complex intrusive inspections (which involve opening up multiple walls to check the materials they are made of), carry out safety tests, and in many cases complete remedial works. Only then can they obtain the certification that mortgage lenders are asking for.

A new form, called an EWS1 (external wall survey), was introduced in December 2019 to try and help building owners provide the certification more easily. However, in most cases this still requires the same process outlined above.

It would take decades and millions of pounds for all of these checks to be carried out which is not a realistic solution for people trying to buy and sell now.

In addition, housing associations need to prioritise the important safety work of replacing dangerous cladding first. This is leading to an even greater backlog of work.

Unfortunately, in the short-term at least, this means that many building owners, including Town & Country Housing, can’t provide the certification that mortgage lenders are asking for.

In January the Government consolidated its Advice Notes into a single document. This did not fundamentally change most aspects of the previous guidance; however it did say that it should now apply to apartment blocks of any height.

What is Town & Country Housing doing?

Town & Country Housing is committed to implementing the recommendations from Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building safety. The safety of our residents is our utmost priority.

We’re continuing to undertake reports and works on buildings where we have already identified issues.

Given the extent of the new guidance, the likelihood of a number of buildings requiring some degree of remedial work is high, and so we anticipate that our programme of inspections, testing and remedial works will take some time to deliver.

We would like to apologise to those residents who will need to wait for their building to be inspected – we know how difficult this situation is for you.

We hope to be able to provide you with more information and reassurance in the coming months, as more guidance and support is announced by Government.

Meanwhile, we are offering various types of support to residents who may find themselves unable to staircase, remortgage or sell their home (see below).

Does this mean that affected apartment blocks are unsafe?

It does not automatically mean that a building is unsafe if the owner cannot provide the certification being requested by a mortgage lender, and it is not yet a legal requirement for a building to meet the conditions of the new building safety guidance.

However, lenders may still take the view that if independent certification cannot be provided to demonstrate compliance, they won’t offer a mortgage.

We would like to reassure our residents that all of Town & Country Housing’s purpose-built apartment blocks:

  • received Building Control sign-off at the time of build
  • received approval from a licensed warranty provider after they were built
  • have an up-to-date fire risk assessment – we review these regularly and any recommendations are dealt with immediately or put into a programme of work to be completed as soon as possible

What is being done at a national level?

Our professional body, the National Housing Federation (NHF), is lobbying Government on behalf of 800 housing associations around the country.

It is calling on the Government to work with mortgage lenders to find a short-term solution that will allow the housing market to operate normally during this period of uncertainty.

In the longer term, the NHF is calling on the government to find a way to fund these building safety works. This is likely to reassure mortgage lenders that the buildings are safe to lend against and will speed up the safety works.

What will you do if I can’t sell/staircase/remortgage my property?

We want to do everything we can to support leaseholders whose mortgage application or sales process has been disrupted as a result of the approach that lenders are taking.

If you began a sales or remortgaging process which was stopped from progressing by your or your buyer’s lender, we will refund the valuation fee.

If you believe you’re entitled to a refund, please contact our Homeownership team by calling 01892 501490.

We are advising any residents who would like to remortgage, staircase or sell their home to seek advice directly from their lender or mortgage broker before beginning this process. There is no further assistance we can provide to aid the transaction of your property during this period, we have no influence over lenders and it may be worth seeking advice directly from them.

Finally, we have amended our sub-letting policy to allow this in properties where it has not been possible for residents to sell.

For more information about this please contact our Homeownership team by calling 01892 501490.

Once again, we would like to apologise for any stress or upset that this situation is causing.

We would like to reassure you that your safety is our number one priority, and that we and our sector partners will be working closely with the government to try and find a way forward which supports affected residents.