HOUSES bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds at Sovereign Harbour may now be worthless.

It has emerged that residents who own homes without a EWS1 (External Wall Survey) face serious problems.

Which? magazine reported that homeowners have found themselves stuck with unsellable and potentially unsafe flats due to delays over fire safety tests.  

Which? has been contacted by more than 120 readers facing difficulties buying, selling or remortgaging flats due to lenders asking for a safety certificate that they’re finding impossible to obtain. 

Phil Austin, who lives at the harbour, is now highlighting what he calls ‘a terrifying situation.’

He said: “The problems with the EWS1 form have virtually destroyed the buying and selling of apartments, no matter what they look like or how tall they are.

“I understand that this problem currently affects 300,000 apartments in the UK and that it could take up to 10 years to resolve.

“Maybe we should all ask for a council tax review as our homes are worth £0 yet the tax is based on a much larger figure.

“Maybe we should set up a petition to the government, not sure how you do it, but if we dont do something we will all be in a bigger, deeper hole for much longer.”

Mr Austin says residents must take this seriously.

He said: “It has become painfully clear that anyone who owns an apartment on Sovereign Harbour (and Eastbourne as well) has a property that is worthless unless it has a satisfactory EWS1 form.

“We are trying to get all owner aware of the situation and I have been told that the entire cladding, balconies and garage roof to Midway Quay will have to be replaced…and who will be picking up the tab…I wonder.”

In December 2019, the External Wall Fire Review (EWS1) process was launched

The EWS1 is a survey that assesses whether a property contains materials that are potentially dangerous, offering clarity to lenders and peace of mind for homeowners and buyers.

The survey was recommended solely for blocks 18 metres or taller, but just a month after its launch, the government published revised fire safety guidance, which instructed that potentially dangerous cladding should be removed from blocks of any height.

This effectively meant that mortgage lenders could now demand the EWS1 on thousands of buildings under 18 metres before agreeing to offer loans on them.

Mr Austin says there is a massive backlog and without the EWS1, homes are worthless.

Most of those affected are sellers who only became aware of the survey when a buyer informed them their mortgage had been rejected. 

For those whose lenders have demanded the EWS1, the message has been clear – the property is essentially worthless for mortgage purposes without it. 

This means that until the block has been tested, owners have little prospect of selling their flats and may be unable to remortgage, potentially resulting in much higher monthly repayments.

Getting the EWS1 test can be difficult.

The survey should be requested by the building’s freeholder, but many flat owners told Which? they found their freeholder either uncontactable or unhelpful.

Freeholders have commonly cited three reasons for rejecting requests for the survey: the EWS1 is only a recommendation rather than a legal requirement, the building is less than 18 metres tall, or it has no cladding to test.

Homeowners who do make some headway with their freeholders have been quoted anything from 18 months to a decade to have the survey done, depending on whether their block is considered to be of a high priority.

It is ultimately the responsibility of the freeholder to ensure the building is safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll pay for the EWS1.

Some flat owners have told Which? that clauses in their lease mean that they have to pay for the test themselves. And a failed test can be of great consequence.

Not only does it mean they are potentially living in a property that carries a greater fire risk, it also means remediation work must be done before the home can be sold. 

Remediation can take years, and the terms of the lease usually mean that the cost will fall on the homeowner rather than the freeholder.

This has seen leaseholders in some blocks face quotes of hundreds of thousands of pounds to have work done – figures that are simply unrealistic for the vast majority of homeowners.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Committee has described the EWS process as ‘slow and expensive’ and said it is ‘being applied to an unnecessarily wide range of buildings’.

It has called for the government to implement a ‘faster and fairer’ system.