New Government Guidance For PAS9980 Surveys

Since the fire at Grenfell Tower, the government has been trying to tackle the problem of unsafe cladding on high-rise blocks of flats. One of the key steps was to introduce a new standard called PAS9980. It’s a publicly available specification, written by the British Standards Institute (BSI) at the request of the government and has been described as a ‘fire risk appraisal of external walls’ (FRAEW). It replaces the previous MHCLG Consolidated Advice Note published in January 2020.

FRAEWs are now expected to be carried out in accordance with the PAS9980 guidance. This is designed to take a more holistic approach and look beyond what is visible to the outside of the building, such as whether cavity barriers PAS9980 Surveys London and fire stopping are installed in the correct location and the type of insulation used. It also considers the underlying structure of the wall and its acoustic performance, as well as the likely behaviour of the cladding system in a fire and how the structure and acoustics of the building might react to a fire, including the impact on occupant safety and evacuation plans.

The guidance is aimed primarily at existing multistorey, multi-occupied residential buildings but can be applied to other types of building where the risk posed by the construction and cladding of the external walls is comparable to that of purpose-built block of flats in terms of general fire strategy, means of escape design and evacuation strategies. These include student accommodation, sheltered and specialised housing as well as buildings converted into flats. The guidance can also be used to assess the cladding of buildings in Scotland and Northern Ireland where appropriate, although local standards must be considered when applying it.

However, the PAS9980 guidance does not mean that a FRAEW will not need to be undertaken or that an EWS1 form cannot still be requested. This is because an EWS1 survey is for valuation purposes and focuses on the risks to property. As a result, it requires valuers to investigate the external walls to ensure they comply with the Building Regulations and are safe for occupation by leaseholders. It also asks them to consider the risk of fire damage to any properties in the block and the potential impact on insurance policies.

It’s hoped that mortgage providers will begin to avoid requesting EWS1 forms for buildings that have been deemed to pose low or acceptable risks using the PAS9980 fire risk asssessment. This would free up valuable time and resources for other work such as assessing the quality of construction, preparing repairs plans and undertaking remediation works where needed.

However, if a FRAEW is required for a specific building it’s important that it’s undertaken by a competent surveyor who understands the guidelines. This includes qualified chartered building surveyors and registered fire engineers, as well as being aware of the implications for the building’s insurers. Sadly, we have seen too many unqualified people sign off EWS1 forms which has led to delays and problems for lenders.