Three million homeowners are currently unable to sell their properties as they do not have an external wall system (EWS) certificate verifying the fire resilience of their properties. This is grossly unfair and suggests government policy is ineffective.
At the root of the problem is the question: to what extent is homeowner safety the government’s domain?
As with government policy on issues such as mandatory bicycle helmets or seat belts, there is a fine balance between practicality and risk-aversion. Policymakers could easily reduce traffic accidents to zero by reducing the speed limit to 1mph, but that is impractical. The same applies in the property market.
As a possible solution, policymakers could ease the multifaceted property bottleneck by devolving the property market and delegating a greater number of building decisions to homeowners and the private sector. If fire safety is a spectrum with no absolute way of guaranteeing complete security, policymakers could take a soothing approach and decentralise building approvals, not only for fire-cladding but for other issues as well.
In the short term, private-sector fire-safety assessments could be legalised to expedite property valuations and sales. Longer-term, authorities could conduct a thorough review of what the ultimate role of government is (and should be) when it comes to property transactions.
The government’s involvement in private-sector enterprise should be minimal, rather than systemic.
At the very least, policymakers must support property owners that have become stuck in the bureaucratic cracks of evolving government policy. As an ideal and complete solution, policymakers should empower homeowners to take on greater personal responsibility for their property. This means delegating more decision-making to homeowners, and in parallel, homeowners becoming better informed about the issues affecting the most valuable asset in their portfolio – so they can take pre-emptive action before it is too late.
Sanjeev Patel is managing director at PPP Capital