RIBA: Building Knowledge - Follow us on Twitter LinkedIn

Consistent Condition Assessments

Executive Summary

This paper is about seeking clarity and consistency in defining the condition of college estates.

It underlines the importance of collating reliable data on the condition of the college estate, allowing the data to be analysed and compiled to both form a national picture and a benchmark for individual colleges.

After re-stating the commonly accepted condition categories used in the FE sector, it expands on the categories and offers some testing questions to assist in applying the categories consistently.

The appendices provide case study examples, and advice on commissioning surveys.




All owners and managers of public sector property have a responsibility to understand the condition of their property assets and to maintain them suitably in support of their organisation’s strategic aims. Colleges are no exception, and their estates managers will undoubtedly appreciate the need to have an accurate understanding of the condition of their estate.

Many colleges have retained professionals to assist in producing condition surveys, and such documents are important tools in both strategic estates planning, and planning repairs, maintenance and upgrades. But property changes frequently, as new buildings are brought forward, older properties are decommissioned, and as time and wear and tear impact on the wider estate. Consequently the overall condition picture of the national estate evolves constantly.

It is therefore important, given the varied and sometimes complex nature of their estate, that colleges asses and describe the condition of their estate in a manner that is both clearly understood by all involved, and consistently applied.

Only this clear and consistent application will allow colleges to understand their estates relative to other colleges, and the Skills funding Agency (SFA) and other local and national bodies to accurately interpret the needs of the sector as a whole.

The consistent statement of condition assessments is therefore the purpose of this paper.


Condition Assessments in the FE Sector

When Colleges were incorporated in 1993 they assumed a responsibility to sustain asset values on behalf of the public estate/purse. With guidance from the FEFC, LSC and now the SFA/EFA, colleges have adopted a variety of good practices in estates and property management.

Many colleges have become used to regularly conducting condition surveys, often on a quinquennial basis, in order to have a detailed understanding of their asset values and their maintenance liabilities over a planned period. This information feeds into a college’s property strategy, and guides option appraisals on how physical assets will be utilised in support of a college’s core business.

At the same time data on the overall condition of the national estate is a key input in determining the needs of the sector, and provides background against which colleges can assess their individual estates.  To assist the sector, the SFA and its predecessors have sponsored the eMandate programme, a sector wide benchmarking exercise, based on data advanced by colleges.

Colleges make returns to eMandate about their estate and its condition. These returns allow colleges to benchmark the quality of their estate in comparison to others, using widely understood condition categories. The data also enables the SFA to build a picture of the overall condition of the national estate, and its funding needs.

Given that the eMandate programme has been in existence since 2006, and is set to continue for the time being, there is little to be gained by re-inventing condition categories, and much sense in using the eMandate definitions that are already well understood.


eMandate Categories

The eMandate service was established to promote better estates data management and active participation is being promoted across all colleges, to provide the sector and all colleges with access to a unique and valuable resource.

The key element of any eMandate return has been that of building condition. Colleges are invited to submit data based on their own assessment of their estate using the following category definitions

A – As New.  Maintained and serviced to ensure fabric and building services replicate conditions at installation. No structural, building envelope, building services or statutory compliance issues apparent. No impacts upon operation of the building.

B – Sound.  Maintenance will have been carried out and only minor deterioration to internal/external finishes. Few structural, building envelope, building services or statutory compliance issues are apparent, and such issues are likely to have only minimal impact upon the operation of the building.

C – Operational.  Requiring replacement of building elements or services elements in the short to medium term. Several structural, building envelope, building services or statutory compliance issues are apparent, or one particularly significant issue apparent.  Often includes identified problems with the building envelope ( windows, roofs etc ), building services ( boilers, chillers etc ). Likely to have a major impact upon the operation of the building, but still allows it to be operative.

D – Inoperable.  Building is inoperable, or likely to become inoperable, due to statutory compliance issues or condition representing a health and safety risk or breach. There may be structural, building envelope, or building services problems coupled with compliance issues. The conditions are expected to curtail normal operations within the building.

Applying the Definitions

It is important that colleges accurately categorize their estates using the definitions above, and in a consistent manner. Without a consistent application of the categories the data becomes less reliable and useful, both to individual colleges seeking a benchmark, and to the SFA and sector as a whole.

In any exercise of categorisation there will be difficulties around the boundaries.  No doubt there will be occasions when there is uncertainty about whether a building element or item of plant is borderline A or B, B or C etc. Therefore in making a condition grade assessment there are non-condition related considerations which should influence the assessment.

In forming their decisions colleges might wish to consider certain questions, and the intent of the categories outlined above. For example

  • Has a professional building surveyor, experienced in FE college work, undertaken the assessments?
  • How up to date is the survey, i.e. does it accurately reflect the current status of the estate?
  • Have any major changes taken place since the survey or most recent update e.g. alterations or refurbishments?
  • Has your surveyor provided sufficiently detailed costs to properly inform decision making?
  • Has the assessment focused on the condition of the building and its ability to meet the appropriate regulations, as opposed to its suitability for modern educational needs, which is a separate issue?
  • Have energy and consumption issues been considered? For example, whilst a piece of plant such as a boiler may be operating correctly, would it be more cost effective to replace it from the saving attained from reduced energy consumption?
  • Is the property compliant with the latest statutory obligations. For example, is there an adequate and well maintained accessibility strategy in place for each building block and the site as a whole, complying with the Equality Act 2010? Or is there an accurate and regularly updated fire risk assessment for the estate compliant with the requirements of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005?
  • Has the disruption of returning the building to a satisfactory condition been explored?

It may also be useful to consider further the definition of each of the categories

A – As New.   To qualify for this category the building must be performing as intended, and operating efficiently. The cost of maintenance should be low, and the college should be able to anticipate a long life for the building with routine planned maintenance only

B – Sound. The building can be considered satisfactory, performing as intended but requiring non-routine minor repairs or improvements. The cost of such repairs should be appropriate, and the disruption involved reasonable.

C – Operational.  Such a building will be in relatively poor condition, and exhibiting various defects, each of which might not be significant in its-self but which together need remedial action in the near future. The cost or repairs or upgrade may well be a step higher than in category B. Disruption involved may be extensive.

D – Inoperable.  Such a building may be at, or close to, the end of its useful life. It may well exhibit major deterioration in key elements of the fabric or services, which may also be beyond reasonable repair costs. It may be at serious risk of imminent breakdown, or of failing to meet regulatory or health and safety guidance. It would normally have exceptionally high repair or running costs.

  • Having considered the above it clearly remains the responsibility of each college to
  • Undertake condition surveys regularly and update them as necessary.
  • Have a robust understanding of its estate condition and liabilities
  • to understand the eMandate categories
  • Apply the eMandate categories consistently in every submission
  • to have data to support these decisions if necessary.
  • Seek professional advice where appropriate



This paper has focused upon the importance of a full understanding of the condition of a college’s estate, and the consistent categorisation of such data.

Clearly condition surveys contain important information for colleges in terms of their maintenance policy, estates spending, and their property strategy. These issues also arise in other papers in this best practice series,