Ask the experts
18th April 2023Tweet
The benefits of involving experts at an early stage in subsidence claims was underpinned during a panel discussion at the ILC Subsidence Claims specialist event headline sponsored by Optera Structural Solutions.
Among the key issues addressed was the sometimes complicated involvement of third parties during a claim, such as local authorities, especially when claims are more complex or out of the norm.
Councils are sometimes considered to be slow-moving and obdurate when it comes to assisting insurers manage subsidence claims, however, Naomi Bailey, Public Services Segment Manager, Zurich, suggested that greater understanding and communication from both sides could streamline the process.
She said, “I used to work in the insurance department of a local authority so I appreciate they must answer to tax payers and spend their money wisely. No one wants to be dragging their heels, but when councils are presented with a subsidence claim they have to investigate it fully, which can take time.”
Naomi added that councils face the added challenge of working towards net zero – “Making the local environment greener is a big priority now,” she said – while smaller budgets mean they have to be certain that any work undertaken is, first, necessary and, second, the right kind of work.
“A lot of the costs of subsidence claims are not covered by insurance,” she continued, “such as mitigation measures, a tree officer’s time investigating the claim, or anyone else’s time. That is all paid by the tax payer. So having the information at the earliest stage really helps councils ensure that they’re spending the right amount on the right issues.”
Perhaps the most contentious and reccurring issue surrounds the removal of trees. In light of new environmental targets, removing trees is now considered a last resort by many with the argument that leaving the tree in place can create a greater long-term carbon footprint not always heard.
Joining Naomi on stage was Sarah Dodd, Director of the Subsidence Forum and Treelaw.
She said, “Subsidence is inextricably linked to climate change. There are situations where a tree should be removed but there are also many others where a tree definitely shouldn’t be removed because the damage it’s causing is minor and the tree has lots of value.
“I don’t know of any specific calculations around the carbon value of the tree compared to the work that’s going to be done on site. In some cases, it may be far more carbon effective to remove the tree than do the underpinning work, but that said, there is a lot of innovation in terms of substructure repairs and driving down the carbon intensity of concrete.”
She said that as part of the Subsidence Forum she has been working to involve councils far more in the subsidence claims argument and develop a better understanding of the process, but admits that a ‘them and us’ mentality makes collaboration between local authorities and insurers difficult.
“It is still an adversarial process,” she said. “We need more mediation, communication and collaboration at an earlier stage and joint site visits could be one way to achieve that.”
The stumbling block is not always the removal of trees, though. Listed buildings can add another layer of complexity to the claim and in some cases repairs have be halted by councils who do not consider the work appropriate.
Once repairs are stopped it can be an arduous process to restart them, with costs rising throughout the delay.
David Kitching, Managing Director, Stress UK, said, “It is more expensive to carry out work to listed buildings so perhaps their premiums should be higher. That might elevate them into a specialist category and smooth things out, but insurers don’t always know the policy is for a listed building.”
He said that establishing if the property is a listed building or not must be the first step and, if it is, the second step should be getting a conservation officer to visit the site and establish immediately what work can and can’t be undertaken.
“But this is true for all complex claims,” he pointed out. “If you think there could be something unusual about it, get an expert in first before work begins.”