NACE continue to be assured, through first-hand experience, that the insurance industry do their very best for their policy holders and in most instances this may be true, however, there are times when this mantra tends to get a little lost in translation in particular when policy holders are asked when renewing their house/contents insurance to agree to changes and/or demands to their policy.

Over the past twelve months we have noticed an unhealthy increase in what appears to be unfair and disproportionate pressure placed upon the domestic home owner by their respective insurance broker or underwriter to confirm their combustion appliances be they wood, coal or gas as well as the chimneys and flue systems that serve them are fit-for-the purpose and that these meet minimum safety, regulatory and statutory compliance notwithstanding policy holder installations and fuel source do not represent a fire risk or a smoke nuisance. Although well intentioned, these demands and policy changes do not appear to be founded on any established, technically competent criteria and/or principal and are at best somewhat speculative with regard to who undertakes this level of potential ‘life changing’ work or their competence to do.

More often than not, insurer driven policy change occurs on nothing more than an assumption and regularly based upon unreasonable caveats that simply cannot be substantiated, are incompetently interpreted, difficult or near impossible to meet and will inevitably attract the unverified and unregulated self-employed service provider. There isn’t to our knowledge any independent review of third party workmanship or completion status, it is merely assumed that such work is correct until of course it is found otherwise as is often the case.

With some policy dictates and demands ranging from unsubstantiated change to outright warning the policy holder is left having to accept unregulated and unaccountable industry service providers without first questioning the reasons for doing so or if they have a choice in the matter. Quite simply, the home owner is under no legal obligation whatsoever to accept changes to a policy or to accept an insurance recommended third party contractor unless there is a lawful necessity to do so, having set out clearly and succinctly the reasoning behind any such demand. In other words, either a legal, statutory or regulatory instruction to comply would be sufficient enough reason for the policy holder to acquiesce to any change and/or demand, however, the insurance industry has no authority whatsoever to demand or expect that the policy holder agree with any unsubstantiated third party narrative and/or opinion on either their appliance and/or controlled service (Chimney/Flue System) unless it is expertly substantiated.

Having been involved for many years with and on behalf of both insurer (counter-claim) and claimant (claim) surrounding unqualified inspection methods, incompetence, workmanship defect and negligence, damage, loss and domestic as well as commercial smoke nuisance dispute we have found that in many cases these caveats, changes and policy related demands have been set against unregulated, misinterpreted third party narrative that were not part of any original policy agreement nor was a technically competent and/or regulatory explanation offered for such change and/or demand. Incredulously, having set out to mitigate fire risk and confirm safer chimneys, flues and appliance installation work the insurance industry have inadvertently thrown their policy holders under the preverbal incompetent Bus!

Controlled services (chimneys & flues) and controlled fittings (appliances) remain in unregulated stasis with access to technically coherent, competent and objective industry interpretation virtually impossible to locate or is this readily accessible to either the insurance industry or the policy holder, the insurance industry are to all intents and purposes therefore inclined to accept without question incorrect third party narrative irrespective from whom or were this may originate or even if such information is factually correct before willingly sharing it by way of policy changes that are expected to be readily agreed to by their policy holders.

In a complex and somewhat convoluted niche environment often grossly misunderstood and commonly identified as a one dimensional activity in a multi-dimensional environment, factually based, technically competent and knowledgeable guidance as well as objective (non-self) expert opinion from peer recognised industry specialists is virtually impossible to find within any one business or service provider, this does not bode well when the policy holder is expected to acquiesce to often poorly interpreted information whilst blindly accepting unverified insurer appointed service providers as a means of meeting repairs, alterations and/or reinstatement works.

Many established insurance providers therefore inadvertently rely upon somewhat questionable third party narrative and unverified service provider information with which to base their policy requirements on, the potential danger here is that any unsubstantiated information irrespective where and from whom it originates is a distinct risk-factor if unverified or if such information is incompetently interpreted then acted upon in good faith as verbatim guidance. In the worst case scenario this equates to not only unfair policy change and/or demand it fails to address methods of compliance and strategically, verifiable competence in the workplace.

This is somewhat hypocritical given the insurance industry have themselves little if any statutory, regulatory and/or best practice field related theory based knowledge with which to advise their policy holders or judge third party contractors ‘fit-for-the-purpose’ therefore a reliance upon unverified third parties to underpin correct procedure, minimum safety and compliance requirements appears to be the new ‘go-to’ culture. By and large, the insurance industry do not appear to share their in-house expertise with regard to trade verification or how this is achieved, this may be acceptable with regard to fence painting but not when damage, negligence, fire risk, safety and the health and the wellbeing of the building occupier maybe at risk.

Reducing fire related risk (and thus costly insurance settlement) is rightly the responsibility of the policy holder and its subsequent mitigation, however there is a certain amount of policy holder confusion with regard to how this is to be achieved given the complexity surrounding working fireplaces, stoves and chimney/flue related products, verifying their safety and operation and thus who is deemed suitably ‘fit’ to carry out this role. According to our negligence case history this would apply to any and every ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ with an opinion. A reliance upon unverified competence is now endemic across the solid fuel industry appears to be based on the usual ‘simpleton’ task of bolting together manufacturers components along with other menial related services associated with job physicality, however, employing engineering logic, expert theory or an alternative holistic approach would be a far better alternative to policy holders having to ‘put-up’ with substandard workmanship and opinion!

Of course, design factor, atmospheric and meteorological weather impact consideration, building topography, structural integrity, building fabric, consumer health and wellbeing, environmental good practice as well as fire safety risk factors have to be taken into consideration, how then is the layperson-policy holder to know they will be the recipient of compliant, competent and contractually legal as well as regulatory workmanship that does not place them at risk and impact negatively upon neighbouring properties?

Policy holders should not therefore be pressurised into accepting demands and/or changes to their home insurance cover simply based upon questionable and unverified advice by an insurance industry who simply do not understand, have no concept of or would even know how to comply with industry best practice, regulatory and/or statutory expectation. Sadly, cases of insurer appointed contractor dispute are on the increase.

It is therefore ridiculous to assume that the paying consumer/policy holder should be expected to agree to policy changes and/or demands without first having these competently explained and in detail, it would therefore appear the policy holder is expected to accept unsubstantiated changes simply because their insurer deems it a policy requirement and not because it is based upon competent and correct information.

Insurance personnel irrespective whether broker or underwriter are clearly not experts, they are not in a position to competently interpret what amounts to a complex and technically expert environment or verify the competence of those within an industry saturated with armchair ‘know-it-all’s therefore anything said or implied to a policy holder by a third party contractor and/or a service provider unless verified should, at the outset be taken with a ‘pinch-of-salt’ until expert advice can be located and if unsubstantiated it should be avoided entirely.

Interestingly, changes and demands made to a policy often originate via technically absurd, industry incompetent and at times incoherent policy related requests. These are, having read through dozens of such policy demands are apparently based upon in-house ‘cherry-picked ‘ideas given birth to by desk bound paper stackers with little imagination and even less working experience who appear ready to accept the very first utterance of advice from someone or more often an unregulated private revenue income business willing to share grossly inaccurate information.

Worryingly, the advice and recommendations presented by the insurance industry on specialist subject matters such as controlled services and controlled fittings (often incorrect and wildly inaccurate) are often poorly delivered and far from competent, in fact it beggars belief that anyone can, without the technical expertise necessary to do so advise and recommended on an obvious expert subject matter and therefore it would seem to the detriment of the policy holder and their best interests. Therefore, any unsubstantiated third party recommendations should in theory, be construed as a critical risk factor if these cannot be competently verified.

Invariably it would seem this approach and attitude is readily accepted by the policy holder often in ignorance and mostly without question. Policy holders simply do not have access to systems that would verify contractor/service provider competence and thus provide the level of comfort expected nor would they, having such access, be in any position to verify who would be best suited to carry out their project, policy holders are then left having to put up with businesses and thus workmanship in an environment completely alien to them hoping that when completed any such work is not then found to be defective, non-compliant and/or negligent.

Regrettably, and in lieu of expert interpretation and/or knowledgeable expertise it appears that the insurance industry is quick to rely upon unverified third party opinion and advice before sharing this with their policy holders and appointed contractors whose specific industry competence is rarely called into questioned or on a regular basis verified, certainly to our knowledge where the safety, health and wellbeing of the consumer is concerned. Contrary to current belief, many industry businesses, contractors and self-employed service providers who remain unaccountable are responsible for some of the shoddiest, non-compliant and potentially dangerous workmanship, given the propensity for one if not all three misfortunes to befall the policy holder the insurance industry should, as a duty of care, provide a verified register of peer recognised, elite specialists who can demonstrate a high level of consumer as well as industry competence.

Attempting to avoid a life changing event from occurring such as a house fire and thus the consequential fallout thereafter or put right one that has occurred the insurance industry should be in a position to demonstrate a competent based approach to policy holder expectation across direct and specific cross industries therefore recommend services providers that match this criteria, the responsibility of meeting any risk mitigation is to appoint peer recognised experts and not ‘hotchpotch’ unverified and unaccountable service providers.

The policy holder should not therefore be held liable for achieving risk mitigation no matter in what guise it is offered unless such information can be verified as technically competent and peer recognised. Minimising risk requires an expert based analytical approach to what is clearly a serious multi-level safety, compliance and fire related conundrum that cannot simply be dealt with or resolved by a ‘one dimensional’ service provider.

It would be prudent for the policy holder to therefore challenge robustly any unsubstantiated demand and/or change to their policy on matters relating to controlled services and/or controlled fittings, safety, compliance, installation and operation, similarly with fire risk before simply agreeing with a policy requirement if it makes little sense or cannot be competently supported. Ultimately, the insurance industry directly or indirectly have a duty of care to their respective policy holders, this must be properly and expertly executed so that consumers retain the right to expert services provided by verified and competent service providers or alternatively, given the choice to appoint their own expert.

Given the general risk to the health, safety and wellbeing of policy holders, insurance appointed service providers should provide policy holders with sufficient enough confidence they work to minimum standards of competency by providing where applicable:-

Disclosure Certification
Proof of Design and Structural building knowledge
Regulatory and Statutory knowledge
Fire Risk and Safety Assessment credentials
PL and PI Insurance cover
Complaints procedure
Contractual Agreement documentation
Refund Policy
Professional Industry Membership (not worthless attendance paperwork or membership of a private business)
Statutory Right to Cancel
Scope of Works
Method Statement
Workmanship Guarantee

Contractors recommended by the insurance industry should be independently verified competent to undertake any likely ‘life changing’ work with credentials and bona-fides corroborated and confirmed through audit trail evidence and be expected to be in possession of all of the above.

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