Covid-19 Client Update June

The new “Normal”

Prior to the start of the Coronavirus crisis, QuestGates had invested heavily in its digital capability and telephony. As such, 55% of our staff were already home working so when lockdown was announced it was relatively straightforward for us to move to full home working without any impact on our service. At the same time, we were already trialling QUBEXpert, our remote video capability. This has enabled us to inspect damage without visiting if required, although in accordance with government guidelines we have continued to make physical visits where appropriate.

However, earlier last month it was rumoured that the government would shortly be announcing that some employees could return to working from offices.  In advance of any announcement, we decided to survey our staff to ascertain their attitude to this with the results revealing some interesting outcomes, which have influenced our Coronavirus Crisis Management Team’s short and long term plans.

89 % of staff advised that even if the lockdown restrictions were removed, they would not want or feel safe to return to an office-based role.  However, 76 % also advised that even if a vaccine were to be found and the crisis ended, they would prefer to continue to work from home.  Amongst all categories comments were made that they missed interaction with colleagues and would still like to have access to and be able to work from an office, possibly on a rota basis.

In the event the announcement was that only essential workers who can’t work from home should return and we have, to date, not reopened offices.  However please see the end section of this update for details of our plans in this regard.

Claims issues arising due to Coronavirus

Whilst the volume of new claims is still much lower than we would normally expect to see at this time of year, the easing of lockdown and the effect that this has had on daily life generally, has given rise to higher numbers of new types of claim. The team at QuestGates continue to respect Government guidance on safe distancing when conducting site meetings and we thought we would share some of the experiences that we have had over the last couple of weeks.

Forestry Fires

As has been reported over the last few days, the easing of lockdown, coupled with the sunniest May on record, has brought the public out in droves.  Unfortunately barbeques, discarded cigarettes and litter can all be the catalyst for devastation in this unusually dry weather.

There have been several wildfires recorded throughout the UK and Ireland recently and the QuestGates Agriculture and Forestry team has been instructed on fire claims with causes ranging from deliberate burning of vegetation/heather such as muirburning (to promote new growth) and arson through to sparks from passing vehicles and even refracted light through broken glass.  The location of fires ranges from the Scottish Highlands to the Republic of Ireland, Wales and areas of forestry damage on individual properties range from 1.6 to 40 hectares.

The weather conditions this Spring have been ideal for wildfires with a “blocking” high pressure from the east resulting in a lack of rainfall.  This long warm dry spell has restricted new growth and led to dry vegetation and a resultant increase in tinder.  With a breeze behind it, a wildfire can spread rapidly over a wide area in a relatively short space of time.  One wildfire in Dumfries and Galloway in late April this year burned approximately 1,500 hectares of moorland, grass and forestry.  For reference a hectare is roughly the size of a large football pitch.

Loss of Rent Claims

Our Technical Director, Ross Macpherson, has drafted a Bulletin on Business Interruption (BI) and Loss of Rent (LOR) claims as a result of the COVID outbreak for the CILA Claims Management Special Interest Group (SIG).

The paper particularly focuses on loss of rent claims and reminds claims handlers to ensure that any financial loss being claimed is irrecoverable rather than deferred, to check on the provisions of the cessor of rent clauses in leases (which usually require the subject building to be damaged by an insured risk and thus unlikely to include a virus) and to carefully study the policy wording.

Whilst traditional covers require physical damage, some do have Notifiable Disease or Competent Authorities extensions and there are different periods of cover, some cutting off when the property is habitable / capable of being occupied and others when matters return to normal, which would allow an additional period to find a new tenant. All claims written on Lloyds policies should be CAT coded CORO for bordereau reporting purposes.

Environmental

Our Environmental division has seen a rise in the number of claims resulting from fuel deliveries where occupiers are taking advance of the low price of fuel oils.  Typical scenarios are tank over-fills and leaking apparatus allegedly damaged by fuel delivery drives.  There has also been an increased number cases involving leaks from plastic  oil storage tanks following the introduction of consignment of fuel, the additional weight and pressure from which has acted as the final straw in causing an ageing single skinned tank to fail.

QuestGates has maintained close liaison with suppliers, issuing appropriate correspondence demonstrating the essential and urgent nature of the works.  In the case of Northern Ireland where we deal with a large number of oil spillage incidents at domestic properties, we were able to lobby government resulting in oil spill remediation services being classified as “priority services”, thus enabling our panel specialists to continue with works and us to get customers back in their homes as quickly as possible.

Fraud

In these unprecedented times it is difficult to predict whether there will be a significant increase in fraudulent property claims; the lockdown has seen an understandable decrease in household thefts, motor claims and liability claims which all historically have involved a fair share of fraud.

Action Fraud has seen a huge increase in the reporting of:

  • Online Shopping Fraud

  • Lender Loan Fraud

  • Mandate Fraud

  • Computer Software Service Fraud

  • Investment and Pension Fraud

Historically there is nearly always an increase in fraud during economic downturn and we can only assume this current situation will be no different. Until now fraudulent claims have generally been driven by need and greed whereas COVID-19 will now give rise to a new type of fraudster, one who is deemed to be desperate.

For many businesses, their insurance does not provide cover for COVID-19. We are therefore alert to the possibility of staged incidents that will allow BI cover to engage. In addition to the standard review of exaggerated claims, our SIU are also undertaking the following:

  • How has the business been affected by the lockdown – closed/open

  • Full review of non-COVID-19 claims. Has the loss occurred at a “very convenient” time?

  • If a non-COVID-19 claim, did the insured contact insurers/brokers in weeks before the loss

  • Background checks may need to be undertaken to fully assess financials/trading history

Of course, the vast majority of claims are genuine, but these are unusual times for the insurance industry and the potential desperation of some policyholders is a serious concern. As always, we need to be vigilant to stay ahead of the fraudster.

QuestGates has maintained close liaison with suppliers, issuing appropriate correspondence demonstrating the essential and urgent nature of the works.  In the case of Northern Ireland where we deal with a large number of oil spillage incidents at domestic properties, we were able to lobby government resulting in oil spill remediation services being classified as “priority services”, thus enabling our panel specialists to continue with works and us to get customers back in their homes as quickly as possible.

Supporting Suppliers

At the outset of this crisis we recognised the need for our suppliers to be able to maintain their services and our Surveying Services division intimated a crisis plan to support this. This always ensured that we knew which suppliers were still able to work, to what extent and importantly that none were adversely affected financially. Vital to this was credit control and it was pleasing to hear in a recent industry webinar that whilst large volumes of outstanding debt is a major industry issue, all the contractors involved advised that this did not involve QuestGates.

Whilst QuestGates considers the provision of a supply chain to be necessary only as a settlement option, not as an income stream, as we come out of lockdown the ability of our contractors to respond will be vital. This will be particularly relevant in respect of those outstanding flood claims where repairs had not been completed prior to lockdown – in these cases we have been liaising with customers throughout and it is encouraging that the reinstatement of damaged properties is beginning to gather momentum again.

The Future Workplace

Following the recent UK government announcement, which set out its conditional plan for some organisations and businesses to begin a phased return to work from the current COVID-19 lockdown, it is important that we all prepare for a careful and considered return to our usual place of work at the appropriate time.

Having given due consideration to the results of our staff survey and having been able to work “normally” during lockdown, we are now testing our plan for a full return to BAU in due course. The need for this to be done is evidenced by the fact that we are already seeing a small increase in new claim volumes in some areas and a substantial increase in the ability to undertake physical visits.

However, we expect to open our major administration centres with a skeleton staff in the short term and longer term we anticipate that offices will provide a base to support employee choice, which we believe will give greater flexibility and improved productivity. However, to achieve this we may also need to make changes to both our HR and management structures and a review in this regard is underway.