Insurance for use of heat (you probably haven't actually got any)

Discussion in 'Plumbers' Talk' started by Joe the Plumber, Aug 13, 2011.

  1. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    I apologise for the length of this message, but I hope it will be of interest to  you.

    I'm a one man band, self-employed plumber. I've  been insured for Public Liability via the CIPHE?s recommended scheme ever since I joined the Institute back in 2003. I did once have a year  out with a cheaper scheme but realised I didn't trust them to provide adequate  cover and came back the next year. So far, I've never had to claim, but I've  been reassured that they're there if I need them.

    My brother-in-law (not  a CIPHE) member) has been working in property maintenance for 20 years and has  built up an excellent reputation in his village and beyond, to the point that he  doesn't need to advertise any longer. He's no cowboy, has always made sure he  has proper PLI (I don't know who with) and does his best to work safely whatever  he does. As far as I know, he'd never had to claim on his insurance as the  result of his work.

    Back in April, on the hottest day of the year so far,  he was working at a bungalow on a flat roofed extension, torching some new felt  on, and had a small fire. Luckily, he was able to put it out within a few  seconds. He double checked it was out and carried on, happy that he'd got a  couple of buckets of water to hand and an extinguisher in his van a few yards  away.

    Twenty minutes later, another fire appeared some way away from the  earlier one and adjoining the main pitched roof of the bungalow. Despite his  best efforts, it quickly engulfed the main roof leading to the fire brigade  having to come out and the house was left uninhabitable.

    It's obviously  all our worst nightmares, but it then got worse. On contacting his insurers,  they sent an assessor out who eventually declared that he wasn't covered because  he hadn't followed all the precautions laid out in his policy document.

    A  couple of weeks ago, he was presented with a bill for £190,000 (a hundred and  ninety thousand pounds). His case goes to the ombudsman later this month and if  he loses, he will lose his house, his business and everything he owns. He's 57  years old and was winding down towards retirement.

    How this will end up  for him, and all our immediate family if he loses I've no idea, but as a result  of his disaster, I?ve now looked closely at the 'Exclusions' section of my own  PLI document relating to the use of heat away from my business premises.To comply with the requirements for lighting my  blowtorch in most situations I can think of would be almost impossible.  Fundamentally, although my PLI is supposed to cover me for the use of heat, I  don't believe it does. Have a look at your own exclusions and conditions and see if you always comply with every one of them.

    For example, how many tradesmen could say that they always have  signed permission from the occupier of the property they are working on to use  heat? Or have suitable fire extinguishers in the right quantities to hand to  fight any possible fire. Or that they remain on the premises for an hour after they've turned the torch off to check that there is no fire, etc, etc.

    This  to me is now very frightening. We think we're covered, but we're not. The  conditions imposed are all very sensible in theory, but in reality don't allow  us to do our jobs. I've no idea of the way round this either. Are we in fact  being mis-sold the cover (by any insurer) as it doesn't actually offer  any?

    For anyone who has the same thing happen, all I can offer is to  remember the assessor from your insurers is there purely to find a way to avoid  them having to pay for the damage and is certainly NOT on your side. Think  before you speak. That was my brother-in-law's first mistake - he thought the  chap was working to help him, and he wasn't.

    In hindsight, of course he  would have been more careful, but it was a job he'd done dozens of times before  and had no reason to think it was any more likely to go wrong this time. I  appreciate complacency is very dangerous, but my main concern is that PLI  doesn't actually cover you for fire.

    I?m sure that there are  thousands of responsible tradesmen who are working with heat every day, assuming  they are insured, when in fact they aren?t.

    I?d be most grateful for any  thoughts you can offer about this, and if you have encountered anyone who has  been in the same position as my poor brother-in-law and could offer any advice  to help him that would obviously be much appreciated too.

    Thanks folks.
  2. G Brown

    G Brown New Member

    He is in the CIPHE but he is doing felt roofing? Uh?

    Is he a plumber or is he a felt roofer? Different trades need different insurance.

    If he was insured as a plumber and the incident was cased when doing felt roofing of course he would not be insured.

    ALWAYS read the small print of your policy.
  3. snezza31

    snezza31 New Member

    Joe the Plumber,
    Very sorry to hear about your brother in laws situation! I am sure that a lot of tradesman out there feel it is a situation that a lot of them could have been in but for the grace of God !!!!!!!
    I did look at my own policy details at the inception of the policy a few years ago. I did have a bit of a surprise when i studied the crteria that i had to meet, but have made that i have done so ever since. As I fit Kitchens and Bathrooms for a living, the amount of plumbing/soldering that i have to do is small in the big scheme of a kitchen or bathroom.

    However, I think this is probably reflected in my premium and the safety aspects that are mentioned in the policy document itself.(fire extinguisher, bucket of water, not leaving within 1 hour of soldering work etc). I always make sure that i am still on-site for an hour after soldering by doing that work earlier in the day. As for getting permission from the householder to do this kind of work, by them signing a contract for you to do the work that you have described to them in your quote, they have accepted the "danger" of the use of a naked flame.

    I am afraid I cant give any advice as to what he should do, other than appeal to the insurance ombudsmen.

    Hope everything works out for the best!

  4. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    Thank you Snezza31. I'm trying to make certain I do as little soldering as possible now, but of course sometimes it's impossible to avoid it. I just hope the ombudsman is sympathetic. We should know in a couple of weeks time.

    Mr Brown, all your comments would be correct if my brother-in-law was a CIPHE member. But although I appreciate you taking the time to reply, you've not read my original post properly.

    However, regardless of what trade he is, I still maintain that the conditions imposed by any insurers for the use of heat are so prohibitive as to make it almost impossible to comply with them.
  5. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    Does anyone else have any thoughts about this please.


  6. audi-evo

    audi-evo Active Member

    yes, you need to go,
    If you are worried and want to seperate/safeguard your personal life from such worries.
    Then they can bankrupt your ltd. firm but not touch your personal *

    Message was edited by: Screwfix Moderator
  7. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    Thanks, I must admit, that's one thing I have been intending to look into for ages. I think I'd better do
    so sooner rather than later now.
  8. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    Just in case anyone finds my ancient thread, I felt I ought to update it with the outcome.

    After two years of wrangling, including my brother-in-law spending a fortune on (completely useless) solicitors, going to the financial services ombudsman
    (who was very sympathetic, but ruled against him anyway) and eventually having nowhere else to turn, the householder's insurers thankfully accepted his offer of all his remaining life savings (just under £11,000) in payment for his accident.

    Both of us became Limited Companies later in 2011 and have found insurers with conditions for the use of heat in their policies that it's possible to actually comply with.

    If you're insured to use naked flames, I'd still stress that you must read the policy very carefully and comply with it fully every time you light one.

    It's easy to become a limited company and as a bonus, you pay your (Corporation) Tax in arrears rather than on account. I'd recommend all tradesmen do it. You will also need to employ an accountant though.

    I hope this is of interest.
    seen it all before likes this.
  9. jimoz

    jimoz Active Member

    So did his insurance cover the 190k less the 11k he gave them?
    Surely he had more to his name than 11k or was it all spent on solicitors? Did he have to liquidate his house?
  10. ramseyman

    ramseyman Active Member

    I am not a solicitor but believe from experience of contract law that the clause referred to must constitute an unfair contract term in that it is as Joe says something virtually impossible to comply with from a practical and financial perspective in undertaking the trade in question. I'm surprised a decent solicitor wasn't able to win that argument.
  11. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    His insurers didn't pay anything as he hadn't complied with all the conditions in his policy. The bulk of his savings went on the solicitors he employed, who were frankly disgraceful. We still don't know why the householder's insurers accepted just his remaining savings and didn't go after his house, but they spent several months looking in detail at his finances and must have decided the 11k was all they could realistically get. He was really very lucky indeed.

    Please have a good look at your insurance's clauses before you light a flame on any job.
    DIY womble likes this.
  12. DIY womble

    DIY womble Well-Known Member

    A rare long term update , nice of you , hope your brother in law Is ok
  13. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    Thanks, yes he's got over it now (it was actually resolved during 2013) and has worked again several times for the same customer.
    Vin and DIY womble like this.
  14. Joe the Plumber

    Joe the Plumber Well-Known Member

    Bounced back up for Tony Goddard. I hope it's of interest.
  15. retroJohnny

    retroJohnny New Member

    If the solicitors agreed to only take his last 11 instead of 190 grand I'm guessing they didn't think they had a good chance of winning the case or they would have pushed it all the way

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