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Published 29 January 2019
DAC Beachcroft Subsidence expert Sarah Dodd answers a few questions in light of the recent surge of claims following the UK’s record-breaking heat of the summer of 2018. Whilst DAC Beachcroft deal with both Claimant and Defendant subsidence matters, this interview contains our observations from the householder (Claimant) point of view.
What is subsidence?
Subsidence is the vertical downward movement of a building foundation caused by loss of support of the site beneath the foundations. DAC Beachcroft have an expert subsidence team based across our nationwide offices which deal with both the Claimant side of claims for household insurance companies and the defence of liability claims for local authorities.
What makes subsidence claims different from other types of claims?
Subsidence claims are different from claims arising from other insured perils as they tend to take longer to resolve. Investigations often include monitoring of the property which has to be carried out over a period of months to demonstrate the seasonal effect of tree roots on the movement of the insured property. This can mean that there is a period of time before a conclusion can be reached as to the cause of damage. Following investigations, if the movement is found to have been caused by a tree owned by a third party then there can be a further period of time during which the third party is approached and asked to carry out works to their trees to stop ongoing movement. It is only once those attempts to secure tree works have been concluded that repair works to the insured property can get underway. If attempts to get tree works carried out fail, underpinning the property to effect its stability might be necessary. That work can require the insured to move out the property whilst the works are carried out.
Has there been an increase in subsidence cases following the hot summer we had in 2018?
Insurers have reported to the press around a ten-fold increase in subsidence claims being made over summer/autumn 2018. Those increased numbers look set to continue for the next few months at least.
What advice would you give to anyone who is going through a subsidence claim at the moment
If property owners have any concerns about cracking which might have appeared over the summer then insurers should be notified as soon as possible. The insurance company will appoint subsidence specialists to investigate whether the property is suffering from subsidence damage and, if so, will work to stop the cause of the ongoing movement and carry out appropriate repair works. Of course the best way to deal with a subsidence claim is to avoid subsidence damage before it occurs. The most common causes of subsidence are leaking drains and tree roots. Property owners should ensure that drains are regularly serviced and vegetation is maintained at a suitable size. Both may require professional advice from a drain expert and a arboriculturalist. Subsidence tends to be noticed in areas of weakness around a property, such as around windows and doors. If windows or doors start to ‘stick’ then it is worth investigating further, before cracks appear.
Does global warming mean there are likely to be more claims in the future?
It certainly seems that we may be facing a future with an increase in extremes of weather, whether that results in an increase in hot dry summers is yet to be seen. However there is a focus on how far the law is willing to make a third party liable for natural events such as subsidence and flooding. Recent case law in the area of flooding addresses how the law is dealing with the concept of ‘duty of care’ of third parties to prevent damage from extreme weather. I anticipate that there will be an increasing need for the Court to address these issues into the future.
What use can insurers make of AI to help speed up the handling of their subsidence claims?
Where insurance claims rise exponentially as a result of a natural event, such as a subsidence surge year, insurers will want to utilise as many efficiencies as possible to effectively deal with the influx of claims whilst ensuring a positive customer journey for their insured. The increase in opportunities which AI is providing will certainly assist insurers in dealing with these ‘spikes’ in claims in the future whether that be in investigating claims or predicting claims before they occur. Collaboration with intelligence from weather agencies can allow insurers to predict the likelihood of a subsidence surge event and, comparing this data with data held by insurers from previous surge events, can allow a prediction of likely claims numbers.
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