Joint scheme gives individual PI insurance for inspections

Surveyors desperately seeking professional indemnity (PI) cover for asbestos inspections are being thrown a lifeline by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The RICS is joining forces with the Asbestos Removal Contractors Association (ARCA) to set up a scheme providing individual PI cover for asbestos inspection work.

The scheme will be welcomed by surveyors, many of whom feared they would be unable to obtain any PI cover for asbestos-related work.

New regulations require all commercial buildings to be inspected for the presence of asbestos by May 2004, but lawyers have warned that there is no appetite for the relevant PI cover in the market.

Beachcroft Wansbroughs professional risks division partner Paul Redfern said: "Specialist asbestos surveying is not an attractive business. It is a small specialist area where the amount of premium will not be sufficient to cover any major claim the insurer may receive. One claim could wipe out the premium income in one go.

"The government has to get to grips with the practicalities of its new legislation."

Under the new scheme, which will be accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS), surveyors will have standard documents for appointment as an inspector, as well as standard reporting forms.

An RICS spokesman said: "The RICS and ARCA accredited scheme will ensure there is adequate insurance cover for those in construction and property who wish to become involved in the identification and removal of asbestos."

The spokesman would not confirm which insurers would be backing the scheme, but he said negotiations were currently taking place and were "looking good" for an imminent launch.

The RICS hopes to have the scheme up and running this autumn. Around 300 surveyors have already signed up to it.

As part of the scheme, the RICS is aiming to make a 37-hour course available to surveyors who want to train as asbestos inspectors.

The training will be available in a variety of formats, including day release and one-week intensive courses.

Surveyors have been warned that their PI premiums could be set to rise further after research carried out by the RICS concluded that toxic mould could be present in around 25% of UK properties.

Experts say surveyors could be sued for diminution of value if they fail to detect the harmful contaminants associated with toxic mould.