It is early days for the British Damage Management Association. Will it become a major organisation like the ABI, a powerful lobby and research centre? Will it become as respected as the CII in setting professional and educational standards? Or will it become marginalised by events, torn apart by rival factions? Only time will tell.

But, so far so good. Already nearly 20 of the major companies in the £1 billion disaster recovery industry have signed up.

All the major chartered loss adjusters bar one came to the inaugural meeting on August 4 and there has been active support from the Norwich Union, the CGU, Prudential, Abbey National and Royal & SunAlliance as well as several of the major mortgage lenders.

At the centre of this new organisation is its chairman, Jeff Charlton, who is also technical director of Restorex.

Gulf War
He came into the business via building and renovation and enjoyed a stint in Kuwait in the big clean-up following the Gulf War.

It was there he became aware of the standards set by the US property restoration industry.

"I always wanted to be the best, the more qualified we became and the better equipment we used the more it angered me that others less qualified with poorly-trained staff could pull the wool over many insurers' eyes.

"In recent years, as this business became more professional and more competitive so others were beginning to share my concerns.

"Some of us were members of the US Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification which has 16,000 members and sets the worldwide standards in education and protocol in this industry.

"The real catalyst came earlier this year when several major insurance companies approached us with a call to action."

The problem for insurers has been that there are a number of qualifications in the industry but they are not sure what they all mean.

Most people in business requiring financial advice seek the services of a chartered or certified accountant because they know that someone holding this qualification has achieved a certain level of knowledge. But, when a person's assets are damaged, the general public has no way of knowing whether the person trusted to restore that property has the right skills.

One insurer summed up the problem by saying: "It is my view that the industry would benefit from having one body, responsible for setting standards."

Therefore, a series of meetings, seminars and conferences was set in chain which led to the formation of the BDMA earlier this year.

A question of trust
One reason why the highly-competitive franchises and majors in this industry rallied to Jeff Charlton was his experience.

The many papers he has written and the qualifications he has gained make him known and respected. And the fact that Restorex is not one of the major national chains gave the larger companies confidence that this trade association was not just a front for one of their rivals.

"The more we get into this the more we realise that the insurance industry doesn't just want us – it needs us," says Charlton.

"Companies are legally required to assess the competence of the contractors they use.

"In an area of increasingly complex technology and chemical applications we can give the insurance industry the confidence it must have in a litigious world.

"But we cannot do this on our own. If we as contractors set up our own standards without sufficient input from the insurers then we may go overboard. We must get the balance right, we really do need more input from the insurance companies.

"Although I did pick up the ball and run this has to be a team game with contractors, loss adjusters, claims handlers and insurers all co-operating to make it work.

"Our committees are already talking to the NVQ people about industry recognised qualifications.

"The Health and Safety Executive has become very interested in this, until now unregulated industry and so unless we want suffocating legislation, the BDMA has to be the way forward.

Spotting the cowboys
"We can tell who the cowboys are, who is just talking the talk, and the good guys who have invested in training and technology.

"It will not be enough to stand up and say we employed someone because they represented value for money. With the support of insurance companies and loss adjusters the BDMA can become both the benchmark and the police of the damage restoration industry. If we fail some other organisation will have to be created."