Our secret shopper looks into the pitfalls of insuring bouncy castles

Consider bouncy castles. They draw together a diverse mix of people all bent on releasing their inhibitions and freeing the inner child whatever their age. But, whatever you think of them, bouncy castles are tricky things to insure.

I carried out my research on the internet. Google rendered a plethora of websites and links to topics concerning this great British pastime.

One particularly helpful one was villagefetes.co.uk. As well as offering advice on business start-ups and equipment sales/hire, it outlined the types of insurance available and the terminology. There are two types of cover.

Wet hire for "operators who attend events, shows or functions where the inflatable amusements are always manned or supervised by the owner or trained staff member" and dry hire for "hirers who hire out inflatable amusements, where the customer or hirer is left to manage and operate the amusement themselves".

It goes on to say that "dry hire cover has become increasingly harder to obtain over the past few years, with fewer and fewer companies offering this type of cover due to the high risk associated with it." Dry cover appears to be the Holy Grail of this perilous insurance domain.

I followed a link to David Kirby of Primo. He explained that he deals with leisureinsure, which is a wholesale broker that buys policies in bulk from QBE. In his opinion there is little alternative.

It would appear that few contenders could offer the long-term security of a QBE policy. In fact QBE has set the minimum premium benchmark of £262.50 for the first castle. He said there are two rating sets: one for children under 15 and one for adults over 15.

I asked whether children and adults would be allowed on an inflatable at the same time. He was doubtful but agreed to investigate. He said that the trailer should be covered by my existing motor policy with a possible amendment.

Impossible coverr
Ah, but what of the Holy Grail itself? I introduced the term ‘dry cover' but Kirby seemed to think I was referring to weather conditions.

When I explained that I intended to leave all responsibility in the hands of the hirer, he gasped and confessed that cover for such practice was virtually impossible to find.

In the meantime, further searches yielded the website of broker B Portwood & Co. It was clear that I had stumbled upon another disciple of leisureinsure.

The conditions and rates for cover were well detailed. Public liability cover begins at £1m with an excess of £500. Damage to equipment is calculated at 3.2 % of the total value, which I gave as £2,000. The basic premium of £262.50 only applies to children's castles.

There was no mention of adults and the words ‘no dry cover' warned that the Grail had eluded them too.

My heart sank momentarily. I plucked up my courage and dialled Portwood's number.

I was greeted by Margaret Calderbank who assured me that anything was possible.

The Grail was within my reach and a quote would be with me imminently (Royal Mail permitting).

Before she departed she mentioned Essex-based FSL which boasts of a swift and peril-free route to the Grail.

I rang and was answered by Tom Frisby who described a policy not unlike leisureinsure's, also underwritten by an offshore company. The name Albion seemed reassuring enough. I gave Frisby the details and value of my enterprise and explained that I was seeking dry cover. Frisby was already a step ahead. Subject to me issuing a hire agreement to waiver my responsibility for accidental injury to persons using the equipment when in the care of the hirer, he would email me a quote for public liability and all risks for physical loss or damage.

Twenty minutes later he sent me a statement of fact, proposal form, quotation and a guide to public best practice. The terms differed only slightly from those of leisureinsure. The excess for both types of cover would be £250. Children were defined as persons of 16 and under and adults as 17 and over. The premium was £656.26 inclusive of IPT.

Poisoned chalice
The potential sting in the tail came at the end of the proposal. It turns out that Albion is based in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It's not part of any compensation scheme or subject to the Financial Services And Markets Act [2000]. Is this the elusive Holy Grail or merely a poisoned chalice?

Two days later there was still no word from Kirby of Primo. But I did receive a nice fat package from B Portwood. It included a proposal form, prospectus with key features document and a copy of their terms and conditions.

It quoted me a premium of £367.50 for public liability but no quote for damage to equipment.

I decided to revisit Margaret Calderbank. She apologised. She didn't realise I was looking for damage cover. Not surprisingly, she conjured up the magic figure £262.50 which added to the first gave me a total of £630.

Desperate to know what had become of Kirby's quote, I rang Primo. It transpired that Kirby had taken down my house number back to front. He apologised and promised to re-send the quote.

The next day it arrived. The package consisted of pretty much the same bumf as Portwood's. Interestingly, it quoted £315 for public liability. It also stated that I had requested products liability yet it failed to quote for it. I felt a sense of déjà vu and picked up the phone once more. Again the magic figure £262.50 reared its head.

I asked Kirby up to what value that figure would protect me. He did some calculations and said that £5,000 would see me comfortably within the window.

To summarise, it would seem that it is a conflict between QBE and Albion. Though I received slightly different quotes from Primo and Portwood, it would appear that leisureinsure offers a reasuring and somewhat cheaper cover through QBE than the more expensive FSL/Albion quote.