New asbestos regulations may force insurers and contractors to dramatically change the way they handle property claims, disaster recovery expert Jeff Charlton has warned.

Charlton, who runs Phoenix International Consultancy, said if they want to avoid serious criminal and civil litigation they would need to study amendments to the Health & Safety Executive's (H&SE) Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations. This is due to come into force in August and contained new rules on the handling of asbestos.

"[Insurers and contractors] require a full and competent survey to be undertaken by qualified asbestos surveyors prior to any works or restoration that may result in exposure to asbestos," he said.

"This includes any home or commercial premises where a nominated contractor works."

Charlton said insurers and loss adjusters who employed contractors that failed to follow the regulations could face civil litigation and criminal penalties

He said the same could occur where contractors did not take proper surveys in toxic mould cases.

Charlton is currently acting as an expert witness in a case against a contractor that negligently removed a collapsed ceiling containing asbestos and carpet containing toxic mould from a home damaged by leaking water.

The asbestos dust and mould stirred up by the removal caused the homeowners to suffer from nosebleeds, flu-like symptoms and asthma.

The Environment Agency and the H&SE have taken criminal proceedings against the contractor. And the insurer that instructed the contractor may have to pay damages to the homeowners.

Repair contractors who went to the house to give quotes are also expected to seek compensation from the insurer.

"The claim has escalated needlessly to a major decontamination project that may exceed £30,000 and involved the total disposal of soft furnishings and clothing," Charlton said.