Disaster restoration in the insurance claims process can often be an unknown quantity, as every job is different, with many varying factors dictating costs.

Insurers might believe appointing a national network of disaster restorers means reduced administration costs, ease of communication and stronger buying power.

But how does an insurance company know what service it is getting and how can it measure this?

For example, one can't say it will cost £2 per square metre to restore a smoke-damaged wall, because it depends on what the wall is made of, the intensity of the fire, the combustion time and length of burning. Will restoration of the wall mean washing it down, sealing and redecorating?

But if costs can't be standardised, how can the insurance company quantify effective restoration?

Time is of the essence
Speed of response is vital. The insured is traumatised following a flood or a fire and will expect an immediate response. The insurance company and perhaps a loss adjuster will have been in touch and even visited but, in the insured's mind, nothing practical has happened.

The restoration company should arrive on the scene the same day and take steps, wherever possible, to minimise any potential problems.

Speed of response will prevent the situation deteriorating and costs spiralling. A sympathetic restorer can also do much to deflate tension and potential problem areas.

The disaster must be considered from a management perspective and a plan put together to restore the property and contents in the shortest possible time. This is particularly vital for the commercial property owner, who will also be facing loss of earnings, loss of goodwill and loss of future business.

Look out for the specialists
Disaster restorers need to be flexible, versatile, professional and have an effective administrative structure in place. They also need to be specialists. Restorers whose core business is not disaster restoration may not be free to respond or as quick to start work.

The restorer needs to provide a detailed schedule of works before commencing to ensure it is cost-effective for the insurer and meets the needs of the insured. Rather than more haste, less speed, the restorer schedules a carefully administered programme, fitting together all the resources and utilising the appropriate staff, well trained and equipped in restoration skills, to ensure the job is completed in the shortest possible time.

Once work has started, a top priority is the health and safety of the insured and staff. Stabilising the situation to prevent further deterioration and to minimise the loss follows this.

As the insured rarely sees anybody from their insurance company, the restoration company is usually therefore perceived, rightly or wrongly, as the representative. The restorer is employed by the insurance company to carry out cost-effective work, on time, within budget, but on top of this, the image the restorer gives is critical.

Opt for a `one-stop shop'
In order to be able to advise effectively, the restorer must not only be able to assess the value of carpets, paintings, furniture, curtains and so on, but must also be able to call upon and take advantage of all the necessary restoration skills and expertise. A good restorer should offer a "one-stop shop" facility.

So for an insurance company to measure the service it is receiving, it should know the restorer's guaranteed response time and be aware of how quickly estimates are submitted and work commenced. It should insist staff are uniformed and vehicles sign-written, and on a signed satisfaction note being submitted at the end of each job.

A professional restorer is aware of all the possible health and safety implications and will not only ensure the property is free of contamination, but should have inspired confidence with the owners (particularly where small children are concerned) so the family can relax in their home again.

In a nutshell, an insurance firm must be confident its chosen restorer will restore in the shortest possible time and to the customer's complete satisfaction, which will result in savings for the company.

  • Graham Orriss is managing director of disaster restoration specialist The Revival Company.

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