Last month, a new claims company – the UK Subsidence Group – was established to specialise solely in tackling subsidence claims. Chairman Professor Brian Clancy explains the rationale for the venture.
Since the early 1970s subsidence claims have cost the insurance industry more than £3 billion – current figures show the number of claims to be running at between 35-40,000 a year.
To date, property subsidence has touched the lives of well over a million people.
But despite this experience, the industry has been slow to acknowledge customers' needs and meet their expectations.
The seasonal nature of the problem, and in particular the inability of the market to respond to large volumes of claims in times of drought, has made matters worse. In the past, this has resulted in the complex investigation and repair process becoming protracted, costly and inconvenient to all involved.
Although subsidence usually plays only a small part in the overall risk of an insurance company's portfolio, it can have a disproportionate impact when claim surges arise.
It not only adversely affects profitability and share price but also damages insurers' reputations for customer care.
Historically, various groups of professionals and contractors have complicated the situation further by seizing the opportunity to generate work for themselves, very often without proper consideration being given to whether the remedial works being undertaken were sensible or indeed justified.
In its continual search for economy, the industry has over-emphasised lowest price rather than best value.
The UK Subsidence Group (UKSG) has spent the past 12 months pooling the experience of six established companies acknowledged for their expertise in this field and has carried out extensive studies of the historic difficulties presented to both insurers and policyholders.
The result of this exercise has been the development of an entirely new approach, which provides insurers and their customers with a better and improved method of dealing with the subsidence problem.
The multi-disciplined UKSG team comprises WEEKS Technical Services, Brian Clancy Partnership, Curtins Consulting Engineers, Knapp Hicks and Partners, Brian Pyle Associates and MLM Consulting Engineers. It provides a comprehensive and responsive service with a customer care focus.
In the past, policyholders have had to deal with a host of different experts and agencies at various stages of their claims.
The UKSG cuts through this bureaucratic and time-consuming claims process, giving the policyholder and their insurance company one point of reference, regular updates and guaranteed standards of service.
The UKSG has the full range of independent expertise and the latest technology required to deal with the problem, which not only means a faster service but one that delivers the most cost-effective solution.
Through a network of local offices linked by the latest technology, the UKSG can provide clients with seamless service throughout all the stages of a claim.
While subsidence is essentially an engineering problem, the UKSG has recognised the importance of providing and co-ordinating a range of various specialist skills in-house, in order to ensure that agreed service standards are delivered.
A major attraction for the insurance industry with the launch of the UKSG is the ability to anticipate claim surges in sufficient time to meet demand while maintaining high standards in the speed and quality of claims handling.
Based on empirical rainfall, geotechnical and other data, the UKSG has developed a short-term forecasting mechanism which gives enough notice for the group to assemble and co-ordinate its substantial resources to meet likely demand levels.
How does it work?
The UKSG places great emphasis on the importance of gaining a thorough understanding of individual insurance companies cultures and working closely with them to maximise the benefits available to both insurers and their customers.
"Subsidence claims will be solved properly and quickly within agreed timescales. The insured will no longer have to worry when, or if their claim will be resolved," says chief executive Geoff Davies.
A UKSG claims handling centre provides a dedicated freephone single point of contact for the duration of any claim.
The appointed claims handler will co-ordinate the technical aspects of the claim – which will be managed by the nearest local office.
An advanced database, specially developed by the UKSG for the management of subsidence claims, records the claims history and progress and ensures that all specified service standards are met.
The database is accessible by all local UKSG offices and the policyholder can ring the UKSG call centre weekdays any time between 8am-8pm, or on Saturday morning between 8am-1pm, for information on the current status of their claim.
Outside these times policyholders will always have 24-hour access to an engineer in the event of an emergency.
"The UK Subsidence Group is the first dedicated subsidence specialist and our network covers the whole of the UK," said Geoff Davies,
"What we are offering insurers is better, faster and more cost-effective.
"Our claims management service is comprehensive and all parties are just one phone call away from a progress update.
"We don't just say we will deliver on service standards; we enter into guarantees on those standards.
"We also have the planning expertise and capacity to deal with surges in claims, which have caused so many problems in the past."