News

November 27, 2019

Consumer Insurance – A reminder of your rights and why you should not “avoid” fighting back

Consumer insurance accounts for a large percentage of insurance purchased in the United Kingdom. It is therefore unsurprising that many insurance disputes involve consumers, and the implications for an individual who has a claim declined can be catastrophic.

A recurring issue is an insurer avoiding a policy for an alleged non-disclosure or misrepresentation. Our experience is that, in a worryingly large number of cases, insurers appear to rely on a consumer’s lack of knowledge and resources to properly challenge the avoidance. In other words, Insurers raise with a consumer what appears to be an unanswerable case and present a declinature/avoidance as a fait acompli. However, in reality, the matter is very rarely as clear cut as the Insurer seeks to present.

The Financial Ombudsman Service (which is available to all consumers) has recently increased the size of the awards it can make from £150,000 to £350,000. It is, therefore, now even more important for consumers to be familiar with their obligations and rights in relation to their insurance policies given the wider scope of cost-free redress.

The Law

The Consumer Insurance (Disclosure and Representation) Act 2012 (CIDRA) came into force on 6 April 2013, and applies to all insurance policies which began or were renewed after that date. CIDRA applies to all types of insurance where the policyholder is acting in a personal (as opposed to commercial) capacity.

CIDRA governs the duties of consumers prior to inception of an insurance policy. It was introduced to address the vulnerability of consumers based on outdated law which imposed an unfair disclosure burden on them.

While CIDRA has been in force for a number of years, the more recent Insurance Act 2015 (“the Insurance Act”) has increased awareness both within and outside of the insurance market of the obligations of policyholders before entering into an insurance policy. As a result, CIDRA and the Insurance Act are often confused (by both policyholders and insurers). While there are similarities between them, particularly in relation to the remedies available to an insurer for non-disclosure disclosure, it is important for consumers to have an understanding of CIDRA because it is even more favourable to them than the Insurance Act.

CIDRA: Duty of Disclosure

Prior to CIDRA, if a consumer had either given incorrect information or failed to disclose something important to an insurer when applying for insurance, the insurer could “avoid” the policy (effectively cancelling the policy and treating it as if it had never existed). A heavy burden rested on the consumer (who had a duty of “utmost good faith” towards the Insurer) to disclose to an insurer all material facts. This duty was particularly onerous for unadvised individuals who purchased insurance directly from an insurer or through, for example, price comparison websites without the assistance of a broker.

CIDRA replaced this onerous burden with a new “duty to take reasonable care not to make a misrepresentation”. The effect was that a consumer was no longer obliged to volunteer information to an insurer, but rather to take care not to answer any of the insurer’s questions incorrectly.
The bottom line for individuals who have had a claim declined is that it is not enough for an insurer to establish that an incorrect answer was given to it when the policy was simplywritten – under CIDRA, that is only the first hurdle the insurer needs to overcome.

The insurer must also prove that the consumer failed to take “reasonable care” when making the misrepresentation and that, if the correct information had been given, the insurer would either not have written the policy on any terms at all, or would have written it on different terms or with a different premium. A misrepresentation which would have caused the insurer to act differently is referred to in CIDRA as a “qualifying misrepresentation”.
Alternatively, In order to avoid the policy and retain the premium, the insurer will need to show that the consumer acted deliberately or dishonestly in making a misrepresentation.

If the insurer cannot show that, but can show that there was a qualifying misrepresentation, the insurer will be entitled to a proportionate remedy. If it can show that it would not have written the policy at all, it can avoid the policy but must return the premium. If it would have written the policy on different terms, the policy may be amended to reflect those terms. If it would have charged a higher premium, the insurer is entitled to proportionately reduce the amount it pays on a claim by reference to any such hypothetical premium.

The bottom line for consumers

The overarching point for consumers to remember is that the burden is on the insurer to prove:

1. The consumer failed to take “reasonable care” not to make a misrepresentation;

2. If he/she did, that the misrepresentation is a “qualifying misrepresentation”; and

3. That the Insurer is entitled to the appropriate remedy.

Given the heavy burden on the insurer under CIDRA, consumers faced with the avoidance of their policies should not avoid fighting back, particularly now that the Financial Ombudsman Service has a much wider remit to consider larger disputes. In fighting back, and availing themselves of the Ombudsman’s enlarged jurisdiction, consumers may find that an insurer’s confidence in its position is, when properly scrutinised, rather misplaced.

Daniel Robin is an associate at Fenchurch Law

November 11, 2019

Government to fund replacement of Grenfell-style cladding

Almost 2 years after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the government has stepped in to speed up the removal and replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material cladding (“ACM cladding”) on privately owned, high-rise buildings. What are the implications for building owners?

On 9 May, the government announced its intention to make around £200m available to remove and replace ACM cladding from approximately 170 privately owned, high-rise buildings. The decision was driven by the slow pace by building owners to replace ACM cladding on their buildings, and the government’s view that ACM cladding represents an unparalleled fire risk.

Guidance on the Fund was published on 18 July. There are three eligibility criteria:

1. The Fund is available for the benefit of leaseholders in residential buildings over 18m in height;
2. Applicants will need to confirm that they are replacing cladding with materials of limited combustibility.
3. The government expects owners to actively pursue “all reasonable claims” against those involved in the original cladding installations, and to pursue warranty claims “where possible”.

Applications to the Fund can only be made by the “responsible entity”. This will usually be the building owner, head leaseholder, or Management Company with responsibility for the repair of the property. If a responsible entity does not apply or refuses to apply to the Fund, the Guidance states that local authorities and fire and rescue services are likely to take enforcement action under the Housing Act 2004.

What is a warranty claim?

Warranty claims refer to claims made under latent defect insurance policies. Those policies provide cover for newly built properties in the event of an inherent defect which was not capable of being discovered through inspection before completion.

Typically, latent defect policies are triggered in the event of (a) a non-compliance with the relevant Building Regulations which applied at the time of construction/conversion; and (b) which causes a present or imminent danger.

Unsafe ACM cladding which has been installed in high-rise residential blocks will meet those requirements.

What other claims might be available against those involved with the original cladding installations?

Those involved with the original cladding installations are likely to include Main Contractors, Architects, and specialist cladding subcontractors. The type of claims that can be brought against them will differ in each case, and will depend upon the nature of the relationships between the parties, and the specific work which was undertaken.

One route to making a recovery against those involved with the original cladding installation is under the Defective Premises Act 1972.

The Defective Premises Act imposes a duty on builders and any other professionals who take on work in connection with the provision of a dwelling. It requires the work to be done in a professional or workmanlike manner, with proper materials, and that the dwelling is for habitation when completed. The duty is owed to every person who acquires a legal or equitable interest in the dwelling.

Summary

The message from the government is clear. Responsible entities that are eligible to apply to the Fund must do so at the earliest possible juncture, and must pursue claims available under latent defect insurance policies as a pre-requisite to any funding.

The Guidance does not explain what a “reasonable claim” against those involved with a building’s original construction/conversion would look like, and this is likely to be assessed on a case by case basis.

Our recommendation is that building owners investigate the roles played by those parties, and the availability of any claims against them. Even where a party is no longer in business, there may be insurance cover that would still respond.

Alex Rosenfield is an associate at Fenchurch law