ILC ARTICLE

Subsidence Claims Conference: Where are we now? 


The speed of processing subsidence claims has remained largely unchanged between the surges of 2018 and 2022. 

That was the verdict of a frank panel debate during ILC’s third Specialist Subsidence Conference 2024, which took place at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) Coventry on Thursday, 7 March. 

More than 230 delegates attended the conference, which was headline sponsored by Optera Structural Solutions, and supported by Gold Sponsors Geobear, Shire Structures Ltd and Restek UK Ltd; and Silver Sponsors Courtesy Kitchens & Bathrooms, Flawless Soil Testing, Innovation Group, Leviat Ltd, Mainmark, Sedgwick and Vivre Stays Ltd. 

The first session asked the question, where are we now?, with panellists Chris Carlton, New Business and Key Client Director, Geobear; Alex Finch, Commercial Director, Optera Ltd; Sne Patel, Subsidence Consultant, Innovation Group; and Jemma Garrett, Founder and Managing Director, Flawless Soil Testing, sharing insights from different industry perspectives. 

However, the consensus was that not much has moved on in recent years. 

Decisions 

Chris said that at Geobear new claims projects were still coming through following the most recent surge, suggesting decisions were not being made any quicker, while Sne said that in many cases repairs have not started yet. 

He said, “After the initial bubble of assessment and validation we’re now in the midst of mitigation, trying to persuade people to stabilise the building so we can move to repair. The landscape has changed since 2018 and there are different challenges, but the 2022 claims progression is slower than in 2018.” 

Alex agreed, suggesting that when it comes to street trees the industry is no further forward than it was nearly 30 years ago. 

“Are we better than we were in 2018? No, I don’t think we are. Street tree claims are obviously the most complex and that’s where the pain comes, but if you go back to the surges of 1995 and 2003, the way we deal these claims is pretty much the same. We need to make a step change to how we manage them otherwise it’s going to be the same in 10 years’ time too.” 

He said that insurers had a big part to play in this and argued that in some cases, not all, early intervention could go a long way to preventing claims dragging on over a number of years.  

Change 

However, there is evidence of change. 

Sne pointed out that the 2018 surge was more dramatic in terms of claims volumes than both 1995 and 2003, and the 2022 surge was higher again, which has put unprecedented pressure on adjusters. Meanwhile, that new remote technology has moved the pain point on from assessment to site investigation (SI) and, more critically, mitigation. 

He said, “You have to do the physical SI and collection of information. You can’t do that remotely. But the real pain point is mitigation. Mitigation holds the key to the claim, it is the critical point because if we don’t get mitigation done we’re pushing the claim on to others and the property may not be stable.”  

The slowest category in mitigation is Local Authority Public Body Vegetation, with claims ratios compared to 2015 up 350% in 2018 and 480% in 2022. These claims are being processed 21% slower than normal clay shrinkage claims.  

Driving up these dramatic increases is significantly more tree planting by councils, alongside a growing appetite for pruning trees rather than removing them when problems occur, meaning the issue is likely to return. 

Sne said, “You’re going to have larger trees and more trees going forward. And the 10 hottest years have happened in the last 11 years. So what’s happening is not a surprise.” 

Jemma suggested that in some cases site visits had to be repeated as initial visits were not carried out correctly, which also adds time and costs to the process. 

She said, “We are being asked to go out to site twice, often with six months apart, and then being questioned as to why the results were different.” 

Early intervention 

Backing that up, Chris said that he had examined data from over 600 projects that Geobear had received from insurers and found that on average the age of the soil investigation when received it was 617 days old.  

“That tells a story to me,” he said. 

He added that it then takes an average of 197 days to deliver the project (from receipt to completion of a treatment), and suggested that a more detailed conversation and the right information at the outset would enable quicker decision-making and reduce time periods.  

It’s certainly true that early intervention is the key, but change is needed to facilitate it. 

Alex said, “It starts with insurers. They’ve got to empower their adjusters. The adjusters don’t have the power to suddenly go down a different path and make an early intervention. They need to be encouraged to make those decisions.” 

However, early intervention can be a risk to insurers and leave them vulnerable to increased recovery costs if decisions are made based on experience, without the evidence to back it up.  

While that may be the case in some circumstances, it’s also true that costs mount up through long-winded processes, and the option not to make early interventions due to cost risks may be taken out of insurer’s hands soon as a result of Consumer Duty.  

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