Owners of heritage properties warned to check contractors’ insurance

The combination of a set of bulldog clips, a halogen lamp and an uninsured plasterer has prompted specialist insurer Ecclesiastical to warn owners of heritage properties to check that tradespeople are properly insured before appointing them to carry out any work on their homes.

The claim that prompted the warning was for a fire which was started when the plasterer, who was uninsured, set up a halogen lamp using bulldog clips to fast dry plaster he had applied.

Andrew Brown, Ecclesiastical’s Church and Heritage Claims Director, said:

“Quite apart from the fact that anyone attempting to dry wet plaster with a halogen lamp should be treated with deep suspicion, this case highlights the fact that owners of heritage property should take care to employ only competent contractors who are able to produce a public liability insurance schedule showing at least £1 million of cover.”

In Ecclesiastical’s experience, a worrying number of contractors either have no insurance cover or have purchased the cheapest available policy with a long list of exclusions.  The biggest problem area – and most common exclusion on insurance policies – involves ‘hot work’.  This is the term applied to any process, such as welding or brazing, which generates sparks which in turn could ignite a fire.

Andrew Brown added:

“We commonly see incidents of fires caused by plumbers using blow torches, painters using hot air guns or blow torches, and contractors using angle grinders to cut up metal fittings.  Flat roof felting applied with a large gas burner is a particular cause of large fire claims.”

“What mostly happens is that cobwebs, bird nests or leaves trapped behind what is being heated catch fire and can’t be extinguished because the fire is more or less enclosed within an inaccessible part of the building.”

Advice to property owners appointing contractors is to:

  •  Ask to see the contractor’s schedule of insurance.
  • Check that the level of public liability cover is at least £1 million.
  • Make sure that there are no exclusions listed, such as hot work or working at height. As that would make the policy invalid for the work being carried out.