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ASUC warns insurers of risk from cowboy firms

INSURERS COULD face a wave of accident claims from workers involved in underpinning, specialist contractors warned this week.

The Association of Specialist Underpinning Contractors (ASUC) said that insurers are taking on unregistered contractors without realising that this exposes them to legal action if there is an accident.

'Insurers do not appreciate the health and safety risk that they are responsible for on contracts involving unaccredited contractors, ' said ASUC chairman Vic Handley.

ASUC members have invested heavily in accredited health and safety training plus quality assurance, and an ASUC financial guarantee scheme.

Despite this investment, only 60% of underpinning work awarded by insurers goes to ASUC members.

'Since 9/11, the whole insurance industry has changed, and insurers are now looking to make savings wherever possible, ' said Handley.

Underpinners have been hit hard in recent years because damp summer weather has produced less subsidence caused by shrinking clays.

ABI statistics show that subsidence claims fell by 25% last year to £265M, meaning that the market has halved over the past 10 years.

'When we get a prolonged dry spell the shrinkable clays settle and we generally experience a glut of work, ' said Handley. 'But when this happens, insurance companies should beware of cowboy builders who then swamp the underpinning market.'

A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers (ABI) argued that although work might not be going to ASUC members, insurance companies would not risk hiring cowboy firms as the long term costs outweigh short term gains.

Insurers and loss adjustors say there is a general drift away from loss adjustors recommending underpinning. Today only 5% of claims currently result in such work.

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