Inside Housing – News – Government-backed PI insurance scheme opens to try to ‘unblock’ SAP bottleneck

A government-backed Professional Liability Insurance (PII) scheme has been launched, aimed at addressing a severe shortage of fire professionals capable of undertaking Exterior Wall System 1 (EWS1) assessments.

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A government-backed professional liability insurance scheme has been launched, aimed at addressing a severe shortage of fire professionals able to undertake EWS1 #UKhousing assessments

The long-awaited initiative has been put in place to expand the pool of surveyors and engineers capable of carrying out checks on high-rise buildings and solving a blockage that has left thousands of tenants in limbo for years.

The government said the launch of the scheme was an “unprecedented step” but pledged to “unlock the market” for current and future tenants.

Developed with insurance agencies SCOR UK and MGAM, the scheme was designed to last for five years, after which it is hoped insurers will join the market and remove the need for a state-backed scheme.

It was first announced in 2021 by Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, then Minister for Building Safety, to help ensure there was “sufficient capacity” in the market to enable EWS1 forms to be completed quickly.

The Government’s Actuary’s Department has estimated expected losses at around £100m for the department – but those losses and the cost of the scheme will be offset by premiums bought by assessors.

In a statement to the House of Commons in June, then-housing minister Stuart Andrew said the government would only offer professional liability insurance cover to accredited professionals who have “the training, expertise and knowledge required to undertake the EWS1 assessment”.

He added that the assessments would be subject to a verification process to ensure that they are carried out accurately.

The EWS1 process was launched in 2019 to allow a building owner to confirm that the walls of a clad residential building were safe. But while it was supposed to free up the market, it had the opposite effect.

A lack of available professionals qualified to perform EWS1 assessments left tenants waiting years for certification to prove their buildings were safe.

This problem has been exacerbated by the lack of insurance companies willing to provide PII coverage to people performing fire safety checks. This was due to the concern that the wording of the EWS1 form would transfer liability to the reviewing party and open it to unlimited liability.

There have been previous attempts to address the problem of PII. In 2021, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) changed its guidelines to require insurers to cover fire safety claims on properties of four storeys or less.

To access the scheme, individuals must be named on the scheme’s eligibility register and must meet the qualification requirements of their professional order.

The registers are maintained by RICS and the Institution of Fire Engineers.

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