Fire, Smoke or Water

People often ask “which causes the worst damage: fire, smoke or water?”

My answer is simple – they are all bad.  However, there is no fire without smoke, and usually when you have a fire there is water damage as well due to fire brigade extinguishers or water pipes melting and discharging water.

The devastation caused following a fire is not somethng I would wish on my worst enemy.  Smoke gets into everthing, and it often amazes people to see ‘smoke cobwebs’ everywhere following a fire.  Smoke deposits cling to cobwebs that would not normally be visible, but when they turn black they are very visible!  You can also open presses and move objects to see how much smoke got into the press. It permeates clothing, soft furnishings, carpets and blinds etc.  It even gets into PVC, plaster and woodwork.

A water leak on it’s own is probably the easist damage to deal with, and to repair.  It is also the most frequent loss type.  Insurers however have discriminated against people with water leaks by increasing the policy excess for water damage.   This adds hardship onto householders who have to factor in the impact of the excess and loss of no claims bonus, when considering whether it is worthwhile making a claim or not.

Thankfully though all damage can be repaired and with expert specialists with experience to recommend the right people to deal with the devastation, the damage can be quickly assessed, negotiated and restored.

For independent advice from experts on your side – talk to Balcombes on 1800506700


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Balcombes Mind Map



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Hurricane Ophelia – the aftermath

Our team of assessors are currently deployed across the country to deal with property damage claims.  We act on behalf of property owners to help them to recover from their loss and damage.  We compile full written claim details to support your claim submission, and we negotiate settlement under the terms of the policy.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

Balcombes have advised policyholders to:

  1. Take photographs of the damage
  2. Secure the premises against further damage/effect temporary repairs.
  3. Report the claim to your Insurer.
  4. Remove wet or damage contents but do not dispose of them off site.
  5. Make an inventory of damaged items or appoint a Loss Assessor to handle the claim to ensure they receive their full entitlement under the terms of the policy.

Insurers will appoint Loss Adjusters or Builders to assess or repair the damage to buildings, but it is important to recognise that they are there to represent the Insurer and will not, for example, compile a claim for damaged contents.  Loss Assessors work for the Policyholder and will provide support and reassurance over the process, and the steps to take.  We are there to represent the property owner.  “People want to know where they stand.  It’s important that they have someone they can rely on the fully assess the damage on their behalf” said Jim Flannery, Director.  “With over 40 years experience dealing with storm damage claimants in Ireland, you can put your trust in us”.  Call us on 1800 506 700






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Property Claims – Know your rights

   If you suffer damage to your property and need to make an insurance claim the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 stipulates that if your insurer is appointing a Loss Adjuster to handle the claim on their behalf, they must inform that policyholder that the Loss Adjuster is there to represent the interests of the Insurer and that they (the policyholder) may appoint a Loss Assessor to represent their interests, but at their own expense.

It has become apparent in recent times that some insurers are trying to avoid compliance with this stipulation by appointing their own in-house loss adjusters or partner contractors to try and circumvent the rights of the consumer to engage a Loss Assessor.  KNOW YOUR RIGHTSUnfortunately Loss Assessors do not have  large marketing budgets to engage in a mass media campaign to advertise that fact. Perhaps the Financial Regulator should do so if they are serious about consumer protection.  In the meantime most of our business comes from referrals from insurance brokers, and from happy clients who know and appreciate the value we brought to their insurance claim solution. We thank you for your support.

Help us educate the public by spreading the word.  Please click the links below or “like” and “share” this post to circulate it with your network.

      We have first hand experience of settlement proposals or solutions being offered directly to policyholders, and when we were asked by them to review it there were serious deficiencies in what was being proposed.

     Our initial consultation is free of charge.  Call us on 1800 506 700.


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Fire Damage Claims

Regardless of who you are Insured with, if you suffer fire damage to your home or business you will need expert advice and assistance filing your insurance claim.  How can a policyholder know what they are entitled to claim for or where to start?

“Fire and smoke can be devastating and it pays to get expert help.  We will handle all the hassle and paperwork, removing any uncertainty and giving our clients peace of mind”.  Jim Flannery, Director, Balcombes Claims Management


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Business Interruption following a disaster

Most business owners take out insurance cover to protect the business against property damage (fire, theft, floods etc) or against liability claims (Employers Liability & Public Liability).  However equally important is to have cover for Consequential Loss or Business Interruption.  80% of businesses that suffer a catastrophic loss e.g. fire or flood will not survive longer than 2 years after the event if they don’t have BI cover.  IMG_9809

Thankfully most insurance packages for businesses automatically include cover for Business Interruption losses.  However, it is vital to make sure that the sums insured are adequate to ensure full protection against a loss of profit, until the business can be reinstated and turnover restored to where it would have been, had the loss not occurred.

The standard period of indemnity is for 12 months.  In the event of catastrophic damage to a building it needs to be considered in advance, how long it may take to re-build.  Following a fire there could be a need to apply for planning permission if a building has to be demolished and re-built.  It could take months to get an architect and an engineer to design and get all the necessary plans in place and tenders obtained etc before any rebuilding work can even commence.  The “worst case” scenario should be allowed for.

The accessibility of the site; how the building is affected by neighbouring properties; whether there are any specific features or restrictions that may affect progress, could mean a premises could easily be out of action for longer than 12 months.  If an 18 month indemnity period is selected the sum insured should be calculated to be 1.5 times the future annual gross profit, if a 24 month indemnity period is requested, the cover is provided for twice the future annual gross profit figure, covering a 24 month interruption period.

Gross ProfitThe business interruption cover is based on the Gross Profit for the period required to restore the business to its previous position including any trends in the turnover, e.g. if the business was growing at 10% per annum.  In that case the gross profit should be based not only on 10% increase on the previous year’s performance, but if the loss was to happen on the last day of insurance i.e. 12 months from now, then the indemnity period could be for 12-24 months into the future.

The future turnover therefore could be up by 21% on the current period by the time the loss is settled e.g. if last year’s gross profit was €1m – plus 10% = €1.1m projected for this year, plus 10% growth projected for next year = €1.21m.  The 12 month indemnity period could extend to 24 months from today if a fire happened on the last day of the current insurance period.  The Business Interruption cover therefore should be pitched sufficiently to insure for that future value at risk, adjusted pro-rata for any indemnity period greater than 12 months.  The sum insured selected needs to take into account the future projected annual Gross Profit and the required length of indemnity period required to re-instate the business.

Most Business Interruption covers have a “material damage proviso”.  That is, there must be a material damage loss and policy liability under the property damage section before the business interruption section becomes operative.  There are occasions when this is negated by extensions that can be selected e.g. denial of access clause, whereby if the local authorities cordon off access to a business premises for safety purposes resulting in loss of turnover/profit e.g. a fire or explosion in a neighbouring property.  In the recent floods in Donegal there were businesses cut off by bridges being washed away.  Bridge downOr there could be a “suppliers” or “customer’s” extension which would provide cover in the event that turnover is affected by an insured event occurring in a suppliers or a customers premises, that has a direct impact on your turnover/gross profit.

In the event of a loss the immediate priority is to assess the property damage loss.  The business interruption loss can be subsequently calculated and finalised, as the extent and duration of the property damage period becomes known. The following steps are critical:

Property Damage

It is essential to notify your insurer/broker of the loss.  The property policy schedule needs to be assessed to establish the level of cover in light of the facts of the loss.  There may be specific endorsements, warranties or exclusions applicable, and it is vital to gather the evidence that you were in compliance with them.  Damaged contents or stock etc should not be disposed of, until a Loss Adjuster from the Insurance company has inspected it.  If necessary it can be segregated and stored for later inspection, if it is essential to move them urgently to restore trading or to mitigate against further loss or damage.  Next, a detailed inventory needs to be taken of all damaged property, which can be valued later.  Photographs of all damaged items should be taken and retained as evidence.

Most property damage policies include cover for property in your custody or control or for which you are responsible, e.g customer’s or supplier’s goods, leased machines, employee’s effects.  There is generally additional cover for demolition, debris removal, professional fees and the costs of complying with Local Authority requirements.

Business Interruption

The typical cover is for loss of trading income or gross profit (as defined in the policy), less any savings that may accrue to the business as a result of the closure e.g. staff wages if employees have to be laid off, or rent, light, heat and power.  The cover will generally include for any increased costs of working e.g. increased rent on an alternative premises, expediting repairs, overtime, advertising, accountant’s fees etc.  Increased costs can be agreed in order to try and resume trading to retain customers/turnover.  Such expenditure is justified provided it has the economic effect of saving the business from a greater loss.

The business interruption loss is calculated by examining the weekly or monthly turnover in the 12 months before the loss and comparing it with the 12 months after the loss and deducting any savings and adding any increased costs.  These figures can be obtained from the management accounts for the business, or if these are destroyed, from the accountants for the business, VAT returns, bank statements etc.  The definitions on the Business Interruption policy are specified and take priority over the standard accounting definitions, so it is best to get the advice of an experienced business interruption loss assessor to ensure all the information is captured and the business interruption claim is properly presented and negotiated.


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Why do Insurers want to get involved in building work?

IMG_0326Almost all property damage insurance policies on buildings give the Insurer the option to effect reinstatement. “We will pay the full cost of repair or reinstatement as new, or at our option we will arange for the works to be carried out” or some such wording.

Traditionally insurers “adjust” a claim on the basis of costs or estimates submitted. They agree to pay the policyholder the cost of repairs, and hold a retention of 25-30% of the repair costs pending completion of repairs and submission of VAT invoices. They rarely choose the option to reinstate. But it was sometimes implimented as an option where they had an unreasonable policyholder or they felt there was a potential fraud but couldn’t prove it, and didn’t want to pay cash. Insurers simply didn’t want to get involved in effecting reinstatement, as the duties and responsibilities that come with effecting repairs can result in more costly repairs in the end. They can result in endless efforts to satisfy some policyholders who can be very difficult to satisfy, particularly if the option to reinstate is effected against their will.  There can also be difficulties with builders doing shoddy work, resulting in endless complaints to the Insurer/contractor and potential liability for the cost of re-doing work which can escalate the cost of repairs.

During the recession some Insurers decided they wanted to effect reinstatement in order to try and control costs and use the fact that there were surplus tradesmen and contractors looking for less work due to the recession. AXA send out tradesmen to claimants property with AXA logos on their jackets. They were able to drive down the scope of repairs and rates to effect savings.  RSA also tried their hand at appointing their own network builders.  However, Irish people being who they are, generally know a builder or are related to a builder, and do not trust Insurance companies and therefore do not trust the insurance company’s builder.  Some Insurers and adjusters persisted with Managed Repair Networks and squeezed the rates they were paying them. However, cruicially they did not insist on the policyholder using their builder, but insisted on settlement offers being no more than their builder was prepared to do the work for. Sometimes their bluff had to be called, particularly towards the end of the recession when building costs were increasing, but the insurers rates were not.

Many of the network builders on the Insurers panels found Insurer and adjusters too tight-fisted and difficult to work for.  Many found it was costing them money and they couldn’t make a profit on insurance work, so they opted out.

Other problems arose; in 2014 FBD was fined €490,000 for breaches of the Consumer Protection Code, including among other things, for not ensuring that contractors hired to do outsourced work were compliant with the CPC.  They also had to re-do many chimney repairs that were not done properly over a number of years.  We believe that this debacle cost FBD in the region of €10m to rectify the repairs.

In the USA, the UK and elsewhere, there are swathes of litigation cases against Insurers for work carried out by repairers for defective workmanship. It will be no different here.

Why then would Aviva choose in 2017 to effect repairs? Do they want to exercise control over the process with a view to saving costs?  Is what they are doing compliant with the Consumer Protection Code?

The Central Bank requires Insurers under Section 4.38 of the CPC to explain to policyholders before they take out or renew a policy that in the event of a claim they may appoint their own builder to carry out the restitution work. Does a hidden reference in the small print of a 60 page policy booklet to the ‘option’ of doing so, as mentioned in the first paragraph of this article, constitute an ‘explaination’?  Secondly, Section 7.14 of the CPC states that the policyholder shall not be asked to certify any work carried out by a third party appointed by an Insurer.  Yet, on enquiry, Aviva have advised us that their contractor will ‘self-certify’ the works on completion.  Now, where have we heard of problems that this has caused in the past?

If Insurers wish to opt to effect reinstatement they need to be willing to doing two things: 1. they need to sign a standard building contract between them and the homeowner and 2. they need to pay their policyholder to have independent representation and supervision of the repairs.  Refusing to do so is anti-consumer.  Nobody likes to have “solutions” forced on them.  We all like to have certainty and some control over the solution.

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

We believe Insurers should stick to their core business and not get involved in repairs. If they get their underwriting and customer service in order, they will make a profit. If they try and control the whole process from policy purchase to fulfillment, are they moving beyond their area of expertise?  By opting to reinstate Insurers are trying to deprive the policyholder of their right to independent represeatation and expertise.  Where is the consumer protection when it comes to ensuring that the policyholder is being treated fairly?  There is only one answer to the situation; consumers need to vote with their feet and move to an insurer who will treat them as a customer and not as a claimant.

Insurance Brokers who are advising clients on their insurance needs and issuing ‘suitabilty statements’ about particular products would want to warn clients if they are placing a property policy with an Insurer who is opting to effect reinstatement directly, as this may not be what the client wants if they have a claim.


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Gorse fires and insurance

The news of wildfires that have broken out over various parts of Ireland over the past few Fire Engineweek should be of concern to all property owners.  We have seen news headlines of gorse fires and forest fires in Dublin, Wicklow, Cork, Kerry, Galway, Mayo and Roscommon and I’m sure there are many others.

The attched link from the Irish Times shows the extent of the Coilte forest fire in Cloosh Valley which has destroyed hundreds of acres of forest and is currently threatening wind farms and other property.

One family in Mayo lost their home last week when their thatched roof caught fire, completely destroying their house and possessions.   It reminded me of a thatched house fire that I dealt with several years ago from which I recorded a piece for TV. Click here to view it.

The news is a stark reminder to us all of the need to maintain property insurance cover, and to have adequate sums insured in place.

Fire is devastating, and can also result in death and injury so it is vital to treat it with the utmost respect and extreme caution.  Anyone who suffers damage to their property needs professional advice and assistance to file and negotiate their insurance claim. Independent representation will ensure a faster and better response, and will result in a better outcome.

It pays to have insurance, but it is essential to have independent experienced advice from someone on your side.

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Why using a Public Loss Assessor is the best option

KNOWLEDGE – We are experts in insurance policy wordings, what is covered and how the process works.


A Loss Adjuster acts for the Insurer – Claimants are vulnerable and unsure of the process or what they are entitled to claim for.
PAPERWORK – We compile all necessary documents, inventories and scope of work and prepare a complete bill of quantities and statement of claim.


Estimates for repair – You are asked to submit estimates for repair or replacement.  Policyholders have to ask contractors and suppliers to give written estimates to support their claim.
SPEED – We can immediately agree the scope of work and the extent of loss and damage with the Loss Adjuster and prepare and submit written statement of claim without delay.


Dependent on others – You are depending on various contractors and suppliers to send you  written estimates which you must compile and submit to the Loss Adjuster yourself.
QUESTIONS  – We have vast experience in property damage claims and how the process works.  We are best placed to answer all your questions in a pro-consumer manner.


Uncertainty – If you have any questions, who do you ask?  The Loss Adjuster is not impartial as they act for the Insurer.  They do not have the time or authority to offer truly independent advice.
ADVICE  – We can help with the practical steps needed to deal with any property damage situation e.g. temporary repairs, alternative accommodation, drying out, salvage etc.


Looking after the ‘day job’ – There are so many other things to take care of that you cannot dedicate the time to pursue the claim to the greatest effect.
NEGOTIATION – We are expert negotiators who are in a position to “level the playing field” on your behalf and counteract any unfair offers.


Vulnerable – Claimants are left to their own devices and very often will not know how to challenge or increase an initial settlement offer.  You are up against an authoritative loss adjuster who is expert in negotiation.
BEST SETTLEMENT – You will get the best settlement offer available within the terms of the policy.


Penny wise, pound foolish – Many claimants feel let down, disappointed and frustrated with the entire process.
SERVICE – you will get a professional service that will ensure you get through the process with the best settlement and the best level of support and service available. Handle the process – You have to ‘learn on the job’ or go with your instinct.  You may be left wondering how to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.


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The changing landscape of property claims

The insurance market in Ireland is in a constant state of change.  Most of the changes over the period of the financial crisis in Ireland were not good for consumers. e.g. Insurers seeking to limit cover by restricting cover; imposing higher excesses; introduction of no-claims-bonus on property policies; imposing higher retentions on claims payouts etc.

The public are incredulous when they hear of large awards in courts for minor injuries, and rightly so.  We all feel that soft-tissue personal injury claims are fuelled by unscrupulous scam artists, aided and abetted by willing practitioners in the medical and legal professions.  No wonder the public trust with the insurance industry is so low.  All the resources of the industry should be put into defending against unreasonable awards.

Yet sometimes when property claims are being processed, there is a dis-proportionate adversarial position adopted by some loss adjusters and insurers.  We occasionaly get clients who cannot believe the difficult anti-consumer stance that can be adopted.  It is like there is a mind-set within some loss adjusters and claims department staff, that treats every claim as a fraudulent or exaggerated claim.  This should not be the position. Policyholders who have paid the premium and suffer damage should be treated with dignity, honesty and professional courtesy.  Unless there are blatant “red-flag” issues, their claim should be paid with good grace, and without undue delay.  There is no better advertisment than a happy claimant.

It is no wonder that so many policyholders and brokers are turning to Public Loss Assessors (PLA’s) to ensure they get specialist advice and assistance when they have a property claim.  If you had a fire in your property would you know where to start?  Would the average home or business owner know how to go about documenting their loss and damage?  Would they know what is damaged beyond repair and what is salvagable?  Would they know what steps to take to agree the scope of the loss with a loss adjuster who visits the property?  Would they know what documentation is required to prove the loss?

The Financial Regulator requires that claimants be advised that they can appoint their own loss assessor to represent their interests (at their own expense). For some, it is too late, as their claim can be declined on the initial telephone call.  For others it can be put to them in a way that deters them from engaging professional representation.  When you think about it, why should the insurance company have representation (and it paid for by the premiums of the many), and the policyholder has to fend for themselves, or else pay for their own representation?  It smacks of the deck being loaded against them; that “the house always wins”.

Brokers can ensure a level playing field by recommending to their clients the option of appointing a PLA.  Better still, they can sell cover for Loss Assessing services in addition to the property policy.  Balcombes property claims scheme is a valuable enhancement to any property policy.  In the event of a loss, the policyholder doesn’t have to worry about it costing them money.  They get professional advice and asssitance in compiling, submitting and negotiating their claim. One of our qualified and experienced Loss Assessors can meet the Insurer or their appointed representative on site and agree the scope of the claim.  Balcombes will deal with all the necessary paperwork and hassle that comes with negotiating a property damage claim.  There is no better peace of mind. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

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