Update: June 2017.
The AXA Insurance and my flood claim from February 2014.
I confirm that despite paying Buildings and contents cover annually, in advance, since 1986, since the flood of my home in February 2014, I have not received one penny in Insurance. No contents has been paid, although I had a paid for contents policy that was accepted by the AXA.
No Buildings cover has been provided and no rehousing has been paid. I have had to raise over £200,000 to effect repairs myself to make the house habitable. As a result of this personal outlay I was able to let the property out and that income is used to repay interest on the loan to effect repairs that the Insurance should have covered. However because of the delay in repairs – some two years – the effects of leaving the property standing unheated in damp conditions has led to costly breakdowns since. Most recently, June, 2016, the collapse of the staircase as the footing was standing in water and rotted, and the collapse of the bathroom flooring because the wooden frame on which the floor tiling was supported rotted through. I requested a claim for that cost. Still waiting for a reply.
After some 27 years of paying for Buildings and contents Insurance with the AXA, when the opportunity came to avoid paying following the floods of 2014, which affected many Thames side homes, #theAXAinsurance have to date, not paid one penny to me.
The AXA and the buildings and contents cover for my home
My Thames side home flooded in February 2014 in an event that made the news and was for me a traumatic experience. (BBC: 10 Feb 2014: Thousands of homes along the River Thames are threatened with flooding as waters continue to rise. Aerial footage of the river between Walton-on-Thames, in Surrey and Marlow, in Buckinghamshire show the extent of the flooding.)
Lots of poo and Thames water washing through my beautiful home. I wasn’t even there at the time, being away on holiday.
Lucky for me the freeholder to my home, a Kingston lawyer, Charlotte Adler, had buildings cover with AXA INSURANCE .
I have had cover for my home since 1986. Fully paid up annually in advance, buildings and contents. Although in 2003 I transferred title to Charlotte Adler to take advantage of her legal advice in lowering premiums.
First off I needed rehousing. Obviously living in a excrement flooded dwelling with black mould appearing on the walls was not going to be an option for me, with family members including a 5 year old son and my 79 year old mother. The building not only stank. The boiler was damaged beyond repair by flood water and the electrics did not work for some time.
After initially inviting my hotel bills and quotes for a 6 month lease while works were undertaken, following a meet with the Landlord, Insurers reversed their position. Saying the house was habitable and as such they would not pay the rehousing stipulated in the policy. I was assured that I should put my fears that it might be a breach of health and safety law to one side and consider living in the flooded property as ‘adequate rehousing’. That there was no heating, as well as no electricity initially, did not seem to the AXA to be at odds with providing ‘like for like’ housing. It seemed clear there was some collusion between the Loss Adjuster and the Landlord in undermining the policy cover.
The market rehousing equivalent of my home is £4,000 per month. Given the urgency with which I needed rehousing, I was staying in Hotels, paying on my credit card, while I waited for a suitable lease. I took the first feasible option, a 3 month lease at £4,000 pm. I was prepared to pay 25% of the cost difference myself and made this offer to the Axa. I thought at worst the repairs would be effected within 6 months. I had an identical flood situation in 2008 and knew the procedure well.
Not for one second was it an option to live in the flooded and unheated property. It stank of poo for starters. For another, the AXA buildings policy provides for like for like rehousing when the property becomes uninhabitable.
When the flood happened (I was out of the Country) and sent in my building handyman to try and mitigate the damage. He successfully blocked the back flowing waste pipe that was spewing excrement into the incoming water by sticking his hand under water into the drain to block it with a towel, effectively plugging it to stop further waste egress. He spent several days at the property working to mitigate damage, place dehumidifiers in, assist with drainage and so on. Vital work in mitigating the damage. 8 months later his bill was still not been paid by the AXA. To date, December 2016, that bill has never been paid. Including the bill for the truck to pump out the flood water.
Throughout this first 8 month period the AXA did not pay me one single penny. Apparently because I am not named on the Insurance and the decisions reside with the named party, the Landlord, Charlotte Adler. I paid all my rehousing myself, with unsurprising financial consequences. My home meanwhile rotted away with black mould enjoying a good 8 months to take hold of the entire property. Without heating and through the cold winter months damage to the plumbing and electrics was to be expected.
At the time I began writing this blog, (8 months after the flood) I still had no indication of when the restoration works might begin, let alone a completion date for me to aim at moving back home on.
I suggested to the Axa that their proposal that I house my family in an uncleaned foul water flooded property where they know black mould is present might represent a breach of Health and Safety Laws which would bring the Axa into disrepute.
Their reaction was to give me a written assurance that I ‘be advised that Black mould does not represent a health and safety risk‘. This is the AXA Insurance writing to a flood victim who has a 4 year old child and a 79 year old mother visiting a property with sprouting black mould.
With my family’s health at stake I thought it reasonable to request sight of their qualified experts report confirming that black mould is not dangerous to health. A professional document from someone who had visited the foul water flooded black mould infested dwelling, just to reassure myself that I would not be placing anyone’s health at risk by living in a contaminated property (Even though it was transparently obvious to anyone visiting that living in this space was clearly not possible).
I thought that surely the AXA would not provide this reassurance that no Health and Safety laws were being breached by their rehousing arrangements without first taking the precaution of a professional report and so imagine my surprise when it turned out that they had no report to send me, because they had not commissioned a report.
Instead of a report by an Environmental Specialist in Health And Safety I got Lars the Gab Robbins Loss Adjuster assuring me that his mate told him that it was OK to house a family (with young and elderly) in a poo infested untreated black mould rich property without hot water or heating.
This is not an exaggeration. The words relayed to me in the absence of a reliable and credible specialist written report were; “Lars Richter has clarified there is no written report but an assessment by their surveyor who attended the property as to risk which was in turn reported back to him then to me. There has been deemed no risk by a professional surveyor.”
The ‘professional Surveyor’ to whom they refer turns out to be another employee of Gab Robins who rebranded toxic black mould as Mild Mildew. It seems that Lars from Gab Robins is making it up as he goes along. If this is not the case, then, obviously, I would have seen the report I requested confirming that Lar’s assurance is based on reliable and credible professional evidence. To date – December 2016 – I have never had sight of any confirmation that the property was professionally evaluated. Although I paid an environmental health inspector to review the property. He commented as follows:
“In terms of the Housing Act 2004 ‘Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)’, I have identified a Category 1 Hazard, this is because the extent of the hazard in this case cold & dampness and its potential to cause harm being high, warrants immediate action in regards to remediation. As a result of this defect your property fails to meet ‘the Decent Home Standard’ and is uninhabitable in its current state. I recommend that you engage a damp proof specialist who can undertake the necessary work to remedy the situation. You will need to provide heating and electricity to the property, therefore I would recommend that approved contractors are used to test and repair both systems.”
With a Health and Safety concern as significant as the one described and as you see pictured on this page, do you not think any responsible party would consider as a minimum precaution the commission a professional report, including a laboratory analysis of the black mould, which has the potential to be toxic, before insisting that a family should be forced by their decision to live in these conditions? And if so, what kind of professional loss adjuster decides to go ahead and say ‘there is no risk’ just to defend not paying for rehousing?
The answer in law is, they knew I was not named on the policy. They were answerable to the named policy holder. Adler. Who, clearly, encouraged them to not pay out on the policy wherever it was in her power to do so, for the advantage it gave her in causing me financial distress at a time when she was litigating furiously.
She was probably unaware, or unconcerned by any fiduciary responsibility relating to her name on the title, because she knew the title was not in fact hers. She held it only in trust and could change her position in that regard at any time.
I found the AXA’s position to be unreasonable. At least they could have made the effort to get a certified environmental health expert to go in and take a look at any health issues before dismissing my concerns out of hand. It may be that I was not named on the policy, but they would know from their records that I had paid buildings and contents in good faith since I bought the building in 1986. It’s not that hard or that expensive, as I found out when I commissioned a site visit and professional report with analysis of the black mould by an accredited professional with a Phd. Which cost about £500. Surely the AXA could have taken this basic precaution?
Imagine my lack of surprise to learn that the AXA’s assurance that their policy was not placing my family at risk based on nothing more than a heresay opinion by a loss adjuster (Gab Robbins) and motivated by the will to avoid paying out at any cost, encouraged by the Insured party toward this end.
Although assuring me that it is safe to house my family in the presence of trichothecene mycotoxins has enabled Gab Robins and the Axa to avoid paying me one single penny in rehousing in 8 months, I remain convinced that it brings both of these organisations into disrepute.
My hope then was that this is the work of a few bad apples at the AXA #theaxainsurance rather than the policy of the company they represent. Now, in December 2016, I have grave concerns.
Even at that stage, (8 months in) given the total failure to provide any reasonable insurance cover, either by way of my rehousing costs until the works are complete, or by paying the mitigation works invoice, or by actually completing the remedial works to enable me to return to my property, I had very little confidence that the A
xa actually would make any payment. For a period they suspended all dialogue in relation to the flood claim while they investigated the Landlord (Adler, the Lessor of my property) for fraud. An issue that is between Insurers and the Landlord, and has nothing to do with my claim as the Lessee. None the less, while that investigation went on, I continued having to rehouse myself at my own expense and my home continued to decay as mould rose up untreated walls. And wooden frames remained untreated after foul water intrusion.
Whilst we are accustomed to Insurers trying to pay out as little as possible, especially given that many people were affected by the flood, I think that in my case the Axa have taken avoiding liability to a new high and I do not feel that I have been treated fairly.
8 months. Not one penny. No rehousing. No works underway. No completion date.
Thank you kind reader for letting me share my tale with you and I hope it helps in some way next time you need to Insure your property.
PS: Now its 9 months later. Still no payment. Just nothing at all.
PPS: Now it over 2 years later. And not one penny has been paid. The financial consequences have been dire. I believe fraud has occurred in which The AXA, Gab Robbins and the named Freeholder of my home have conspired to fraudulently avoid payment
PPPS: Three years later. Two further claims for damage. One a tree fall from next door property causing £15,000 damage to fabric of building and another £8,000 damage when staircase left in standing water and bathroom floor wooden bracing collapsed having never been treated post flood. Neither claim was even triggered and AXA declined speaking with me as I was not named on the policy. The Policyholder, my ex girlfriend, deliberately did not trigger a claim for either, acting in bad faith, although as a member of the Law Society one would expect a higher ethical standard to apply, in this case Charlotte Adler has deliberately fouled three Insurance claims leaving me with costs far in excess of £200,000, whilst refusing to return the Freehold title that gives her the control over the Insurance despite being in a trust agreement requiring her to do so. The AXA have at no time spoken with me directly about the fact that I am the property owner relating to the cover they provide, and have paid the costs of Insuring with them for the past 29 years, never once late in payment, always the full year ahead of time. To date, 2017, I have not received even the repayment of the bill for pumping out the property after the flood.