Insurance - What you need to know

SWCAA have put together the information below based on frequently asked questions. Can't find the answer to your question here, then please contact us.

What is Insurance?

Insurance bundles together a set of carefully-defined and separable (that is: not interlinked) risks.  This means that if this insured event happens to one of the people in the group insured, it is unlikely to happen to the others at the same time. The chances of this are calculated by actuaries, to estimate the likely costs of any compensation.

What is product liability insurance?

This covers accusations (with demands for compensation) made against you about goods sold or supplied, as long as the goods were fit for the purpose for which the allotment hut sold them.

What is public liability insurance?

This covers accusations (with demands for compensation) made against you by other people on the grounds of harm they have supposedly suffered, including accusations made by uninvited intruders who break in to the site, people who have been invited in, and other plot holders.

Where does the money for the compensation come from?

The people who join the insurance scheme each pay a sum of money (called a premium) which is put into a fund by the insurance company.  The company pays claims and meets its costs out of this. This fund is invested to keep down the size of the premiums needed. The costs are also low when the carefully defined risks are unlikely to happen often (as with allotment insurance).

The scheme works because the winners (those who don't have to make a claim) are paying for the losers (those who do have to) and the odds work out.

Why details are needed: good faith contracts

Both sides of an insurance contract explain the details involved in a policy agreement.  So the swcaa policy was set up on careful advice from our professional broker.  The popular saying "let the buyer beware" does not apply to insurance, since the small print has disclosed the details. These are professionally supervised contracts of utmost good faith.

Disclosure 

Deliberate concealment would lead to penalties. We list various risks not covered - such as radioactivity, or allowing damaging spills of garden chemicals or fuel into watercourses. So you will not be covered for claims arising from spillages or fuel stores. Apart from foolish actions like rinsing out sprayers in a stream, or tipping away unused mixes and killing pond life, these exceptions are rarely a problem.

Once insured, what do you have to do? 

In one sense nothing. Insurance is triggered by the insured event happening provided you stand to lose by it and have not been unduly careless.

If someone falls and breaks his hip on a path you are supposed to maintain in good condition around your plot, they might have a claim against you which the insurance would recognise; and that would be true if the person was an intruder, or an invited guest or a fellow plot-holder (public liability).

Can I claim for injury or accident to myself on my own plot?

No. You would have to arrange additional personal accident insurance for yourself: public liability and product insurance applies to claims against you from other people (the public) and not claims from you: if you fell on your own path, or caught your eye on a cane in your own plot, you obviously can't claim against yourself! But you can of course claim for harm you suffered on another plot.

When are claims disallowed? 

Trivial claims are disallowed as the costs exceed the benefits. So in the swcaa policy claims for less than £250 are excluded to keep the premium low.

Negligence: an insurance company will almost always dispute a claim if it suspects you have    courted disaster by being careless; or have not bothered to meet the conditions laid down, thinking the insurers will carry the can (the so-called "moral hazard" of insurance).  As well as refusing to pay for such negligence, swcaa insurance would not compensate you for claims made against you for any additional liability you take on (such as  a firework display or children's climbing frames), or  pay for fines, or for damage you do to your own property, or for civil unrest and terrorism.  Especially you cannot be reimbursed if you damage the environment with pollutants, allow seepage from pesticides into watercourses, or scatter asbestos (for example by burning a shed with an asbestos roof). If there   are beehives remember to have first aid boxes; post contact numbers on your site notice board for the emergency services and for contacting your secretary anyway.

What about accidents on communal areas? 

Perhaps these are wide paths (8 feet?) used by vehicles or for the delivery of manure.  Car and van drivers and tractor operators should be covered by their own insurance, so are not included in swcaa arrangements. If a member leaves tools or uncoiled hosepipes or other obstructions, then the public might have a claim against him; and he should be covered for that, as long as he/she was not negligent in causing the trip hazard.

The committee members have a general duty of care to try to see that the common paths, parking areas, picnic spaces, ponds (fenced against children?), wells, fences etc. are safe; or at least to be a making a reasonable effort to do so (see the Health and Safety advice for members on this website). Each will then be individually covered for claims.

Public footpaths are normally the responsibility of the landowner concerned.  Councils sometimes have a footpath fund for fencing or upgrading; it may be possible to get agreement to re-route a public footpath and so take it round the edge of the site; you can check any covenants or agreements about public rights of way with the Land Registry or the District Council Planning Department.

Communal Areas

How are the communal areas, including the main paths used by cars, or for skip or manure deliveries, covered by insurance?

Individuals
Any swcaa plot holder is normally covered for claims made against him by the public or by fellow plot holders for damage they perhaps suffered on the site - including on shared composting areas, main paths and access routes (while product liability covers  trading huts).  It is difficult to see how valid claims could arise against a plot holder on a communal site - trampling on a child while shovelling up compost on the heap perhaps?

More likely such claims might arise from damage caused by the plot holder's own carelessness; and since this is her own negligence she is then probably not insured: examples of negligence might be a trip hazard created by an uncoiled hosepipe left on the path; when using a rotovator or brush cutter (flying stones - give warnings); a sharp tool, rake, pesticide or rat poison left about; leaving the pond gate open so a child falls in. The insurance against this is to take care!

Vehicles
Driving and especially reversing on the site is always a risk:  It is covered by the car owner's or the contractor's insurance, not swcaa.

Personal accidents (such as putting the muck fork through your foot while loading -up on the communal heap) is a matter for private self-insurance if any. So is any damage you do to yourself while going about the normal tasks on your site - trimming hedges or bushes, cutting path edges or putting up a shed.

Committees
Committee members should each be covered by swcaa membership against claims from plot holders or the public, provided they have fulfilled their general duty of care over the whole site, including the communal areas.

Examples: the Committee members must see to checking that paths are even and well-maintained and roughly 2 feet wide; the car park is marked off, perhaps fenced against children; there are turning places for cars to avoid reversing; no asbestos, no sharp tin edges, no uncovered wells, or unfenced ponds and so on (see: Health and Safety Sheet on this site). As long as a list of the most serious hazards (if any) is made and action is underway the Committee is not negligent- they should avoid making a fuss and putting people's backs up.  In addition one at least of the Committee members should take out Employer's Liability insurance, and be responsible for all working parties and individual volunteers undertaking defined tasks according to instructions.

If the Association is a Limited Company (a few non-swcaa ones are) then this information does not apply and separate company insurance should be obtained.

Trusts 

Inquiries made to the Charity Commission suggest there are two types of Trust: the first sort is corporate trusts run as a limited company and registered with Companies House (and having "limited" in their title).  Trustees in charge of these should be insured as a group, and this is not covered by swcaa schemes nor can any suggestions be made.  Look at the trust deeds to see where you stand.

The other Trusts (the majority) are not limited companies, and appear to run like any normal committee.  Inquiry at the Charity Commission suggested that each trustee should be insured individually as under the swcaa scheme.

(If you have just become a trustee, or are thinking about it, then for general advice on trustee duties Google: CC3 - The Essential Trustee: What you need to know (choose the commission website version). You can phone the Commission on 0845 300 0218 and they are helpful.)

Making a claim for insurance: duties after loss 

The insurance company takes your case over, and goes to court in your place, it stands in your shoes, and meets your loss or gain (this is called sub-rogation).

Do's and don'ts

Do not

  • Admit any liability or fault
  • Attempt to negotiate
  • Make any promise or payment (unless the insurer has first agreed)

Do

  • Let SWCAA know in writing if a claim against you is likely
  • Keep a written record of incidents
  • Send full details of any threatened prosecution, any inquest, fatal accident inquiry, letter, claim, writ or summons relating to the incident
  • Have a plan of action ready if visitors, especially children, go missing
  • Have a plan ready if fire gets out of control (surrounding houses might be asked to join a fire-watch scheme - if only to report smoky bonfires to the secretary!)
  • Ensure anyone hiring a hall or building has their own separate insurance.

Compensation 

The aim of the insurance fund payout is to restore you to the position you were in before disaster struck (obviously that does not apply to life insurance - which is not part of the swcaa scheme anyway) but never to make you better off.  So if you join a second insurance scheme, you will not be paid out twice - they will simply share the payout between them. The aim of the swcaa scheme is to meet your legal costs and any damages you subsequently owe up to £5 million.

What about property and individual hut insurance? 

As car owners sometimes discover, you are unlikely to be fully compensated for damage to property.

This makes insurance of individual plot holders' allotment huts (against loss through vandalism and theft for example) a problem, and the swcaa insurance scheme does not at present include this.

Insurance companies will need evidence of the value and ownership of missing property, such as paid invoices, registration certificates and so on - things unlikely to be available for the contents of the average shed. Losses may need to exceed £250 (or more) to count, so apart from new equipment most shed contents (old tools, chemicals, seeds, pots and gloves etc) won't count. Insurers also require the shed itself to be of stout, lockable construction made of brick, timber, tiles, slates or asbestos roofing and with window grills and five-lever locks. There may be an additional premium charge for storing small quantities of fuel or inflammables.

So what might appear an attractive proposition seems to turn out expensive and not much use in most cases. What can be done?

For individual Plot Huts:

You might try Cremark instant thief protection (www.creproducts.co.uk). 
Or a Siren Alarm Padlock - use search bar on www.chainreactioncycles.com 
Or install a shed alarm if there are houses near by; or automatic lighting

(Suggestions welcomed.  But take care: paintball mines or guard dogs might get you sued?)

For Communal Huts

Cargo containers neatly painted and resting on brick or wooden blocks are fairly safe storage for site equipment, or for an allotment hut, discreetly sited.

For communal hut buildings swcaa could arrange a repair and rebuild insurance (value up to £3500) for a premium of approx. £30 p.a. if there are enough takers.  To build up our list of applicants send in the address and postcode for the allotment hut to the Secretary.

Because of the difficulty of valuation, contents insurance is not at present under consideration.

Can Volunteers on Allotment Sites be insured? 

Personal Effort

Plot holders often work trimming hedges, mowing paths, gathering compost. This may be part of the tenancy agreement or may be something a plot holder decides to do for his/her own satisfaction. This is entirely at the plot holder's own risk.

Volunteers as Employees

Volunteers working under instruction are a different matter, and should be insured against risks. Committees often call for work-groups, or individual volunteers, to clear overgrown plots, cut boundary hedges, mow main paths, clear ditches and such-like tasks on the site.  While carrying out work that they have been asked to do (and only then) the law may regard them as employees - even though they are unpaid (or receive small expenses), and are not on any work sheet or formal employment record.

The member in charge can (for a fee of £15) register with swcaa for Employer's Liability Insurance. This is a legal duty, and you get a certificate for that year.  You should also buy a site accident book (a hard-cover notebook will do) in which every injury, even small ones are carefully recorded with name, date and nature of the accident. The certificate for each year, along with the accident book, must be kept safe for as long as possible to protect you in case of future claims. If organised voluntary work is a regular event, several members could register to share the burden of supervision.

Cooperation with Schools: pupil insurance against accidents 

Schools may organise visits to allotment sites, perhaps for nature-study in hedgerow and pond, or for hen-keeping, or to tend a plot rented to a teacher or parent for that purpose. The school will be insured for this, and should have a standard risk-assessment form it completes, after its preliminary visit surveying the route and site for risks. The responsibility for the pupils' safety rests with the supervising teacher or helper.  It is a good idea to ask to see the completed risk-assessment form first, because without it the local authority's insurance for the school would be invalid (or the equivalent for a private school).

Members need only check the normal safety conditions on the Field are in good order as usual.

Community pay-back scheme workers 
The situation for work-gangs of youths carrying out these sentences is similar to insurance for schools: the probation officers or social workers in charge are responsible for safety and insurance. These groups are useful for digging ponds, or clearing overgrown plots and ditches and often enjoy this open-air work.  They can erect notice-boards made in their workshops and do other agreed tasks and are normally strictly supervised.

Final Note

This information is for general guidance only, and aims to answer the questions members most often raise. If you have further queries you would like included please let us know.