Relief for British businesses after virus insurance ruling

A sign outside a pub reads: ‘Wanted Customers’ in central London on Aug 3. Small businesses received a boost after a court ruled in their favour. (AP pic)

LONDON: Murray Pulman says he is as tough as they come, but battles with his insurer have left him close to tears after a coronavirus lockdown forced his family-run cafe The Posh Partridge to close.

Pulman was counting himself as one of the lucky ones on Tuesday, however, after a judgment in a London test case against eight insurance firms, including his insurer QBE, held up the promise of a payout on his business interruption policy.

He is among hundreds of thousands of mainly small British businesses now waiting to hear if their insurer will pay out imminently or keep them hanging while they appeal.

“This has had me close to the edge,” Pulman told Reuters by telephone from Dorchester, southwest England, where the cafe reopened on July 4 after its closure in late March.

QBE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The cafe, which the 56-year-old started with his 29-year-old daughter Emily four years ago, now runs at half speed to allow social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“I will be paid one day … (but) I expect them to run me ragged having to prove this and prove that, prove the other,” he said.

The Posh Partridge was profitable from the start, says Pulman, who paid QBE around £1,350 a year for a business interruption insurance policy for the business.

The terms of the QBE policy said it would payout if the premises were closed by a local authority as a result of an outbreak of a contagious human disease within a 40km radius.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit and the cafe was forced to close, QBE told him he had no valid claim.

The High Court judgment means Pulman could qualify for a payout, pending any appeal, although he will likely remain reliant on volatile takings, which on one day fell as low as £22, as long as the coronavirus pandemic persists.

“The insurer utterly abandoned us and sought to mitigate their losses to zero,” he said.

“This judgment will not make that go away.”

Dental work

Dentist Laith Abbas also got an abrupt no from QBE when he tried to claim as the government-imposed lockdown in March closed his North London surgery.

When he found his policy didn’t payout, he led a campaigning group of 2,000 dental practices with business interruption policies to seek redress.

Abbas said Tuesday’s judgment had given its members hope.

“A lot of dentists have suffered in lockdown, and there’s no light in the tunnel with a potential second wave,” he added.

“Business interruption insurance is potentially the only thing that can keep dental practices afloat.”