May 7, 2020 / 3:38 PM / 20 days ago

UK watchdog aims for July court date on business interruption insurance: policyholder

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) aims to get business interruption insurance policies examined by a court as soon as July, a member of a policyholder action group said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is seen at the agency's headquarters in the Canary Wharf business district of London April 1, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

The Hiscox Action Group, which is seeking to sue Hiscox (HSX.L) over allegations that legitimate business interruption (BI) claims have been rejected during the coronavirus pandemic, held a discussion with the FCA this week, Daniel Duckett said.

Duckett, who is a member of the 450-strong action group’s steering committee, told Reuters it was the FCA’s “ambition” to bring the case before the court in July. “That’s 16 weeks from the start of the lockdown, which really concerns us,” he added.

The FCA, which said last week it would seek clarity from the courts about whether the wording of some BI insurance policies should provide cover as a result of the pandemic, had no immediate comment on the timing of the case.

It has not named the insurers whose policies it is seeking to put before the court.

Hiscox and other insurers have said they understand these are difficult times for shuttered businesses and that they are paying valid claims fairly and quickly.

The late March government lockdown, designed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, has forced many companies in Britain to temporarily suspend operations and furlough staff in an effort to survive. Many had also banked on BI payouts and a number of insurers have been threatened with legal action.

The dispute hinges on whether the lockdown and the coronavirus are enough to trigger a clause in business interruption insurance, designed for insured premises that cannot be used because of restrictions imposed by a public authority and in the event of a notifiable disease or infection.

Top insurers such as Allianz (ALVG.DE), AXA (AXAF.PA), RSA (RSA.L), QBE (QBE.AX) and Zurich (ZURN.S) also face potential multi-million pound lawsuits from British businesses such as pubs, hotels, restaurants and leisure groups that allege legitimate business interruption claims have been rejected.

QBE said last week it had received a letter from the FCA.

RSA has not been asked to take part in the FCA’s court request as of Thursday a spokesman said.

Small businesses in dispute with their insurers can also turn to the Financial Ombudsman Services (FOS), a body set up to settle disputes for claims capped at 355,000 pounds ($437,000) between consumers and businesses providing financial services.

The FOS said it would progress those cases it could, but would also consider what the FCA’s decision to obtain a court declaration would mean for its work.

Lloyd’s of London chairman Bruce Carnegie-Brown told an online conference on Thursday that he would like to see coordination between regulators, ensuring that the ombudsman would accept the court findings.

Reporting by Carolyn Cohn and Kirstin Ridley; Editing by Alexander Smith

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