DAS Coronavirus business partner updates

Landlord update – 25th June 2020

DAS UK is continuing to review developments in the private rental sector in order to support our landlord customers.

Since our last landlord-focused update in April there have been substantial changes to the sector and to wider society in general. The government has re-opened the lettings market and the available data suggests that tenants and landlords have responded, with new lettings returning to close to pre-Covid completion rates.

The government has not, at the time of writing this update, issued its long-promised update to the pre-action protocols but has extended the stay on repossession hearings to August. There are no guarantees, but it looks likely, with the phased withdrawal from lockdown, that this may be the final extension.

Our position remains that landlords should explore every avenue for compromise with their tenants during this difficult time. We have numerous legal resources available at www.dasbusinesslaw.co.uk, while we will also be publishing an update on the existing social landlord pre-action protocols and what to expect from the new law on Wednesday 1 July on our blog.

For those landlords, with a rent guarantee product who have exhausted all of these approaches, it is now more likely that we will advocate immediate issuing of notices for repossession. We will however assess each situation on its merits and our advisors are trained to identify particularly vulnerable cases where special arrangements may need to be made.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our continued position that, where all avenues for resolution with the tenant have been explored and where there is a valid claim, we are paying rent guarantee claims in full throughout this Covid-19 affected period.

We will continue to keep you updated as appropriate.

Business Partner Update – 1 June 2020

Aside from the health implications of Covid-19, the government is now warning of the largest economic recession in our history and, consequently, extraordinary risks regarding our livelihoods, mental wellbeing and economic health.

During the last recession we saw a clear increase in claims volumes, particularly in employment matters, but also in areas such as contract disputes. We are forecasting that we will continue to see a significant uplift in frequency with regards to landlord repossession and rent arrears, as well as employment and contract claims, and we are well prepared for this eventuality.

Unfortunately, what the insurance industry refers to as core covers – buildings & contents, property, liability, motor – are not always able to provide individuals or SMEs with all the support they require in these situations. We therefore feel that our LEI products have never had a more important role to play.

Unlike previous recessions, we are much more reliant on a larger number of contracts (both personally and commercially), we no longer tend to own property, and we tend to value experiential pursuits over physical property.

Our employment practices have also changed and few individuals now plan to work for the same organisation through their whole careers, so the likelihood of a legal issue regarding, for example, a contract, is much more commonplace.

And all this is before we add on the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown to our everyday lives and the changes that will occur as we return to what everyone is now referring the ‘new norm’.

We passionately believe that legal expenses insurance – be it commercial, personal or motor - has a major part to play in giving people and SMEs everyday peace of mind, providing them with the necessary support to resolve their issues quickly – now more than ever before.

LEI products have a vital role to play, not only in enabling people and businesses to obtain free, unlimited access to legal advice around important issues such as employment, contract or tenancy disputes, but also in accessing support services such as legal documentation resources, specialist tax advice, and counselling to help with issues such as mental wellbeing.

In areas such as landlord and tenant, we’ve already seen a threefold increase in the number of legal advice issues we are supporting, and our customer feedback is even better than pre-Covid-19 levels. We are also here to assist individuals or SMEs through legal representation if we can’t resolve their issue quickly before a claim becomes necessary.

These products will also have an even more important role to play as we emerge from lockdown with businesses and individuals more susceptible to legal risks than ever before, not to mention the physical dangers related to Covid-19.

For example, there will be extraordinary transformational changes in the way we work. Employers and employees alike are already grappling with how to deploy new ways of flexible working, contract changes, childcare policies, health, safety and wellbeing implications that will come with a myriad of new laws and guidance.

Over the coming months DAS UK will continue to run its award-winning marketing campaigns which are specifically designed to raise awareness of legal issues amongst customers and to showcase the resources we have available that can help them make informed legal decisions during what is a particularly difficult period.

We firmly believe our products offer great value and are extremely relevant, particularly whilst everyone’s finances are under strain, so we can only warn of the dangers of not purchasing legal expenses insurance.

Business Continuity and Supply Chain Update

Customer Contact Centres

Our customer-facing teams continue to perform well against service level agreements. This provides us with the continued confidence that we can successfully respond to upturns in claim volumes and/or legal advice enquiries as they return to pre-crisis levels.

Longer term, we have begun a group wide initiative – informed by forecasting undertaken by our Underwriting team – to ensure we have the right resources to manage predicted surges in volumes later this year and into 2021.

Supply Chain

As you may have heard, Hertz (hire provider) has filed for bankruptcy in the United States due to a severely reduced demand for rental vehicles as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. It is important to note, however, that our relationship in the UK is with Hertz Accident Support which is a separate entity. The UK services continue to run successfully with capacity subject to ongoing review thanks to a gradual increase in hires attributable to greater motor usage.

Nevertheless, the position is constantly being reviewed and a line of communication has been opened with a suitable alternate provider in the unlikely event we need to swiftly on-board a new supplier.  As part of the exit strategy, initial due diligence has also been completed to include business continuity, information security and 4th part management.

In terms of the rest of our supply chain then all our partners have reported that operations continue to run smoothly:

  • Panel Solicitors
  • The AA – Breakdown Provider
  • CET – Home Emergency Provider
  • Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider
  • Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider

We will continue to keep you updated as appropriate.

  • Previous updates
Supply chain and business continuity update – 22 May 2020
Key Information for Business Partners & Customers

As you know, providing the latest legal information for business partners and their customers is intrinsic to our offering. We have developed a dedicated Covid-19 site which has the latest information on some of the legal aspects of the crisis (note that this is regularly updated but not always on a daily basis).

In terms of more consumer-focussed legal content then our DAS Law blog is our key resource, providing handy legal advice on a range of topics. These sites continue to be hugely popular with over 15,000 page views since launch.

Our legal documents services – DAS Businesslaw & DAS Householdlaw – have also seen user growth doubling month on month with numerous Covid-19-specific resources being added on a weekly basis. Please contact us if you would like support in promoting their use at a time when they could be essential to consumers and businesses alike.

Customer Contact Centres

We are seeing calls into our Legal Advice department remaining at a relatively high level and are seeing a particularly high volume relating to topics such as landlord and tenant disputes, as well as a significant volume of commercial and personal calls seeking advice around Covid-19 related employment matters.

We expect the number of calls will continue to rise as we move out of lockdown and are therefore planning for a subsequent spike in claims volumes later in the year as a result.

Our Supply Chain

Finally, in terms of our supply chain then all our partners have reported that operations continue to run smoothly:

  • Panel Solicitors
  • The AA – Breakdown Provider
  • CET – Home Emergency Provider
  • Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider
  • Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider
  • Hertz – Hire Provider

We will continue to keep you updated as appropriate.

Supply chain and business continuity update – 15 May 2020

The first thing to mention is that, in line with UK government guidance, we will continue with homeworking for the vast majority of our employees. We will, however, commence a phased return of a small number of our staff – who have had connectivity issues impacting their ability to work remotely – to our Bristol head office in June.

Our Bedwas office in South Wales remains closed at this time in line with the Welsh Assembly advice, and all of our employees in Wales continue to work remotely.

It is important to note that the health and safety of our colleagues will be of paramount importance during this process and we will stringently follow the UK government’s guidance. Work is currently being undertaken to ensure the office is ready for our people including additional controls for safe working and social distancing.

There also follows a brief update on our customer contact centre and supply chain.

Customer Contact

During April we handled over 10,000 calls and customers are highly appreciative that our lines remain open. We’ve seen a rise in NPS scores across our business and our advice strategy, which proactively supports your customers, is seeing high usage and an NPS of +61.

Supply Chain

Panel Solicitors

Operations continue to run smoothly. We are continuing to review capacity in anticipation of a future spike in calls/claims.

The AA – Breakdown Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly. We continue to see an increase in breakdowns attributable to an increase in motor usage.

CET – Home Emergency Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly. All internal trades are now required to wear PPE with the additional costs billed to DAS UK. The use of PPE for external trades and a higher level of PPE for higher risk jobs is subject to ongoing review.

After the recent government announcement, the company has decided to keep its back office teams at home for the next couple of months to keep them safe and this will be reviewed again in the second half of July. The planning behind the scenes is in full swing and changes to office spaces are underway in the event that certain sections of the business will return later in the year.

Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly.

Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly.

Hertz – Hire Provider

Referral volume continued to drop in April as a result of the government lockdown. There were some small signs in May that volumes are starting to increase which is something that Hertz will continue to monitor very closely.

We will continue to keep you updated as appropriate.

On behalf of the whole of the DAS UK team, we once again wish you, your family and your colleagues the very best of health.

Landlord update – 20th April 2020

We would like take the opportunity to update you on our approach to landlord rent arrears during this very difficult time.

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the government strongly advises landlords not to issue new notices seeking possession without a very good reason to do so. It is also encouraging landlords and tenants to work together in these unprecedented circumstances to offer solutions to keep tenants safe in their properties.

DAS UK fully supports this advice. We continue to introduce measures to support and aid landlords in finding practical and affordable solutions that allow tenants to remain in the property. We believe it is our duty as part of this national effort to support both landlords and their tenants to achieve a reasonable and pragmatic outcome. This is particularly relevant during lockdown when a tenant may be sick and facing other hardships due to COVID-19.

We advise policyholders facing difficulties to undertake the following:

  • Do not issue either Section 8 or Section 21 notices, in line with government advice.
  • Contact our legal helpline at the earliest opportunity which will provide support via a range of tools to assist in the negotiation with tenants.
  • Should all such negotiated efforts fail, we will assist policyholders in issuing notices and pay rent arrears which will cover the period during which agreement was not achieved.

To reiterate, should a landlord demonstrate that they have exhausted all reasonable avenues to reach an agreeable position with their tenants, we can confirm we will make rent arrears payments for the full period covered by the policy. It is worth noting at this point that the extended period of negotiation will result in longer periods of rent arrears cover being paid by DAS UK.

We are aware that this may be both disappointing and difficult for landlords. However, DAS UK believes this process best supports the spirit of the government emergency intervention – to prevent evictions and encourage forbearance during the current crisis.

Note that, as the government position currently stands, after the court suspension period ends on 24 June, we will be able to take legal action to initiate an eviction or repossession claim. The eviction of a tenant should be regarded as a last resort when all reasonable steps have been taken to keep the tenant in the property.

In line with our advice above, we are continuing to make more resources available in the Landlords section of our dedicated COVID-19 website.

Supply chain and business continuity update – 1 May 2020

Following is the latest update on our response to the Coronavirus crisis:

Customers

Since the closure of our offices, our technology teams have been working hard to stabilise and upgrade the systems used by our contact centre teams. We have received positive feedback from customers throughout the lockdown period that they feel reassured they are still able to speak to our representatives promptly (we continue to perform strongly against our agreed service level response times).

Last week over 800 of our inbound calls were taken by people working remotely, a significant step for us in terms of a return to business as usual activity, and we still have outsourced arrangements in place to deal with overflow calls.

Whilst many of our competitors continue with an ‘e-mail only’ contact strategy within claims, we continue to invest in our ability to speak to customers through our Legal Advice helpline, claims handling and our legal panel, which we believe is especially important during the current crisis. Hence, we remain focused on being able to offer a service that balances the requirements of our customers and our colleagues while ensuring that our most vulnerable customers are always able to speak to one of our team when required.

Our Supply Chain

Panel Solicitors

Operations continue to run smoothly. We remain grateful to our Legal Panel experts who have continued to support us, ensuring that our customers who require legal services can still be referred to a lawyer without delay.

The AA – Breakdown Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly with an increase in breakdowns reported over the weekend which is attributable to an increase in motor usage. For further details visit the AA website.

CET – Home Emergency Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly with a reduced number of home emergency claims reported to date in April. The company’s Home Emergency & Drainage service has remained steady and there have been no further changes to report in the field.

Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly.

Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly.  The latest stats from Medical Solutions show that overall demand in April continues at one and a half times above pre-COVID levels. Average waiting time for an appointment has reduced to three hours with average call waiting times at 37 seconds.

Hertz – Hire Provider

Our hire provider has been able to continue to provide replacement hire vehicles where required and has done so for a number of key workers where time was of the essence to enable them to return to the front line. The number of referrals remains significantly lower than normal however the latest stats from Hertz show a slight increase in referrals last week.

Supply chain and business continuity update – 24 April 2020

Our primary objective has always been to protect the welfare and health of our colleagues, particularly those who are classed as vulnerable, whilst continuing to respond to the needs of our customers and business partners as best as we can. We have moved past the transition phase of our business continuity plans into a ‘sustain’ phase and our plans are well developed to ensure that we are ready for an easing of the current restrictions in the next few weeks, should that be the case.

We have also sought to support the government’s stance and advice during this difficult time, balancing this with some of the specific interests of your policyholders. Examples include:

  • We have seen a significant increase in the provision of legal advice which is covid-19 related, especially in employment and landlord areas, although we remain within service levels. Our teams of qualified legal advisers have produced numerous guides for businesses, sole traders and employees, as well as for specific sectors such as landlords. We have made information available broadly to the public on our dedicated microsite.
  • We continue to provide useful generic advice for anyone across a broad spectrum of areas, including the personal, business and landlord segments. We will start to provide our useful DAS Law blogs again this week, having balanced the sensitivities of the current situation with the ongoing demand for advice in these unprecedented times.
  • One particular example of where we are doing the right thing is with our rent arrears product where we have continued to pay landlord claims during the 90 day period covered by the Coronavirus Act. The government had also advised the industry, via the Ministry for Housing, not to issue any eviction notices to tenants, despite being legally possible. Our stance is that we support the government, doing everything we can to ask landlords to achieve a pragmatic and reasonable outcome for both tenants and themselves. If this is not possible, we have decided not to issue an eviction notice until the end of the current 90 day period despite honouring the claim for the landlord.  This represents a significant additional cost to DAS UK but we believe it is the right thing to do. We will honour the commitments we have made to landlords with our policies but also support the government’s objective to avoid tenants becoming homeless at this difficult time.
  • We took a decision very early on in the crisis to ensure that as many of our staff as possible were working from home. Our IT team toiled around the clock to make this happen while liaising with our technology partners to also move our telephony system and contact centre staff into this new ‘virtual’ world. We now have the whole of DAS UK working remotely, enabling us to fully support both our business partners and their customers.

Supply chain updates

Panel Solicitors

Operations continue to run smoothly.

The AA – Breakdown Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly. No contact centre or repair staff have been furloughed, but this is of course subject to ongoing review. For further details visit the AA website.

CET – Home Emergency Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly. After a busy weekend managing home emergency and drainage claims CET also took time to canvass its supply chain with regards to the government’s extension of the lockdown.

One supplier commented that there was no change on the frontline in terms of the number of available contractors and the ability to visit homes. They also reported that they had a good supply of PPE equipment. Another supplier has been investing in more online training resources covering various topics from soft skills to insurance products.

Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider

Care first already offers customers an AI counselling app – Woebot – which helps with a variety of mental health issues. The company has been working closely with the app’s developers to launch a completely free COVID-19 version which aims to reduce stress, combat isolation and help support with the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

For further details visit www.care-first.co.uk (the Woebot icon will be in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen).

Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider

The latest stats from Medical Solutions show that overall demand in April is one and a half times above pre-COVID levels but is not increasing. Average waiting time for an appointment is currently around five hours with average call waiting times between 30–60 seconds.

Hertz – Hire Provider

Operations continue to run smoothly.

Thompson & Bryan – Chartered Loss Adjustors

Operations continue to run smoothly. The company has generally shut down its ‘normal’ claims due to a dramatic reduction in volume which has, in turn, enabled it to handle the COVID-19 call volume with ease.

We will continue to keep you updated as appropriate. On behalf of the whole of the DAS UK team, we once again wish you, your family and your colleagues the very best of health.

Supply chain and business continuity update – 9 April 2020

As it has been a shortened week there is not a huge amount to report regarding our overall operational position as we move into the Easter break – we are still doing everything possible to protect the welfare and health of our colleagues while responding to the needs of our customers and business partners as best as we can.

Following is the latest update with regards to our supply chain:

Panel Solicitors

All lawyers are working from home with no impact on targets, staffing levels, or capacity reported.

The AA – Breakdown Provider

Most call centres are now working on a virtual (remote working) capability. All operations are continuing as normal and performance remains strong.  A full business continuity team (executive and director level) has also been mobilised, meeting daily to monitor the situation and ensure full resources are focused on protecting the company’s people, customers and service. 

For further details visit the AA website.

CET – Home Emergency Provider

With boiler manufacturers halting production and placing staff on furlough, customers may now turn to their Home Emergency insurer to fix their boiler issues.

In terms of parts, CET has also reported that many retailers have closed completely. This may lead to fewer jobs being completed on a first visit with increased travel to wider areas to collect parts. Nevertheless, CET is committed to ensuring that works are coordinated and customers are fully updated. No impact to claims volumes or service levels was experienced in March.

For further details visit the CET website.

Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider

Care first has increased its bank network capacity in order to effectively manage any increase in call volumes due to the coronavirus.

Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider

Medical Solutions reported an unprecedented sharp increase in demand for GP consultations with associated call volumes fluctuating on a daily basis. 

Average appointment wait times were extending to approximately 48 hours, but as of Friday 3 April they were back down to circa 24 hours with no significant delays experienced and with average call wait times. GP capacity has been increased by 15% so, unless there is a further surge in demand, appointment wait times should continue to fall.

Hertz – Hire Provider

Due to significantly reduced demand, Hertz has implemented employee furlough programs across its operations in the UK. A low number of operational staff are affected while ring fenced teams and points of escalation remain in place. Very few Hertz branches are affected, and only then where there are multiple branches. 

The company remains committed to providing an exceptional service and staffing levels have been, and will continue to be, monitored to ensure no impact to customer service delivery. All contact centre staff are set up to work at home and telephony SLAs remain on target.

We will continue to keep you updated as appropriate.

Supply chain and business continuity update – 3 April 2020

Both our Bristol and Bedwas sites remain physically closed in line with ongoing government directives, with the vast majority of our teams available and operational from home. We continue to have a small team of essential workers in the office to deal with critical business activity that cannot be undertaken remotely.

Like most other UK businesses we are supporting our people with adapting to working away from the office. This includes continuing to explore ways that we can further improve their remote access capability as we are not yet at optimal capacity.

We are currently in the process of testing and rolling out a remote telephony solution that will enable our customer facing teams to have full telephony capability whilst at home. In the meantime, we are continuing to offer a 24/7 telephony service within our Contact Centre and Legal Advice teams and all customers, where requested, are able to speak to someone and receive legal advice round the clock.

To ensure we are able to meet critical legal deadlines, our DAS Law colleagues are working flexible shift patterns between the hours of 7am and 11pm, seven days a week.

Our legal advice volumes are slightly up with an expected increase in Covid-19 enquiries. Claim volumes have increased this week but still remain lower than normal. Our current service remains well within our SLA targets.

Panel Solicitors

All lawyers are working from home with no impact on targets, staffing levels, or capacity reported.

The AA – Breakdown Provider

All contact centre staff are working from home and telephony service levels remain on target. AA patrols are still covering breakdowns across the UK, taking extra care to follow health advice and the latest guidelines at all times.

Breakdown services in mainland Europe should be available as normal though they may be affected by the local situation. Ferry companies are operating reduced services, to support essential travel, which may impact how quickly and easily vehicles can be recovered. For further details visit the AA website.

CET – Home Emergency Provider

All contact centre staff are working from home with telephony service levels on target. Nic Sharp from Contact Centre Management reports that the team are engaging well with home working and that the last few days continue to show very limited absence.

After a busy weekend of managing claims with little disruption, Paul Screen from CET Network Management reports that three small contractors have ceased trading, choosing to Furlough, but with no impact to the business due to the availability of alternative contractors. Five contractors reported cases of self-isolation within their businesses but cover is still being provided by those companies or from across CET’s wider network of over 2000 contractors.

Last week CET decided to carry on with planned training of new recruits using remote sessions which was a resounding success. CET will be utilising new training techniques in case the isolation extends for a number of months to come, ensuring that they can still train staff in the warmer months ready for next winter.

For further details visit the CET website.

Care first – Counselling Helpline Provider

Care first has increased its bank network capacity in order to effectively manage any increase in call volumes due to the coronavirus.

Medical Solutions – Health and Medical Helpline Provider

Medical Solutions has increased available capacity within both its Doctor and Customer Service teams to help manage additional demand on services.  Approximately 36 staff within its Customer Services team are working across different shifts to ensure that there is good coverage should any members of the team become affected by the coronavirus.

Medical Solutions has experienced an unprecedented sharp increase in demand for GP consultations and associated call volumes, which has led to extended wait times for GP appointments. While it has increased its capacity as much as possible to keep delays to a minimum, inevitably we anticipate that there will be longer waiting times.

The Customer Service team has been trained to identify symptoms of coronavirus and will direct patients to NHS 111 where appropriate.  Additionally, Medical Solutions has introduced a new IVR message on all phone lines to direct patients to the most appropriate course of action should they suspect they have contracted the virus.

Medical Solutions has also recorded a series of short videos for its website with its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Chris Morris, where he answers some key questions about coronavirus and provides some useful information and advice.

Hertz – Hire Provider

All staff are set up and working from home with telephony service levels on target at 83% with an abandonment rate of 5%. The hire process is up and running as “normal”:

  • Delivery – All vehicles pre delivery (as well as normal clean) are wiped with 70% alcohol wipes/spray throughout before handover. Staff are maintaining safe distances.
  • Collections – If the customer indicates any illness or self-isolation the vehicle will be left 72 hours before collection (this is communicated to the customer) and then cleaned.

If the customer cannot collect their vehicle because the garage is closed Hertz is leaving hire vehicles with the customer if they still have a need to be out and about for any reason, i.e. essential workers, food shopping for themselves or others. Hertz are liaising with DAS Motor teams prior to making a decision on the continuation of hire

Partnership team

Our partnerships team remain fully active and continue to work with our business partners. Whilst telephony SLAs may be challenged, DAS will get back to every customer and will encourage new and existing claims to be submitted and managed via e-mail or our online Claims Portal.

Landlord update – 20th April 2020

We would like take the opportunity to update you on our approach to landlord rent arrears during this very difficult time.

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the government strongly advises landlords not to issue new notices seeking possession without a very good reason to do so. It is also encouraging landlords and tenants to work together in these unprecedented circumstances to offer solutions to keep tenants safe in their properties.

DAS UK fully supports this advice. We continue to introduce measures to support and aid landlords in finding practical and affordable solutions that allow tenants to remain in the property. We believe it is our duty as part of this national effort to support both landlords and their tenants to achieve a reasonable and pragmatic outcome. This is particularly relevant during lockdown when a tenant may be sick and facing other hardships due to COVID-19.

We advise policyholders facing difficulties to undertake the following:

  • Do not issue either Section 8 or Section 21 notices, in line with government advice.
  • Contact our legal helpline at the earliest opportunity which will provide support via a range of tools to assist in the negotiation with tenants.
  • Should all such negotiated efforts fail, we will assist policyholders in issuing notices and pay rent arrears which will cover the period during which agreement was not achieved.

To reiterate, should a landlord demonstrate that they have exhausted all reasonable avenues to reach an agreeable position with their tenants, we can confirm we will make rent arrears payments for the full period covered by the policy. It is worth noting at this point that the extended period of negotiation will result in longer periods of rent arrears cover being paid by DAS UK.

We are aware that this may be both disappointing and difficult for landlords. However, DAS UK believes this process best supports the spirit of the government emergency intervention – to prevent evictions and encourage forbearance during the current crisis.

Note that, as the government position currently stands, after the court suspension period ends on 24 June, we will be able to take legal action to initiate an eviction or repossession claim. The eviction of a tenant should be regarded as a last resort when all reasonable steps have been taken to keep the tenant in the property.

In line with our advice above, we are continuing to make more resources available in the Landlords section of our dedicated COVID-19 website.