This took me four days to write and I’m really happy with the result. I think it captures much of what the NFU Mutual tried to overlook or cover up in their reply to my complaint. It also addresses the fabrications they are still insisting are true so that they can reduce the amount they pay us.
So, here it is. You may want to go and get a cuppa – it’s a long one:
Dear Mr Sinclair
We write in response to your letter dated 17 February 2021, in reply to our complaint lodged in November 2019. We acknowledge your response and your apology. However, we must point out that there are some major differences between your statements and the reality of the situation.
The First Complaint
Although, you fail to take the first complaint into consideration, we feel that the findings should be taken into account. Amongst the conclusions of the FOS, was that the loss adjuster and the surveyor, ***, were judged as giving poor service.
Had the result of the first complaint been taken seriously by NFU Mutual, and the poor service been acknowledged and acted upon, then we may not be in this position now.
When we were originally informed that Draper and Nichols would be carrying out the works, we were told by *** [the surveyor] that we would be protected under a contract. We were advised that any work carried out by *&* [the builders] would be guaranteed and that if we had any problem with workmanship, we were to contact either *** or ********** [the loss adjusters] who would intervene on our behalf.
There are a few issues here. Firstly, when we approached *** and the loss adjuster, they ignored us. Secondly, the contract was not drawn up nor signed by anyone until well after the builders were asked to leave. Thirdly, the wording on the contract clearly states that had the contract been in force, then we were within our rights to remove the builders for failing to meet the terms of the contract.
Finally, as the contract (being unsigned) was not binding, then surely, there is no contract to answer to. In our opinion, the builders should not have been paid or you should have requested back the money you paid them.
When we approached an expert in contractual law, in August 2020, after receiving the contract for signature, our expert advised us not to sign it. They told us that if we did, we would be liable for the builder’s costs should anything adverse occur. We thought it was strange that the contract was being presented to us at this late time particularly as the problems between ourselves and the builders had been made clear. Our expert informed us that, as employers, NFU Mutual or *** were the rightful signatories.
This aspect is further proved by the issues we had with the first builders, S****** Building Conservation. When we contacted DAS to take legal action under the policy, they advised us that this was not possible as we were not the employers.
Therefore, we would request an explanation on the following:
Why were we told to sign a contract if NFU were the employers and we had no power under the contract?
Why did we not receive the contract to sign until almost a year after the builders had been removed?
The issue with disputes between your customers and builders is also covered in your ‘Handy guide to Who’s Who’. It states: ‘Solicitors may be instructed to provide legal advice, mainly arising out of contractual disputes and potential recoveries. Their costs are payable by us and their fees are paid under the policy separately to your claim.’
Could you please explain why you are not utilising this service and are instead insisting that we should have agreed to have the builders back who damaged our home, lied about completing works, carried out unauthorised work to a listed building, did not follow the specification and intimidated me.
Removing the Builders
After my initial concerns about the repairs, *** instructed their structural engineer to inspect the work. His observations were alarming. However, his report condemning the work was withheld and the builders were permitted to carry on. Knowing that the repairs were wrong, I approached both *** and *********, and then NFU Mutual, for an explanation. I was ignored. A new report was then written up by ***’s structural engineer which bared no resemblance to his earlier comments.
We therefore had no choice but to carry out our own investigations. An independent structural engineer advised me to contact the local conservation officer and both experts agreed that the repairs were very wrong. Following this and the subsequent opening-up works, it was confirmed that the repairs were: insufficient, ineffective, non-existent and not in line with LBC [listed building consent]. The experts confirmed that the specification had not been followed and a caution was issued to your claims handler under Section 9 of the Planning Act 1990.
What more evidence do you need that the builders were not qualified to carry out the repairs in the first place, let alone insist that they return to the house?
Further evidence of the incompetence of the builders was also given by ***’s structural engineer who condemned the repairs in November 2019 which report we now have. Our new experts have also confirmed a similar opinion in their reports in autumn 2020.
The relationship between myself and the builders is also an issue which has been ignored. I wrote to your claims handler ***** ********** on 2 January 2020 and said: ‘We insist that ****** and ******* be removed from working on our cottage. They have proved that they are unable to work on a listed building and when queried are rude and unapologetic. I have had difficulty working in my office at the cottage due to the deterioration in the relationship with ****** and ******* and their carpenter. We require that any further repair work be carried out by an experienced and professional company.’ Why were my concerns about both workmanship and the relationship ignored? Your insistence that *&* carry on proved to be distressing and upsetting and I should never have been put in such an intimidated position as I was in the meeting in March 2020.
You claim that a cash settlement was requested by us and that **** **** contacted us on 24 April 2020 advising that this was possible. This is not true. We did not ask for a cash settlement. We were offered a cash settlement months before this and advised that the benefit would be that we could then finish the property at our own pace and preference.
You claim that due to our request that your contractors be removed, you are only now in a position to reply. You also claim that after the effect of Coronavirus, things changed, and you relied on us to verify the works that needed carrying out. This is not correct.
We have been forced to provide reports, photographic evidence, arrange for experts to inspect and report to enable the claim to progress well before the onset of coronavirus. Whilst the country was suffering from the effects of the virus, we were still able to arrange new appointments and inspections. You may note that the construction industry has been a vital trade and operatives have been classed as key workers during the pandemic.
We lodged our complaint in November 2019 and requested that the repairs be investigated. As far as we are aware, no investigations whatsoever were ever carried out by NFU Mutual. We never received any information resulting from the meeting in March 2020.
You have not provided an acceptable explanation as to why it took fourteen months to respond to our complaint. We know that for months after the meeting in March 2020, you were mistakenly waiting to hear from the conservation officer, and it wasn’t until I intervened that things progressed.
You have only offered the alternative accommodation for six months from March 2021. This will not give us enough time to arrange for and complete the repairs. This is unfair. As far as we are aware, you are obligated to provide alternative accommodation for as long as it takes for the repairs to be completed and we can move back home.
We also note the distressing issue of the surveyor being dishonest about the architect which has not been addressed. The architect contacted us directly because he was extremely upset that the loss adjuster and *** had failed to pay him and asked us to intervene on his behalf. At the same time, he advised us that he had not been formally instructed and could therefore not be held accountable for what may be happening to our home. His comments were worrying. The surveyor gave dishonest information to us and when we contacted the claims department they refused to discuss the matter with us saying it wasn’t our concern. As the incriminating email was sent to us, we were directly involved throughout. It was our evidence that protected the architect’s reputation, but we understand that NFU Mutual insisted that he not contact us. This was another reason we asked for ***’s removal.
Throughout the claim we have witnessed the ruthless and dishonest behaviour of the surveyor and have given adequate reasons and evidence why we cannot work with him. Although it is NFU Mutual who is ultimately responsible for the mess we are in, the fault lies with him as project manager/surveyor. Had you removed him after the first complaint, things may have gone much smoother. Again, we draw your attention to your Handy Guide to Who’s Who, where it states that the surveyor/project manager is instructed by the customer, not the NFU. Again, we ask why you are refusing to abide by your own guidelines and maintain that the NFU are entitled to retain experts as and when required. Surely, this proves that no-one at NFU Mutual is defending our interests.
We understand that ANG are still advising your claims department and are giving biased advice and information. The surveyor has contacted our own appointed experts deceitfully, and directly behind our back for what reason we can only assume would be to bully or coerce our new team. This is a conflict of interests.
A New Specification of Repairs
You have refused to allow us to obtain a new specification of repairs as you say that this would incur unnecessary costs due to duplication, and that any outstanding issues could be added at a later date. By not obtaining such a document, the full extent of the outstanding and incorrect work cannot be accurately ascertained. We believe that this is a means by which you can deny the full extent of the repairs.
You have maintained that you are unwilling to award us the full sum insured to complete the works needed to put us back to the position we were in before the incident took place. Although the cash settlement is now being dealt with by a different complaint, I would like to bring to your attention the actions of your loss adjuster.
In a meeting in June 2019, we were informed by your loss adjuster that the full sum insured was being used to repair our home. He advised us that if anything else came up whilst the repairs were being carried out, we would have to pay for it ourselves. This meant that we were not indemnified.
Towards the end of the contract, other issues arose that needed addressing such as the internal repairs and plastering, the internal decoration, window and door repairs and other issues. We were told that some of these works could not be completed correctly as there wasn’t enough left of the sum insured to cover them. (We have the loss adjuster’s comments to this effect on video). By not completing these works correctly, our home would be in a worse condition than when we lodged our claim. We now know that the policy should have indemnified us, and once NFU Mutual agreed to the works and started them, our home should have been put back to how it was before the claim.
Surely, this is more than enough evidence that the whole sum insured is required to put our home back to the condition it was in before the flood damage.
You have given an apology for the consequential inconvenience and upset this matter has caused us, but we don’t feel that you have addressed the full severity of the mental distress we have suffered. Not only have we had to accept living in alternative accommodation for almost three years unnecessarily, but we’ve also been victim to lies, bullying, threats and intimidation.
For the last three years, NFU Mutual has allowed me to claim for counselling fees under a separate part of the policy. Therefore, you are fully aware how badly this claim has affected me. Yet this has not been taken into consideration at all. I have asked my counsellor to provide his expert opinion and this will be sent directly to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
I’ve witnessed the damage to our home by incompetence and watched it deteriorate before my eyes as I come to the cottage each day to work from the bottom of the garden. My work has suffered due to the many times I have had to ‘drop everything’ to arrange investigations, write reports and gather evidence to prove that what your experts were asserting was wrong and also by the distress of the situation as a whole.
Your claims department have insinuated throughout the claim that instead of your experts being responsible for lying about the repairs, it is me who has not been telling the truth. Indeed, even now, you are insisting that it was us who requested the cash settlement, when it was not.
We’ve experienced financial difficulties due to having to juggle two sets of bills for such a long amount of time. And even now we are worried about our finances going forward as we don’t know how we will cope if we are awarded less money or time needed to complete the repairs and return home.
In conclusion, although we are desperate to return home as soon as possible, we have no choice but to refuse your settlement offer. Your apology and compensation of £2,000 does not reflect the gravity of the situation you have unnecessarily put us through nor the deceit and lies that we have been witness to. And we dread to think what could have happened should we never have questioned the repairs and returned home without knowing the real condition of our cottage.
You acknowledge that:
The works carried out by your contractors are unacceptable.
The works were not completed with listed building consent.
The legal implications of not having listed building consent.
The works carried out inside the property were not completed sufficiently.
Your contractors did not follow correct guidelines.
But you give no explanation for how this happened and insist that we should have had the contractors return. You are still arguing about the extent of the outstanding and incorrect works but have made no attempt to come and see for yourself how bad a condition our home is currently in.
Without an explanation as to why this happened to us, how can you ensure that this doesn’t happen again to someone else? How did the situation arise where no work was carried out and walls were closed and unauthorised work was carried out to a listed building? Why were the repairs to our home not monitored? Why were the architect and structural engineer not instructed until after the majority of the works had been completed? Why did ********* and *** recommend these inexperienced and unskilled builders? Where are the guarantees, certificates and listed building consent we were promised?
In simple terms, we trusted our well-respected insurance company to meet their responsibilities and repair our home. Yet, more than three years later, our home is in a worse condition than it was when we lodged our claim and you are still arguing about giving us the money we need to complete the repairs you should have completed years ago.
You must take responsibility for the dishonesty demonstrated to us. Both the claims and complaints departments informed us that the sole plate repairs were adequate, our home was structurally sound, and we could return home after a few minor repairs were carried out. The claims department also misinformed us by saying that the unauthorised repairs would not pose a problem with the conservation officer. Also, similarly to our current situation, we were threatened that if we didn’t return home, we would be responsible for paying for the alternative accommodation costs.
Further insult is given by your allegation that it was us that requested the cash settlement when your ultimatum gave us no choice but to opt for a cash settlement.
We would welcome your further comments, should you have any.
Kim and Mark Jennings
So, There It Is!
So, with this letter sent on Friday 5 March, our next step is to take this to the Financial Ombudsman Sevice for their impartial appraisal. I’m just getting all the evidence ready before I send it. I’m finding it very hard to understand why the NFU Mutual are digging their heels in so hard to keep insisting that we asked for the cash settlement and should have had their builders back. It’s obviuous that they have all the evidence to prove we didn’t ask for the csh settlement and there was no way way we would allow those cowboy builders back. And why aren’t they awarding us compensation to reflect the severity of the distress and upset we’ve been put through unnecessarily?
Don’t forget there’s now another separate complaint in the pipeline as they’ve forced us to address the cash settlement separately. I’ll be updating the site as and when we have any more information.