Despite his home being his castle, there are plenty of Englishmen (and women) who don’t have a legal right to use their own drawbridge.
We issue dozens of Access indemnity policies every day for existing properties, properties where the use has changed, new builds, and developments.
As such, it's no surprise that we see more claims on Access policies than for any other cover. But what might surprise you is that we receive more access claims for established properties than for developments.
This is because a dispute over access can arise even after years of unimpeded use. A disagreement might erupt between neighbours. An access owner might discover the use, or a new owner may decide to demand a payment for it. However it happens, the chances of a dispute arising don't necessarily lessen with time.
So how do our underwriters approach an access enquiry? They'll focus on its recent history and practical factors to determine the level of risk.
For existing properties, our underwriters will ask if the access has been used 'as of right' for at least the last 12 months without any problems, to establish that there is no dispute brewing and no ongoing quarrel.
They'll also establish whether the use has changed in those 12 months, because if the property changes from, say, a single dwelling to a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), or from residential use to commercial, the increased use of the access makes a dispute more likely, as well as potentially nullifying any existing prescriptive rights.
Finally, they'll check that there hasn't been any contact with the owner of the access. Such contact is likely to highlight that your client has insufficient (or no) rights to use the access, and increases the risk that the owner will dispute use, make a demand for payment, or even seek to prevent use altogether.
But if our underwriters do uncover a potential issue, don’t assume that we won't offer cover; they may just need some additional information before considering a quote.
Underwriting new builds, proposed developments, and properties where the use is changing presents a different challenge and needs additional consideration. A new development/use may intensify use of the access, meaning that there is a higher risk of an injunction to prevent that use, or even the progress of the development itself.
As such, our underwriters will look carefully into practical factors to assess the risk. They'll establish the past use and how this compares with the new use of the site, refer to index map searches and registered titles, examine the land for an existing opening onto the access, and investigate the access online for signs of a known or registered owner.
They'll also look for relevant objections received regarding previous planning applications related to the land, and if the access has been used prior to the development without objection.
Whether your client is concerned about an injunction halting work on their development, or that years of unrestricted use of an access will be abruptly interrupted, our Access cover provides more than mere peace-of-mind; it makes a stressful situation easier to handle. Find out how we can resolve access disputes for our insureds by taking a look at our access claim case study.