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Asbestos in Schools

Government fund provides asbestos risk cover for pupils as insurance industry refuses to do so

The Government has launched the Risk Protection Arrangement (RPA) which will come into force from 1st September 2014. The RPA is a central government fund that will in effect provide insurance cover for academies and free schools. Included is cover for asbestos related claims from people who were exposed to asbestos as a pupil at school. This cover was in general excluded from commercial insurance policies (1) which meant that there was generally no means to meet future asbestos related claims from former academy and free schools pupils.

The risk to children from asbestos in schools is brought into stark relief when insurance companies consider that the risks are so great that they are uninsurable.

However, in the absence of commercial insurance, future claims can still be met in local authority schools as they self insure. But most academies and free schools do not have the resources to do so. As there are almost four thousand academies, until now, this was a major problem.

In 2011 the Asbestos in Schools Group (AiS) became aware of the lack of insurance cover and has since lobbied the Government to provide a means of meeting future claims. They are therefore very pleased that the Government has now provided that means. See the paper that was submitted to the Department for Education which gives a summary of the problem and makes recommendations. AiS asked the Department for Education (DfE) a number of questions about the RPA.  DfE’s response of 28th July is at this link.

 Some academies believe that their present policy provides full public liability asbestos risk cover, when in fact the exclusion clauses can be drafted in such a manner that they will not necessarily meet future claims.(2) Therefore academies and free schools that contain asbestos should closely study their present policies, and if the cover is inadequate or non-existent, then they are strongly advised to join the RPA. If they do not then governors or owners could be legally and financially liable for future asbestos related claims.

The insurance industry will lose business and are predictably fighting back by attempting to discredit the scheme. The Daily Telegraph headline sums up the industry’s intemperate reaction: “Government accused of endangering school children with changes to insurance scheme.” (3) What the insurance industry does not mention is that the RPA will meet future asbestos related claims from former pupils when they refused to do so.

Michael Lees
1st August 2014

(1)  Parliamentary written answer Schools asbestos. Ian Lavery MP/ Minister of State Nick Gibb MP 21 Mar 2012 
(2)  In general asbestos risk insurance is not available for school children Exclusion clauses can be misleading.  4 Dec 2013. P4. http://www.asbestosexposureschools.co.uk/pdfnewslinks/INSURANCE%20Schools.%20lack%20of%20asbestos%20risk%20public%20liability%20insurance%204%20Dec%2013.pdf
(3) Daily Telegraph 27 July 2014 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/10994318/Government-accused-of-endangering-school-children-with-changes-to-insurance-scheme.html