/ Money

Is it right to ask the police to pay the riot bill?

Model police man stood next to money

A little-known act is seeing the light of day as a result of last week’s rioting, offering compensation via the police for those who have been affected. But should the police have to pick up the bill for the uninsured?

My mum once caught me smoking, and warned me that if my father found out he’d ‘read me the Riot Act’.

Luckily for me mum kept schtum, and besides, the Act dating from 1715 was repealed in 1973. Good thing too, here’s the sort of thing it contained:

‘Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!’

Protection under the Riot Damages Act

However, there’s another Act, the Riot Damages Act dating from 1886, which was never repealed and which could have profound implications for insurers, the police, and those who find themselves uninsured.

Vince Cable has issued a written Ministerial Statement on the Department for Business Innovation and Skills offering advice to businesses in the wake of the rioting, which is likely to cost ‘well over £100m’ according to the Association of British Insurers:

‘Any uninsured individual, homeowner or business that has suffered damage to or loss of their buildings or property as a result of rioting, can seek compensation from their Police Authority under the Riot Damages Act. It is normally the case that claims must be received within 14 days but to give people more time to submit these claims the Home Secretary is extending the period to 42 days.’

And it’s not only the uninsured. Insurers themselves may be able to claim back their payouts from the police in the same way. Speaking to the media, a spokesman for the British Insurance Brokers Association (Biba) – which represents 1,700 insurance brokers – said insurers had the same rights under the Act.

Who should foot the riot bill?

The implications of this are profound, particularly for a police service that’s already under significant financial strain and facing cuts. In a press release, The Association of Police Authorities states that police funds could be ‘decimated’ and it would make little sense in the face of a ‘shrinking police fund’.

However, from the insurers’ point of view the logic is clear. Insurers implicitly rely on a form of law and order to be able to issue insurance in the first place, and by and large it’s the police who are responsible for its enforcement. On the other side there’s the issue of premiums, which insurers were happily collecting before the riots and which may go up in some areas after them – as we’ve previously discussed, the strong possibility that riots will become a future exclusion for insurers.

So what do you think? Are the police ultimately responsible and do the insurers have a point, or should the insurance industry bear the brunt? Who will, and who should, really end up footing the bill?

Comments
Member

I think the police authorities should be liable for justifiable claims if they have failed to keep order and allowed a riot or other civil commotion to inflict wanton damage on people’s property. Buildings insurance is only obligatory if the property is mortgaged, tenanted or in multiple occupation; contents cover is optional. People who have not insured their buildings or contents should not be denied compensation for circumstances that are no more likely than a thunderbolt but are provoked or inflamed or acquiesced in or, as in the recent instances, not quelled expeditiously by the authorities. I don’t want to see insurance companies trying to ‘keep the peace’ with their tiresome petty rules and regulations and hairsplitting interpretations – that would really be a field day for the lawyers. The government can make sure the police authorities are not out of pocket over this and should exhort them to act speedily and honourably with any claims. Of course everyone has a moral duty to mitigate their losses and those properties without effective fire prevention systems or means to prevent unauthorised entry [so many defective roller shutters seen in the recent troubles] should possibly suffer some abatement of full settlement. The implications of throwing the entire risk of riot damage onto the insurance policies would be horrendous and would bear extremely heavily on certain postcodes or certain retailers [sports shoe shops would seem to be caught twice in this scenario]. History tells us that the insurers would overload the risk and spread it far too thickly.
Just a pedantic point – the word pronounced ‘schtum’ is spelt ‘stumm’.

Member

Hi John,

Great point, particularly with regard to throwing the entire risk on insurance policies, certain areas and properties could be hit disproportionately. However, couldn’t your point about spreading the risk too thickly could apply to government as well, particularly if local government coffers are directly, or indirectly, affected? As for ‘schtum’ and ‘stumm’ neither word is in the dictionary, but both forms are in common usage, the ‘stumm’ spelling is from the original German I believe.

Nick

Member

quite simply yes. Otherwise we would be back to here is your crime number. If it hits their budget you may see a result.

Member

No, the insurers are insurers. That’s what they are paid millions/billions a year to provide, that is their job.

Can we stop trying to blame everything on the police please?

In the same way that we blame the teachers for the kids being unruly, once again, let’s stop blaming the authorities and actually start blaming the parents. If feckless parents are not looking after their kids properly then we should lock them up.

Get the police to pay the insurance bill? P-lease, let’s stop blaming others

Member

Who pay the police ??!! This is not going to sort out sorry state of affairs such as governing with call centre??!Yes even the Police. The Government and Police needs to stop blaming and get back in control after allowing deregulation. Forcing Mothers back to work was mad they are now reaping the sorry consequences as teaching right and wrong can be a full time job. Unfortunately they must look to themselves to sort out how unethical and undemocratic the system has become bringing back discretion . When you give youth no hope especially intelligent ones they are not going to be happy.

Member
Rose says:
17 August 2011

I thought insurance policies used to have a standard exclusion clause in respect of “riot and civil commotion” (also acts of war, damage from aircraft, etc). Haven’t checked my policy exclusions lately, though.
The people carrying out these riots/damage ought to be contributing to the bill. If they don’t have spare cash (or are on benefits!), then they should be forced to work for free to contribute towards the damage cost (after all, if they’re out of work, having done some unpaid work will stand them in good stead when seeking work, so win-win situation!).
I do think though that, in these technological times – and with so many people carrying knives/other makeshift weapons, firebombs etc – the right to protest on our streets should be stopped and people should protest “virtually” via PCs/e-petitions. This would save an absolute fortune in policing and damage costs, and would save all the unnecessary injuries. It would also mean that any street protests would be unlawful so anyone participating could be arrested and prosecuted. The freedom of speech would still be available online. Definitely time for some major changes if society is to improve!

Member

Hi Rose,

Thank you for your comment. Currently the term ‘riot’ doesn’t appear as an exclusion in the policies we looked at. The exception in some cases was for cover in Northern Ireland, you can read more about it here – http://www.which.co.uk/news/2011/08/insurers-should-cover-riot-damage-261687/

However, speaking in the following post my colleague Dan Moore says it could just be a matter of time following these riots – https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/will-insurers-cover-the-riot-bill/

Member
pickle says:
17 August 2011

It might work if the police were insured against riot damage – possibly sharpening the police response. In my experience most insurers exclude riot damage together with nuclear and war damage.