Physical and sexual abuse claims
Sensitivity, empathy and integrity
We are committed to handling all claims made by victims and survivors against the organisations we insure with sensitivity, empathy and integrity
Mark Hews, Group Chief Executive
We insure a broad range of businesses and organisations against many eventualities, principally under our property-related insurance policies and our liability insurance policies. Claims made against the organisations we insure involving physical and sexual abuse (PSA) are typically insured under public liability policies1.
In practice, handling PSA claims made against the organisations we insure is a small fraction of the overall claims we handle. Claims involving PSA represented just 0.4% of all the claims we handled in 2020.
Nevertheless, managing claims involving PSA is an area that we believe is exceptionally important, demanding particularly sensitive, careful and experienced consideration by a specialist team.
We take this responsibility very seriously and believe our approach to the claims management process is setting the industry standard. We want to make our guiding principles for handling PSA claims understandable and available to all.
Role as the insurer
As an insurance company, Ecclesiastical insures a broad range of organisations and businesses, providing property and liability cover in our specialist markets – charity, faith, heritage and education. We insure our policyholders against many different eventualities, including property damage, employer’s and public liability.
When a victim or survivor of abuse makes a PSA claim against an organisation that we insure, involving claims of alleged abuse perpetrated by its employee(s) or representative(s), it is the public liability section of the policyholder’s insurance policy, where it is held, that covers them against the claim.
Once a letter setting out the basis of the claim (“Letter of Claim”) has been received from a victim or survivor by an organisation we insure, it is required to pass the letter to us promptly, which gives us the right to take over the handling of the claim in the policyholder’s name – something that insurers generally do. Because the claims process is a legal one, we, in common with other insurers, may engage independent solicitors to provide advice.
When we take over the handling of the claim, that does not prevent the organisation we insure from being able to start or continue to offer support and care, including counselling, to the victim or survivor.
We have an experienced specialist team that handles all PSA claims. We allocate each claim against an organisation we insure to a senior specialist claims handler within the team.
Improving the claims process for victims and survivors
EIO recognises the impact that physical and sexual abuse (PSA) has on the lives of those affected. We continuously review our claims handling process to ensure we treat victims and survivors as sensitively and empathetically as possible. We strive to lead the industry in the way we handle PSA claims. This is a continuous long-term process but we are making good progress.
We were the first insurer to publish Guiding Principles for the handling of PSA claims and we continue to learn and improve our ways of working.
We recognise that PSA claims need to be managed carefully and sensitively and all our PSA claims are managed by a specialist team of professionally qualified and experienced claim handlers. It’s important that our claims handlers are able to deal with cases empathetically and that’s why we have worked with child protection charities including The Lucy Faithfull Foundation and Savana UK to provide training and consultation to further our understanding of child sexual abuse, sexual offending and how to safeguard children.
Since 2018, we have been working closely with members of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL). This has led to a number of improvements including:
- Ongoing dialogue to identify and act on issues that can be resolved quickly
- Working together to appoint joint experts where required (we accept a claimant’s own evidence in the vast majority of cases)
- Where legal liability has been accepted, helping to facilitate apologies early in the claims process
- We have also established relationship managers with selected firms to help build on the good work achieved so far.
In May 2019 we introduced the services of psychological rehabilitation specialists Onebright (previously called Moving Minds), following consultation with a number of claimant solicitors. The aim is to give claimants access to support and recommended treatment at the outset of the claims process. This enables a claimant to be referred jointly by their solicitor and EIO, if they wish, for a psychological assessment. We fund this directly. The assessment is separate to the litigation process, so doesn’t deal with issues relating to legal liability. Instead, it focuses on how the claimant’s life has been affected by abuse and provides help and support.
We have always used the defence of limitation sparingly and in November 2019 became the first insurer to place a moratorium on the use of the defence of limitation in claims covered by the Guiding Principles, which includes all PSA claims. This will remain until IICSA's conclusions and recommendations on the appropriateness of this defence to such claims have been published.
When someone makes a claim against an organisation, it is a civil action governed by the laws appropriate to the country in which the claim is made.
The main parties involved in the claim are the claimant* (the victim or survivor of abuse who is making the claim) and the defendant* (the insured organisation).
As the claims process is a legal one, claimants and defendants or their insurers are generally advised by their own independent solicitors. We strongly encourage claimants to seek independent legal advice. View The Law Society’s free Find a Solicitor service.
In England and Wales, claimants’ and defendants’ actions are governed by the Pre-Action Protocol, which forms part of the Civil Procedure Rules. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own, but similar, Pre-Action Protocols, which we follow as best practice.
Put simply2, the general claims process in England and Wales follows these stages:
- The claimant must issue a Letter of Claim to the proposed defendant, which has to include a number of key facts2
- Once the defendant has received the Letter of Claim, they have limited time to acknowledge its receipt. For example, in England and Wales this is 21 days from the date the letter was posted.
- The defendant or their insurer then has a further 90 days (beyond the 21 days) to investigate legal liability and inform the claimant of their decision as to whether legal liability is admitted or disputed and, if disputed, why.
- Because PSA cases are often complex, claimants’ and insurers’ solicitors often make a mutual agreement to extend this 90 day period, in order to obtain the appropriate evidence.
- Where legal liability has been established and the insurer has been able to value the claim, they will usually make an offer to settle. A meeting with the claimant and their solicitor may be suggested, with the aim of securing an acceptable settlement and resolving the claim as soon as possible.
- If a settlement cannot be reached, the Courts remain available to resolve disputed claims.
Making a claim
We understand how very difficult it must be for the victim or survivor to report or discuss abuse. There are a number of agencies and helplines, many of which operate 24/7, that can offer you advice and support. For details of organisations that can help please see the further information and contacts section of this page.
If you, or someone you know, want to make a PSA claim against an organisation or someone who has represented it, we strongly advise you to seek advice and guidance from an independent solicitor. Making a claim is a legal process, and a specialist solicitor can guide you through that process. The Law Society lists lawyers and their areas of expertise here.
The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL) provides advice and guidance as well as lists of lawyers who specialise in obtaining compensation for the physical, sexual or emotional abuse of children and adults abused in childhood.
If the organisation against which you want to make a claim is insured by Ecclesiastical, please be aware that you cannot make your claim directly to us – it must be made to the organisation directly and include a number of key facts2. Again, an independent solicitor can advise you on how to make your claim to the organisation concerned.
We review our claims handling process continually and welcome feedback from victims and survivors who have experienced the claims process (claimants) and the organisations we insure which have had PSA claims brought against them (defendants). This is to ensure the process is as sensitive and empathetic as possible to the distress of the claimant while allowing us to do all we can to conclude matters as soon as possible in a fair and transparent way.
Our Statement of Guiding Principles enshrines the principles and commitments under which we endeavour to manage the PSA claims brought against defendants, within the confines of the law. It also provides useful insight for defendants and for current or potential claimants.
We were the first UK insurer to make our Guiding Principles on handling PSA claims public in June 2016. We regularly review them to ensure they reflect current best practice and a revised version was published in September 2018. We will review the Guiding Principles again following the publication of the final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA), taking into account its findings and recommendations. You can find our Guiding Principles below.
Alongside our own Guiding Principles, we supported the Association of British Insurers (ABI) in devising its code of conduct for handling abuse claims, which was published in August 2021.
We expect all third party organisations we engage in connection with PSA claims to adhere to our Guiding Principles.
Sources of advice and support
Working with others
We are committed to setting the industry standard for PSA claims handling in the UK. As part of this, we believe in working closely with independent inquiries and other relevant bodies to help define and shape insurance industry best practice.
We are cooperating fully with the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales (IICSA) and welcome its intention to focus specifically on the claims management and settlement process in due course. We believe that the Inquiry is uniquely placed to gather facts, drive industry best practice and achieve broader change.
How to contact Ecclesiastical
For confidential comments and feedback on your experiences of our claims management process:
The Claims Director
Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc
2000 Pioneer Avenue
Gloucester Business Park
For customers making a new claim, please consult your policy document or email:
For complaints about the claims management process
Ecclesiastical is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Any contact from an individual which constitutes a ‘complaint’ in accordance with the Financial Conduct Authority’s definition will be dealt with in accordance with the rules for Complaint handling in the FCA Handbook under Redress – DISP Dispute Resolution: Complaints.