A YORK hotel owner is one of dozens of business owners in the region fighting insurance companies that are refusing to pay out on business interruption (BI) policies due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jeremy Cassel, managing director of The Grange Hotel, said this has made a bad situation for the business even worse.

He has now appointed Rubric Lois King (RLK), a Birmingham-based law firm that is representing more than 300 businesses across the UK, to challenge insurance companies that insist the coronavirus pandemic is exempt from the existing BI policies.

Mr Cassel said bookings for the 40-room boutique town house hotel, in Clifton, started to drop off in February, after the first two cases of Covid-19 were reported in the city. A month later, when lockdown was announced, the hotel had to close and furlough 47 of the 50 staff.

“I thought we would be covered by our business interruption policy, which even states that claims for the plague can be made,” he said. “I had no reason to think otherwise, and my insurance broker thought similarly. However, I became very concerned when she came back to us and said the insurers were refusing the claim.

“I strongly believe we have a case and so does our solicitor. Despite the fact that the hotel was closed, we had bills and other expenses to pay, and there is only so long that can be maintained when there is no cash coming into the business.”

His plight has been taken up by the law firm, which is working on a no-win, no-fee basis with its clients, to fight the insurance companies.

A test case is already underway in the High Court after the Financial Conduct Authority took Europe’s largest insurers to court to establish if they should pay out on pandemic-related claims. If the courts decide that the insurance companies are wrong, the ruling could mean billions of pounds in additional claims.

Chris Guy, solicitor at RLK, said: “We estimate that as many as a quarter of businesses across the UK have a policy that will allow them to claim on their business interruption insurance, but insurers are putting barriers in place, claiming the wordings on their policies should not apply to pandemics or notifiable diseases.

“These businesses have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, which forced them to close their doors or drastically reduce their operations, but insurers have been obstinate in denying their policyholders what they – and we – believe they are entitled to.

“The main issue is around ambiguous and varying wording in the policies, but we believe the companies we are working with have a strong case. We would urge any business in any sector that is fighting its insurance company on the business interruption policy to get their claim examined by a legal team with expertise in this highly complex area.”

A spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers said: “We fully appreciate that this continues to be a difficult time for firms, especially small businesses. Insurers expect to pay out around £900 million to help those businesses covered against Covid-19. We have supported the FCA Test Case that has just be heard that aims to bring clarity for the small number of firms in dispute with their business insurers.

“No country in the world is able to offer extensive pandemic insurance, as the risk is so huge. Going forward, for such cover to become more widespread there needs to be some form of support from government.”

Business interruption insurance provides cover for financial losses if there is interruption due to damage to property, such as fire or flood. However, some insurance policies also cover interruptions caused by non-damage denial of access, notifiable diseases and restrictions imposed by a public authority.