£46,000 did not measure up
On a motorway, travelling at 60 mph, you cover a mile in a minute i.e. 1,760 yards every 60 seconds or about 30 yards every second. It is therefore hardly surprising that when you hit a barrier you can cause significant damage. However, barriers are intended to absorb the impact and strikes tend to damage relatively short sections. It was therefore surprising to learn that our client’s hire-car had impacted such that about 70 yards required replacement.
Highways England (HE) presented the claim for £46,000 and on the face of it you would expect the Public Authority, a guardian of the public-purse, to audit such claims carefully as, in theory, they would be paying their contractor and look to recover. However, it became evident that the claim was substantially exaggerated; the demand for barrier damage was excessive, by 3-fold. We made an offer of more than £10,000 acknowledging that the driver was at fault and had caused damage.
Our offer was politely declined but …
Having demonstrated the contractor had presented a claim in yards when the unit of measurement was actually feet, our logic had been understood and was accepted. HE walked away from the claim explaining that their own contractor was ‘problematic’ and as it was unlikely they would receive information; it was unfair to keep us waiting (the tail wagging the dog?).
We have recently returned to the claim as we too have concerns about the conduct of the contractor. We sought information using the Freedom of Information Act and whilst the contractor apparently suffered a flood and the paper records are destroyed (the multi-million-pound business apparently has no electronic back-up) we did learn that our efforts not only helped our client but also ensured HE paid an appropriate sum; the claim for £46,000 was settled by HE at about £11,000 … substantially less than 1/3rd.
£3,700 per Hour Road Cleaning
We are familiar with the charges of most contractors but find some reluctant to justify fees presented and explain their approach to drivers unfortunate enough to suffer a collision on our roads.
The facts are that the insured vehicle was carrying some paint and a tin fell causing a slight mess on the highway. A contractor attended and washed the road. Our client was then presented an invoice for the ‘spillage and debris clearance’ but a lack of detail.
Whilst some further facts have been obtained about the contractor’s attendance, we await information to reconcile issues such as:
- Their claim is for attending to a diesel spill yet the incident has nothing to do with diesel. No fuel was spilled.
- The contractor has repeatedly sent us images from a completely different incident, at a different location, on a different date.
- The contractor is apparently still awaiting information about the incident from their principals, the Authority responsible for the subject road.
- The charges presented.
Apparently the travelling time to and from the incident was 30 minutes (each way – 60 minutes in total) there is a charge for labour and plant (vehicle attending the scene). The contractor was at the scene for 16 minutes.
For 76 minutes the invoice raised was … £4,734.90
This equates to an hourly charge of just over £3,700.
We will be referring the contractor to the response they provided the Highways Agency (now HE) following a 2012 article about repair charges (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19833237). A Freedom of Information request made by CMA revealed that in response to the BBC article about charges, the contractor advised HE:
“It is also worth noting that many of the issues raised on the programme related to claims where there is no damage to Crown property i.e. claims for primary response attendance at incidents and/or cleaning debris from the carriageway. I can advise that (name of contractor) do not attempt to recover the cost of such works”
In the paint-spillage claim example above, there was no damage to Crown Property and from start to finish, contractor staff were at the location for 16 minutes. It appears attitudes toward such claims have changed or that claims to the Council concerned are treated differently.
As for the charges presented, after months of ‘battling’ with the contractor, they have thrown in the towel, abandoned the pricing methodology. The claim currently stands at £700.
Before settling any invoice the content should be scrutinised and corroborated!
And another … also a Transport for London matter – just how many of these are out there and how many have been paid in full?
12/04/2015 (S09C009): an incident occurred giving rise to some oil and debris on the road. Once again, AIW’s (emergency staff) attended and were at the location for just less than 2.5 hours at 9pm on this Saturday night.
The charge £4,734.90.
Needless to say we challenged this; inclusion of ‘storeman’ when there were no materials used was clearly odd as was ‘tunnel manager’; the incident was in New Cross!
But again, we saw the use of the ‘1153 pricing methodology’ – a process that the contractor Kier Highways Ltd (KHL) used from 01/07/2014 to late 2015 yet have been unable to explain / justify.
After months of intransigence and demands for the full value, after we were assured of a re-cost in 11/2015, the claim was re-priced 05/2016 without any explanation, breakdown or justification at £1,260.
We have suggested settlement at about £325.
A Potentially Expensive ‘Clip’ … in more ways than one ….
The insured was driving when their vehicle made contact with a roundabout signpost causing minor damage to the bottom right corner. The damage to their vehicle was insignificant. A law-abiding individual, the driver notified the authorities and continued upon their way. About a year later, the driver’s insurers received a request for over £2,000 to address the damage. The breakdown for the repair included:
- Traffic Management 2 hours
- Lane Closure
- A new sign £400+
- A galvanised post £250+
- Removing the sign and its post to a tip
A request for further details from the highways contractor was ignored. A further request resulted in no information. Ultimately the contractor’s agents advised that we could consider the claim abandoned, written-off.
This came as no surprise.
We had attended the location. The sign was, as it had been immediately following the incident, slightly bent in one corner. There was no new sign, no new post and therefore no ‘taking up, removal and disposal’. There was however a new clip fitted to the post, at the rear of the sign, just below the sign mounting.
As evidenced by our ability to park in the vicinity, walk to the post and take photographs, ‘traffic management’ was unlikely to have been necessary. Presumably this is why we never received details of those attending the scene, time sheets, details of vehicle undertaking the road closure, the traffic management etc.
So why was an invoice raised?
Possibly someone made an error; somehow stumbled upon the incident and details of the driver and inadvertently compiled an invoice by reference to …. ‘standard charges’?
Or possibly, as we had been advised, there are occasions when repairs are a bit slow and there can be pressure upon a contractor to generate invoices?
Whatever the reason, it will be appreciated that whilst our approaches to contractors may at times appear a burden, there is good reason for us seeking detail in each case.