Three risks of Christmas

Andrew CaveAndrew Cave has written about business and The City for 17 years, including nine years at The Daily Telegraph, where he was Business Correspondent, New York Business Correspondent and Associate City Editor, covering insurance and financial services. He now works as a freelance journalist for the Telegraph as well as other specialist publications.

By Andrew Cave

Andrew Cave has written about business and The City for 17 years, including nine years at The Daily Telegraph, where he was Business Correspondent, New York Business Correspondent and Associate City Editor, covering insurance and financial services.

He now works as a freelance journalist for the Telegraph as well as other specialist publications.

If Christmas didn’t exist, would insurers invent it? I ask partly because someone may need to if my local paper’s survey of school nativity plays are anything to go by.

Of 35 schools surveyed, only a handful are putting on traditional Nativity plays; the rest vary from The Most Disgruntled Snowman to The Lucky Owl and The Hoity-Toity Angel. There’s even Hosanna Rock, featuring angels disguised as tax collectors.

At least even these have something to do with the traditional meaning of the festive period but the risks of Christmas have been growing in recent years.

Whether it’s a perceived fear of appearing politically incorrect or insufficiently ethnically diverse or a public liability worry about the town centre Christmas tree toppling over, the Christmas lights catching fire or unseemly behaviour at office Christmas parties, those 12 days carry more risk.

Or maybe they just seem riskier. After all, people have been taking risks at Christmas ever since the first one.

Did Mary and Joseph have travel insurance when they set out on that long road to Bethlehem?

What potential health and safety claims did that innkeeper let himself in for by renting out an unlicensed stable to a woman in the middle of labour?

And just how clever were those so-called wise men who ventured into the desert on unprotected camels carrying uninsured gold and valuable perfumes?

In comparison, our homely Christmas celebrations seem safe and secure but how many carol singers have personal liability cover when they venture onto expensive patios or fire risk cover when they carry lanterns or candles?

What about the risk of giving someone food poisoning by under-cooking the turkey or the danger of a sexual harassment lawsuit from giving someone a peck under the mistletoe?

At the domestic level, most householders will happily take on such risks but most do have cover for the occasion that the Christmas lights set the house on fire or the heartbreak of having their presents stolen in a burglary.

If your car is wrecked on the way home from a candlelit Christmas service; if flash floods or freak storms mean you have to be re-housed or if that Christmas holiday of a lifetime in Disneyland has to be cancelled because of illness, insurance cover ensures that it is a drama, not a crisis.

As Caroline Rowlands and Arnie Skelton of Cheadle, Cheshire, discovered a few years ago, even the Christmas rubbish carries risks.

In preparation for their forthcoming wedding, gifts for bridesmaids and others taking part, plus wedding clothing, accessories and the marital rings were mistakenly taken to the local authority tip, mistaken for discarded bags and boxes left over from Christmas.

Fortunately for them, a £45 premium paid for wedding insurance, underwritten appropriately enough by Ecclesiastical Insurance, put matters right and the couple received £1,020 for the lost rings, £965 for wedding attire, £375 for lost presents and an express courier charge of £211 to deliver replacement shoes in a hurry.

At the corporate level, insurance is again the ingredient that gives councils, communities, churches, hospitals and schools the reassurance and comfort levels needed to organise major Christmas events.

When something goes wrong, insurers form part of the social safety net that cleans up the mess and pays for it – something often ignored when premiums are rising or no-claims bonuses disappear after payouts.

Media attention will no doubt focus this Christmas on those families who are celebrating in caravans outside their still-inhabitable homes, wrecked in the summer floods. But in many cases insurers are footing the bills.

Insurance may also cover you if you have to fly home early from that Christmas holiday, order a complete recall of your company’s Christmas hampers because of a health and safety risk or cope with a risk in your supply chain at a time when there are few alternative suppliers, threatening your ability to continue trading.

It’s all business as normal for insurers, whose job is all about giving society the freedom of mind to continue operating as normal.

Whether it stretches to actually inventing a risky event that didn’t previously exist is another matter, however. No doubt, if insurance risks advisers had been around at most of the original occasions that have given rise to modern festivals, from Easter to Guy Fawkes Night, they would probably have advised against going ahead.

But, despite the grey image that insurance still struggles with, underwriters and brokers are innovators in protecting risks, pioneering everything from kidnap insurance (invented by a Lloyd’s insurer in 1932, shortly after Charles and Anne Lindbergh's baby was kidnapped) to specialist cover for lapdancers (don’t ask). I dare say that if one of the industry’s forebears had encountered the Wise Men 2,000 years ago, he or she might even have worked out a deal with them to cover for their return trip home.

Here’s to a happy insured Christmas.

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