Why the general election could bring extra insurance risk

  • Tensions are running high as we approach an election that pollsters say is too close to call. But for public buildings hosting election events, there may be additional risks to consider
  • Local authorities and schools need to carry out appropriate risk assessments to ensure that premises used as polling stations are safe to use
  • The more traditional insurance risks usually encountered on election day involve slip and trip claims

In what promises to be the most tightly-fought general election in a generation, local authority buildings and schools will have a large part to play in the smooth running of the political contest.

The countdown to the general election on 7 May is well under way, with many schools and local authority buildings preparing to be used as polling stations on the day. With the outcome of the election still too close to call, around 70-80% of the adult population are expected to vote, a major increase on recent turnouts.

Polling stations can be found in a variety of weird and wonderful places, including caravans, garages, pubs and even an Oxford launderette, and the main issue for local authorities and schools is the importance of carrying out appropriate risk assessments to ensure the premises are safe to use.

Of course, local authorities and schools are well-versed in hosting election events and will have adequate public liability insurance in place. The insurance risks when buildings are turned into polling stations for the day mainly fall under occupiers’ liability – such as slip and trip claims on premises if there is proven to be a defect in a building, such as a loose tile or carpet.

Potential for trouble at schools

Schools must be made available free of charge to any local candidates who wish to hold public meetings as part of their election campaign, provided certain conditions are met – such as reasonable notice given and that the meeting doesn’t interfere with school use.

Local authority schools are covered by the authority’s public liability policy while the premises are being used as a polling station, and no special cover needs to be arranged. The school/authority would only be responsible for injuries arising from a defect in the premises.

“Schools particularly have got to be aware of the potential for physical damage to their premises when hosting political events,” says Stuart Dowsen, Senior Product Underwriter at Zurich Municipal.

Schools have got to be aware of the potential for physical damage to their premises when hosting political meetings

Stuart Dowsen, Senior Product Underwriter at Zurich Municipal

“Any such claim would fall under a property policy, if they are covered for that sort of risk. But quite often their property policies – as well as public liability policies – have large deductibles, so they may be responsible for paying quite a chunk of any claim.”

Schools designated as election venues are required to make available a suitable part of their premises to be used by polling staff on 7 May. It is possible for schools to remain open to pupils, but security issues need to be addressed to keep all pupils and teachers safe, such as adequate segregation and establishing systems regarding supervision of areas of mixed use.

Fire risk assessments should also be reviewed in light of the impact of the new use, as well as traffic management outside the entrance to a school building – which may affect vehicular or pedestrian access.

Presiding over polling problems

Stuart has held the position of presiding officer – the official in charge of a polling station – in a couple of elections, and is aware that polling staff need to keep a careful eye on things.

“You do occasionally get some challenging people coming along to polling stations, sometimes in an agitated state,” he says. “But that is more of a risk for a presiding officer and his staff, because on polling day the presiding officer is responsible for the premises and it is up to them to make sure it is safe for members of the public and their staff.

“I have had to call the police a couple of times to have people ejected, but generally things have run extremely smoothly.”

All polling stations, whatever form they take, will be hoping that the 2015 general election plays out without incident.

Update on the Official Indemnity policy excess