Protecting unoccupied properties during the COVID-19 pandemic

On 24th March the Government ordered all non-essential businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors, such as restaurants, pubs and gyms to close. Initially the lock down was expected to last only until 13 April however it has since been extended for a further 3 weeks, taking us into early May. This has forced many businesses across the country to close their doors and leave their premises unoccupied. With many Commercial policy wordings having been amended to support property and business owners, what else could they be doing to keep their properties safe during this time and help minimise the need to make any claims?

Any building left unoccupied naturally poses a greater insurance risk and we therefore recommend that businesses take extra precautions and put adequate measures in place to keep their premises safe. We’ve included some general guidance and practical tips to help property owners and businesses below.

Check all is in working order

Making sure that key security systems/devices are in good state of repair and operational is vitally important in deterring risks such as theft and protecting against other risks such as fires. That the Premises is secured, by putting all protective, locking devices and any alarm protection, in effective operation

Remember to check:

  • Window and door locks, and any security shutters
  • Perimeter fences and gates
  • External lighting and any associated movement sensors
  • Access control panels
  • CCTV and intruder alarms (If no CCTV or Intruder Alarm exists could you perhaps consider a temporary system for extra protection?)
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Fire Alarms


Make preparations

It’s important to do all that you reasonably can to make your building secure and safe. Here’s a few handy tips:

  • Ensure all internal fire doors and shutters are closed
  • All letterboxes should be sealed (you may be able to temporarily divert your post with the Royal Mail) or if this is not possible make sure to remove accumulations of post during each inspection and take any other action to ensure that the building isn’t easily identified as unused or not inspected
  • Set Intruder alarms and ensure that the remote signalling is in place. Make sure there are a sufficient number of key holders available to respond to an activation within 20 minutes, where possible
  • Any internal and external waste should be removed. If it’s not possible to remove from the site, it should be stored at least a minimum of 10m from the building itself and if possible, in bins with lockable lids
  • If you have a car park which could be at risk of incursions and potential fly-tipping, you should consider additional security measures to prevent this, such as concrete block barriers
  • Shutdown and isolate / drain any non-essential utility services (electrical, water, heating) that are not required for operational reasons. Remember to consider keeping minimum temperatures to prevent freezing, we recommend keeping it at not less than 7 degrees Centigrade (45 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • No money should be left on the premises unless kept in an approved safe

Ongoing maintenance

It’s vital to keep up with maintenance as this can prevent damage and deterioration further down the line. Here’s a few things to remember when it comes to maintaining an empty property:

  • Any ongoing or planned preventative maintenance activities should continue especially for critical plant and machinery, utilities and protection equipment, if Government guidelines can still be followed
  • Don’t forget to adjust any maintenance or servicing arrangements that you may have. It may be appropriate to increase the time between activity such as the cleaning of kitchen extract ducts and waste management, due to less use
  • It’s really important to ensure the upkeep of your fire alarms and sprinkler systems to make sure that they remain fully operational and where possible, regular testing should continue
  • Regular inspections should be carried out if it is safe to do so and with adherence to the set Government guidelines. We suggest that:
    • If your property is still operational with limited staff, that an inspection should be carried out at the beginning and end of each working day. You should also consider conducting a risk assessment for any lone working issues and ensure that you are compliant with existing government guidance regarding vulnerable people and lone workers.
    • If your property is temporarily closed, where possible arrangements should be made for a weekly internal and external site inspection, with guidance sought as to whether this can be supported whilst adhering to social distancing
    • Make sure to physically check the inside and outside of the premises and carry out any immediate work necessary to maintain security. Don’t forget to keep a record or log of your inspections
    • Remember to put in place contingency plans in case the primary person(s) carrying out weekly inspections or responding to alarm activations need to self-isolate or are ill so that inspections and alarm activations can be carried out by another appointed person(s)
    • It’s important to review and update your risk assessment (including the fire risk assessment) of your building(s) to reflect the temporary change in risk unless you have been told otherwise by your insurer/broker

Please note that these are general guidelines designed to provide guidance only and should not override any conditions, terms or guidance provided to the policyholder directly by their broker or insurer and must only be undertaken in line with the current guidance issued by HM Government.