Buildings Insurance Claims Crisis – Sewage is the New Subsidence

Buildings Insurance is in the proverbial again with what could potentially turn out to be the biggest claim reason since the subsidence crisis of the 1980′s and 90′s.

The reason? Sewage – or more precisely the sewer mains pipes that lead from every property in the UK to the main street sewage system.

In the 1950′s through to the 1970′s a certain type of sewage pipe called a ‘Pitch Fibre pipe’ was widely used in new and existing construction work as a replacement for clay pipes which were three times as expensive and required specialist installation. Published figures from the time suggest that “if laid correctly, and not subject to adverse ground conditions, pitch fibre pipes can be expected to have a design life of up to 40 years”. If poorly installed, it was suggested that the life expectancy of a pitch fibre pipe would be significantly shorter.


All Pitch Fibre Pipes laid for sewerage in the UK have now reached or passed their design life expectancy.

Pitch Fibre Pipes were made from wood fibre impregnated with coal tar, and have performed adequately when dealing with normal waste water. It soon became apparent that Pitch Fibre pipes were susceptible to the delamination of their inner surface, ruining the structural integrity of the pipes. Pitch Fibre pipes have been found to react badly when subjected to large quantities of hot water, and to oils and fats, which can soften the tar and cause deformation and leaks. It was also discovered that under normal conditions, they were susceptible to collapse under applied loading, sooner than pipes made of more rigid materials. The use of pressure washing drains has also exacerbated the problem of deterioration.

a pitch fibre sewer pipe collapse

Pitch Fibre Pipes (incredibly) were British Standard approved (BS2760), although this was withdrawn on 15 June 1987.

Home Insurance claims Nemesis

The use of pitch fibre pipes was very widespread through the UK and up to 50,000 properties are now suffering problems relating to pitch fibre pipes every year and making claims on home buildings insurance policies. The number of Pitch fibre claims is rising dramatically each year so much so that, like subsidence, many Home Insurance companies are refusing to cover claims under buildings insurance for sewer collapse associated with pitch fibre. Many others will claim ‘normal wear and tear’ and refuse to pay a claim. However following advice from the UK’s Insurance Ombudsman’s , some Home Insurance Companies are now paying for these drains to be repaired.

Would you know if you had Pitch Fibre Sewers? Probably not until you have a blockage or leakage.

Insurance Blogger is warning the large number of people who compare home insurance premiums on the Internet and change provider each year, to check very carefully if the new policy covers Pitch Fibre Collapse.

The cost of replacement of pitch fibre piping with modern materials can be anything from £2000 to £10000 or more depending upon the length and complexity of the run and the surface materials.
You may be jointly liable for damage to pitch fibre sewage pipes that are not even on your property if your sewers join to neighbours, so it is important when purchasing home insurance that pitch fibre is covered, otherwise you may be presented with a large unwarranted bill.

As the pitch fibre pipe systems gradually deteriorate, those responsible for the sewers find themselves frequently paying out for repairs. Check your pipes and home buildings insurance today!

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