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Q&A with John Albion’s Branwell Hemmings

Branwell Hemmings joined our Thatched Property Insurance team in 2021 and quickly got to grips with our clients’ unique needs. To find out more about his experiences and the current challenges of thatched homeowners, we sat down for a quick Q&A session. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your work background?

I started in sales and customer service roles before moving to insurance in 2014. I began with Car Insurance and Home Insurance, and then branched out to new business and renewals for holiday homes and rental properties. I also did a bit of Commercial Insurance and Fleet Insurance, but most of my focus has been on Personal Insurance. 

What have you learnt since joining the John Albion team?

Where do I even start? Thatch is such a big subject area, so I’m forever learning. For example, I’ve found out all about the different thatch materials and their lifespans, which is something I never thought I’d know. 

I’ve also learnt about the cost of getting a re-thatch done. Depending on the size of your property, it can be anything from £30,000 upwards. It’s not like a regular property at all!

What’s been the most interesting or surprising thing you’ve learned?

The industry itself has been very surprising. A thatched house is miles apart from a regular home. 

I’d probably say the most interesting thing I’ve learned is around the use of stoves and open-fires. I always thought that you could just get some logs, put them on and there you go. But you’ve got to use certain wood and it’s got to be seasoned and stored properly.

What are common challenges for thatched property owners, both in general and in terms of insurance?

Thatch owners have so much to think about when it comes to maintenance and insurance. The terms that apply in Thatch Insurance policies can therefore be a bit challenging. 

For instance, our insurer asks that you have to have your chimneys swept twice a year. Once between the 1st July and the 31st October, before the winter sets in, and then again from the 1st January to the 31st March. Because of this, booking a chimney sweep is difficult. You used to only have to have chimneys swept once a year, so this is a big change. It’s also an extra cost, which is difficult with the cost of living, but it’s in everyone’s interest. If your chimney wasn’t swept and your house went up in flames, you could lose your home. 

Insurers often ask for fire alarms to be interlinked on each floor too. Some clients will have them linked on the landing, hallway and maybe the first floor, but not in the loft, so that’s another consideration for homeowners. 

Insurance cost is also an issue at the moment thanks to inflation and the cost of living. Index linking, where the value of sums insured by your insurance policy matches inflation, was 19% at one point, which increased the price of your insurance policy. However, index linking is always recommended because you’re less likely to be underinsured in the event of a claim. We therefore also recommend that you have a professional rebuild valuation survey carried out so that you can be sure your sums insured are accurate.

Because it’s a complex subject, we make sure we always explain any price rises and set out what has caused them. And of course, we will do everything we can to see if we can bring the price down. For example, you can opt for a higher excess or take advantage of our interest-free instalments option. That said, we would never reduce someone’s sums insured to give them a cheaper price – no one wins in that situation because you could be underinsured, which would affect your claims payout.

What does the John Albion team do differently to help clients?

Our knowledge makes a huge difference. Some members of the team have been working in the industry for 15 years or more, so we understand and can explain the process from quotation to renewal. And if you give us a call because you’ve had cover elsewhere and want to sound us out, we’ll be happy to help. 

We care about what is presented to us, as opposed to just thinking about the pound signs. This sector is very niche, which means you can’t just go online and get a standard Home Insurance policy. It’s not a tick-box exercise and we fully understand that.

What are the most rewarding parts of your role? 

Coming from a sales background, I would say that for me it’s the personal touch. I can help a customer to buy a Thatch Insurance policy that they fully understand, as opposed to just talking them through a quote and giving them a price.

I like being able to help clients understand their policy and the costs behind endorsements such as the chimney sweeping, or communicating the importance of getting their electrical inspection done if it’s about to run out. I enjoy building rapport with them so that they can go away with more knowledge than they had before the quotation.

I also enjoy the process of tailoring policies, because it isn’t a matter of one-size-fits all. Some clients have specific requirements that we have to cater for. Getting to look at the properties themselves is another bonus. Some of them are absolutely amazing!

Talk to us about your Thatched Property Insurance

If you’d like to discuss your Thatch Insurance with Branwell and the John Albion team, please get in touch today

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