United Kingdom

COVID-19 – Understanding public sector risk in the pandemic

Whether an NHS trust, a police force or a local authority, public sector organisations and their staff are on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19. As activities and services shift in response to the challenges of this pandemic, it’s important to be aware of the insurance implications.

As well as being under exceptional pressure, the fast-moving pace at which the situation is evolving means that public sector organisations are having to respond with both creativity and agility. This has resulted in some significant transformation to ensure that services are delivered without jeopardising the safety of employees and the public.

Existing premises have been repurposed, with examples of the new uses including temporary lodgings for the homeless or for NHS staff; healthcare facilities for patients recovering after receiving critical care; and community hubs and hub schools for keyworkers’ children.

Service delivery has also undergone significant change. As well as the huge increase in employees working from home, the current crisis has seen healthcare professionals return to the NHS or switch to more frontline roles. Public sector staff are also being redeployed to deliver critical services and help look after vulnerable people in the community. Across the public sector there’s also been an influx of volunteers, as members of the public look to provide support where they can.

Shifting risk

The scale of change means it’s inevitable that the risk profile of most public sector organisations will have shifted radically. This can present challenges from an insurance perspective. Existing insurance policies never anticipated that organisations would find themselves having to transform their operations to such an extent, and, as a result, may not respond as expected.

Take the redeployment of staff as an example. Many employees who would normally be desk-based are stepping up to help vulnerable people, delivering food parcels, prescriptions and medical equipment, or moving on to hospital wards to support healthcare professionals.

These moves are to be applauded and demonstrate the flexibility and dedication of public sector employees but, from an insurance perspective, the risks associated with an employee working in an office are markedly different to those of someone providing support on a hospital ward.

Similar issues arise with repurposed properties. For example, the risk associated with university halls of residence is very different when it’s used for patients recovering from COVID-19 rather than to accommodate students.

Equally, some premises will now be empty and construction sites mothballed. It’s common for insurance cover to include clauses relating to this and, without taking appropriate steps to improve risk, an organisation could find a claim rejected.

Travel plans are also having to be cancelled or delayed. As cover usually only responds where there is an insured reason for a trip to be cancelled, it’s important to consider how wordings might apply in the event of a cancellation.

This is also an opportune time for cyber criminals to assess weakness and attack. We outline some of the risks in cyber security associated with this in the attached article. Social engineering attacks and COVID-19

There are also potential ramifications for an organisation’s motor insurance. Its own vehicles may be put to different uses, for instance delivering medication or food parcels, plus there’s also additional risk where employees and volunteers use their own vehicles to support their communities.

Insurance response

The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis means we’ve seen markedly different responses from insurers. While some are sticking rigidly to the policy wordings and their terms and conditions, others are doing everything they can to help and support their policyholders.

While this can be frustrating if subjected to the more rigid approach, we recommend that public sector organisations work closely with their insurance broker throughout this period. By keeping us informed of the changes that organisations are putting in place, we can liaise with insurers and work to ensure that appropriate cover is in place and risk exposure is kept to a minimum.

Risk management also plays a vital role as the services and functions delivered by public sector organisations change. This can ensure that, as services evolve, organisations, their employees and communities are not exposed to undue risk.

It’s prudent to undertake a risk assessment when something changes, be that a new function or a new peril, such as COVID-19. This will take into account the potential risks and the safeguards that need to be in place to protect everyone.

As an example, with COVID-19, good health and safety guidelines including social distancing, and high levels of personal hygiene are essential. Organisations also need to identify where personal contact cannot be avoided and provide the necessary PPE to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Where staff are being redeployed it’s important to have clear processes and protocols in place. This will help to protect these individuals and may reduce the risk of future claims.

It would also be prudent to make staff aware of any risks they are being exposed to in a new role and provide them with appropriate training and supervision.

Another issue that should be addressed concerns the exposure of staff to people in crisis. These are incredibly stressful times and, sadly, there is an increased risk that staff could be subjected to verbal and physical abuse. Public sector organisations should give thought to the applicable procedures they have in place where this happens. Such procedures may include reference to; how employees are supported, employees’ ability to raise any complaints or concerns and employees access to additional support through avenues such as HR, occupational health and counselling services.

In these challenging times, it’s inspiring to see how public sector organisations are adapting in response to the crisis. Working closely with the insurance industry will help manage risk and keep employees and communities safe.

At Aon, we have many years’ experience of working with public sector organisations to manage risk.

We’ve just launched our COVID-19 Response Tool Kit, which has been designed and prepared as a guidance tool on risk exposures and human capital concerns emanating from an infectious disease event or outbreak. We invite you to use the content of the COVID-19 Response Tool Kit to inform response plans and to augment existing continuity strategies. Follow the link to download:


DISCLAIMER: This document has been provided as an informational resource for Aon clients and business partners. It is intended to provide general guidance on potential exposures, and is not intended to provide medical advice or address medical concerns or specific risk circumstances. Information given in this document is of a general nature, and Aon cannot be held liable for the guidance provided. We strongly encourage readers to seek additional safety, medical and epidemiologic information from credible sources such as the World Health Organization. As regards insurance coverage questions, whether coverage applies or a policy will respond to any risk or circumstance is subject to the specific terms and conditions of the insurance policies and contracts at issue and the relevant underwriter determinations. Whilst care has been taken in the production of this document and the information contained within it has been obtained from sources that Aon believes to be reliable, Aon does not warrant, represent or guarantee the accuracy, adequacy, completeness or fitness for any purpose of the report or any part of it and can accept no liability for any loss incurred in any way by any person who may rely on it. Any recipient shall be responsible for the use to which it puts this document. This document has been compiled using information available to us up to its date of publication.{14th April 2020}”