Temporary Unoccupied Buildings Guidance for Businesses
Although the national lockdown has now been lifted, many businesses across the country may still have to keep their premises closed due to the new tier system.
For more information on the current COVID-19 restrictions in your area, visit: https://www.gov.uk/find-coronavirus-local-restrictions
Whether they are permanently closed during this period of uncertainty, or temporarily closed for longer periods of time than usual, your unoccupied buildings can be at greater risk of damage from arson, theft, escape of water, vandalism and more.
There are also some insurance implications regarding temporary unoccupied buildings, which you can read here: Insurance implications of temporary unoccupied buildings
Below we have provided some general advice and guidance to help businesses keep their temporarily unoccupied buildings safe. If you have any questions or require more specific advice, contact us today.
Top priorities for temporarily closed buildings
For any building or property that is unoccupied on a temporary basis due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the top priorities are to protect against electrical fires, avoid any damage or losses from an escape of water, guard against arson/vandalism and to inspect the building on a regular basis.
Protect against electrical fires
All electrical equipment should be turned off and unplugged, with electrical systems isolated at the main fuse board. The only exception to this would be any critical IT systems that are still needed to allow the business to continue operating e.g. to facilitate home working arrangements, as well as security systems such as:
- Fire alarms
- Sprinkler systems
- Any other fire suppression systems
- Intruder alarms
- CCTV systems
Avoid escape of water losses
If there is no requirement to re-enter the premises during the period of temporary closure, then it is recommended that you turn off the water supplies at the mains and, where possible, drain the water systems to prevent any issues with freezing pipes etc.
If it’s not possible to drain the system then maintain a temperature of at least 4⁰C throughout the property.
Guard against arson
It’s also important to take action to discourage arson. This can be done by clearing the area around the building e.g. removing waste and moving external bins away from the building – ideally securing bins in place if possible.
Inspect the property regularly
Be sure to arrange regular visits to your building or buildings to inspect them. Ideally, this should be done on a regular basis – provided that travel to the buildings is permitted under the latest government guidance.
It is important that any damage to the building is identified and rectified as soon as is reasonably possible, and that any accumulation of post is removed as this can be a giveaway to thieves that the building is temporarily closed.
Update risk assessments
You should also review your current risk assessment documents for the building and update them with any new precautions you have taken while it is temporarily unoccupied.
To help with this, we have developed a Temporary Premises Closure Checklist which you can download for free below:
We also have two risk assessment documents regarding reopening businesses and premises, which you can download for free here: Reopening businesses after COVID-19 – risk assessments for returning to work and reopening buildings
There’s also some more specific guidance here: What measures do businesses need to take to reinstate buildings, premises and the work environment following COVID-19 closure?
General vacant building guidance
The safety of your employees, contractors and members of the public is a priority so the following guidance should be considered or implemented only if it is practicable and/or in line with current Government guidelines:
- Waste – Remove all external waste, pallets and empty skips before closure of the premises.
- Waste bins – Empty all waste bins and move to a secure area, ideally at least 10 metres from the building. If it is not possible to keep at least 10 metres then these bins should have lockable lids.
- Fire Systems – Ensure all fire and/or sprinkler systems remain fully operational.
- Fire Doors – Check to ensure that internal fire doors are closed.
- Building Utilities – Ensure all non-essential electrical devices and building utilities are turned off.
- Inspections – Arrange for a weekly inspection of the building (internally and externally), risk assess for any lone working issues. Comply with existing government guidance regarding vulnerable people and lone worker risk assessments. Consider the provisioning for alternative skilled personnel.
- Physical Security – Check that physical security measures are in place and effective. For example, fences are fit for purpose and in good repair, windows are locked, shutters are in place, gates are locked.
- Intruder Alarm – 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.
- Maintenance – As long as it is practical, continue essential maintenance and complete any remedial measures. Continue to respond to all Building Management Systems (BMS) alerts.
Insurance implications of temporary unoccupied buildings
During the first national lockdown, most insurers granted extensions for 60 to 90 days. However, the majority have since ended these special arrangements, irrespective of subsequent local lockdowns.
Now, faced with a second national lockdown in England, what remains in doubt is whether insurers will offer similar extensions to unoccupied-property cover if property owners or their tenants have to vacate their premises for a prolonged period.
What you need to tell your insurance company
If your property or any of your regular business premises are unoccupied, then you must inform your insurance company or broker/representative as soon as possible.
Likewise, you must also let them know if you or your tenants have substantively changed the pattern of occupancy that you disclosed previously.
Examples of these changes include:
- Part occupancy or complete vacancy of the premises during the working week
- Changes to the opening times of business premises
- Weekend occupancy (if not disclosed already)
- The subletting of any premises to a third party
- In the case of multi-tenure properties, details of any vacant units or properties.
If you need any further advice on this, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.