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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Road to confusion?
By Virginia Eastman
Consumer Affairs Correspondent

There are benefits to living on a private road - no passing traffic, greater security, more exclusivity.

But what many residents don't realise is that simply putting up a sign does not protect them from possible compensation claims.

It's thought there are about 40,000 private roads in England and Wales. They have not been adopted by the local authority so councils have no duty to maintain them.

That's not always a bad thing, as residents can form official companies or associations to keep the road how they want it to look.

Entitled

But when it comes to insurance cover, they may find they've left themselves open to huge bills.

Many roads have a sign telling visitors they use it at their own risk.

But if they have any sort of accident they will still be entitled to take out a claim.

That shocked residents of a cul-de-sac in Brentford which is a private road.

They often find people from nearby developments parking there - and now realise that they must be covered in case of third party claims.

"We actually thought that by putting a disclaimer up we might be able to circumnavigate that issue, but apparently not," says resident Carrie Lennard.

Advice

There are options for residents who have formed groups to look after their road.

Andrew Barsby
Andrew Barsby has set up a website
Andrew Barsby has set up Private Roads Services, which offers help and advice to the estimated 1m people who live on unadopted roads.

For a premium of 250 a year he can provide cover of 2m.

It's possible that normal home contents and buildings will be enough to sort out most claims - but things don't always go smoothly.

David Ross of Norwich Union gives as an example a cul-de-sac where 10 houses all have different insurers.

Club together

"If someone were unfortunate enough to trip over on the private road and present a claim against them then the 10 insurance companies would club together to pay compensation to the party that was injured," he explains.

David Ross, Norwich Union
David Ross: Problems could arise
"The problem that potentially arises is if not everybody in that cul-de-sac actually has insurance.

"Obviously those people that don't would be asked to pay the compensation out of their own pocket."

David says the recent rise in compensation culture means this can be a serious issue for householders.

"Insurance companies, local authorities and the NHS, for example, are being presented with claims that, although they don't pay, they have to investigate and that costs them, and ultimately us, money," he says.

Organised

"You're probably seeing a 20-25% increase in the past five years or so in the cost of claims presented to insurance companies."

In fact, Andrew Barsby advises anyone who lives on a private road to get together with their neighbours to get organised so they can tackle any issues.

"One is new development, when people are anxious to put new houses in; that causes problems," he says.

"Disputes over rights of way, parking, trouble with services, or trouble with ownership - often people don't know who owns a private road."

So if you haven't thought about the matter before, perhaps it's time to get the neighbours round for a cup of tea and a chat.

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