Bell Yard launches HIGA with Mishcon as legal advisers

For immediate release: 29 April 2020

Mishcon Advises “Hospitality Insurance Group Action” to hold insurers to account for UK business interruption policies

A new hospitality sector-wide action group is being launched today to hold insurance companies to account for policy pay-outs arising from lockdown and Covid-19 related losses.

Hospitality Insurance Group Action (“HIGA”) is open to businesses which have been forced to close within the sector, including hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and leisure businesses, if their insurance company is silent or refusing to honour policies relating to business interruption due to this pandemic and the lockdown. Any collective claim by HIGA against the insurance industry is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds, notwithstanding often inadequate policy limits, such is the extent of members’ financial damage.

Leading litigation law firm Mishcon de Reya LLP (“Mishcon”), has agreed to advise HIGA on the parameters of bringing a collective group action against a range of insurers. Mishcon has secured external funding to cover the policy review exercise and is working with Philip Edey QC, of Twenty Essex Chambers.

There is no cost to any UK hospitality business to register with HIGA to have their existing business interruption insurance policy reviewed by Mishcon.

Trevor Ayling, owner of five Renoufs Cheese and Wine Bars in Dorset and Hampshire and HIGA registrant said:

“We’re a family-run, local independent group of award winning restaurants and feel a huge sense of duty to our community and loyal customers; we want to be able to reopen for them as much as for our staff and family, as soon as restrictions ease. In light of the difficult circumstances, we decided to claim on our insurance policy and have tried every way to get our insurer to respond – to no avail. A pay-out on our policy would go some way to making reopening a reality, helping to secure Renoufs’ future.

“We are aware others are similarly affected and, like us, don’t have the money to fight when claims are ignored or denied, as legal support can run into hundreds of thousands. So we jumped at being an early participant in what’s become HIGA – it meant we got our policy wording reviewed for free and the chance of fighting to recover at least a proportion of our losses.

“I will be urging others in the hospitality industry to look at HIGA – we need to stand united to be counted.”

Fellow HIGA registrant Dan Fox, Managing Director of Craft Locals (owner of 3 North London pubs) commented:

“If insurers don’t come through, this will have a devastating impact on not only the business and its continued survival, but the livelihood of the fantastic team members that we employ, and the local communities of which we form such an integral part.

“Our pubs not only offer a fantastic range of food and drinks but are hubs of the local community. We host everything from local book clubs, neighbourhood watch meetings, baby first aid classes to unsigned local music acts. We will do everything in our power to renew these activities and right now we’re hoping HIGA can help us get our insurers to do the right thing.”

Sonia Campbell, Partner and Head of the Insurance Disputes Practice at Mishcon de Reya LLP, comments:

“Hospitality sector businesses, large and small, have been particularly hard hit by the government-enforced closure during this pandemic and desperately need to mitigate their losses. In times of crisis they expect their insurance to respond. Yet I am hearing time and time again that insurers are either stone-walling, unfairly limiting or simply point-blank refusing to pay out under business interruption policies. This strikes us as something that is open to challenge. I look forward to assisting all members of HIGA in exploring the possibility of a group claim. There may well be some light at the end of this industry’s very dark tunnel.”

To express interest in joining HIGA, business owners should register their details at so that a free-of-charge preliminary assessment can made of their insurance policy and specifically whether Covid-19 lockdown-related losses are covered within their business interruption clauses



Case Studies: fuller statements from individual business owners Trevor Ayling and Dan Fox, photographs and interviews are available on request.

Eligibility: Any business interruption policyholders whose current insurance contract includes non-physical damage extensions to cover and is governed by English law are eligible to participate by having their policy reviewed by Mishcon – whether customers of Axa, China Taiping, RSA, Touchstone, Zurich or any other insurance provider (except Hiscox – see below).

Cost: There is no cost to businesses to participate at this stage. If a claim is progressed and is successful, the third party funder is paid by taking an agreed deduction from any compensation secured at the end of the litigation. Most reassuringly, if the claim is unsuccessful, the litigation funder covers all legal expenses, so there is very limited financial risk to Group members.

Group size: There is no current limit on the number of potential HIGA members – but this will be reviewed to ensure enquiry levels are manageable.

Process: Mishcon de Reya says it hopes to review the insurance policies of those registering interest in a group action by the end of May. Having reviewed the policies, the wordings are likely to fall into distinct groups, which will enable Mishcon to assess how best to bring a group claim.

Hiscox Claims: a separate group exists for all Hiscox claimants – Hiscox policy holders should contact the Hiscox Action Group for further enquiries.

About Bell Yard: Bell Yard Communications established and administers HIGA. We are a boutique London-based litigation and legal PR agency, founded by Melanie Riley in 2002. We have a long-established record of advising clients involved in disputes and litigation. In consecutive years since the guide’s formation, Bell Yard has been top ranked Band 1 by Chambers’ Litigation Support Guide – achieving recognition from clients, the legal profession and peers alike.

About Mishcon de Reya: the firm has acted on a number of group actions including but not limited to: Taxi drivers against Uber, shareholders against RBS, Royal Mail (tax litigation) and an action against Google. Mishcon is also currently advising the Hiscox Action Group.

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Comms in the age of Covid-19

Covid-19 hasn’t been good to Sir Richard Branson. A once much-loved public figure, Branson was voted Britain’s favourite businessman in the noughties. His image no doubt played a part in securing this accolade. A self-made billionaire, Branson challenged society’s stereotype of what it meant to be a businessman – he is eccentric, fun-loving, tie-loathing, and rubs shoulders with A-listers on his private Caribbean hideaway.

However, the image that worked wonders for Branson during peacetime has done him few favours in the current crisis. After he called on the UK government to bail out Virgin Atlantic with a £500 million loan, some have bestowed a new title on Britain’s “most popular businessman” – now “tax-dodging, NHS-robbing scum,” and a “traitor to his country,” among other choice epithets. An online petition to strip Branson of his knighthood is rapidly attracting signatures. Oh, the joys of social media!

Even in the best of times, crass displays of wealth by public figures are hard to relate to, but the effect is magnified tenfold during a worldwide pandemic – not least when it involves a self-proclaimed ‘tax exile’ who sued the NHS and is now seeking UK state aid to save his airline, which happens to be 49% owned by a US airline. It’s no surprise that in recent articles covering the airline’s woes, the British press have published pictures of Branson posing with scantily-clad models on his luxury island idyll or in front of his latest aircraft. Nothing says “we’re all in this together” like an image of Richard Branson blasting into space in his Virgin Galactic rocket. 

Of course, the internet hasn’t helped Branson’s cause, allowing ready access to decade-old articles in which he’s quoted as urging the then PM, Gordon Brown, to stand firm against using British taxpayers’ money to bail out British Airways. 

Branson’s fall from grace has important lessons for reputation managers. Now, more than ever, we must keep attuned to the tide of public opinion which can turn in an instant. Several considerations are key: what actions in today’s unprecedented climate are being applauded and which chastised? How to show a sharing, caring side of commercial enterprise, without looking like you are simply chasing the plaudits and trying too hard? What measures should company leaders take personally to protect their business? While Branson has experienced the downside of social media, on the plus side, it’s a very useful bellwether of the mood of the nation and allows companies to react nimbly and far more appropriately. 

The coming months will determine whether Virgin Atlantic can survive the economic storm created by Covid-19. As for Branson’s reputation, recovery may take a little longer; judging by Virgin Group’s swift response to a scathing attack on the mogul by Guardian columnist Marina Hyde, it seems Branson isn’t wasting any time. 

25th April 2020

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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