A man who has fought a 10-year battle to fix subsidence at his home says he has discovered how far insurance companies will go to "save themselves money".

Andrew Brenner went to the High Court to try to stop Haringey Council cutting down a tree outside his home in Oakfield Road, Stroud Green.

His and a neighbour’s insurance companies blame the tree for causing subsidence to their homes, but he believes the homes need underpinning - which the firms are trying to avoid.

Mr Brenner lost his bid for a judicial review of the council’s decision to take down the tree last Wednesday (March 29), amid a legal bid by Haringey to stop protesters blocking the felling that has been running since December.

He has lodged an appeal. If it is not accepted, the council can chop the tree down.

Mr Brenner said he was "saddened”, for had the judgment gone in his favour, it would have exposed "the balance of power" that insurance companies have over householders, councils, and communities.

The council said it was liable for a claim of £400,000 if the tree was not felled, a figure that rose to £1 million in a court hearing last month.

At the core of Mr Brenner's issue are two insurance companies, Aviva for him and Allianz for his neighbour, both working with loss adjustor Crawford & Co.

Mr Brenner has been trying to get Aviva to underpin his home since 2014 and outlined the possible solutions when a tree is thought to be causing subsidence - when the ground shrinks due to roots drawing moisture from the soil.

"Do you underpin the house with a root barrier that allows you to keep the tree and the house? Or do you take out the tree and try to avoid doing all the work on the house?” he asked.

"We don't value trees so that's the easy option and the councils are weak compared to the insurers."

He added: "The fundamental problem is that insurers are not helping householders who have these problems and they are using the tree and the council as a way of saving themselves money at the expense of everybody else, including the council, including householders, and including the community.

"All of that is tied up and the balance of power is really uneven. I can't afford what the insurers can afford in terms of legal costs.

"We're going to have to keep fighting. It's not over."

 

Hackney Gazette: Tree protectors outside Andrew Brenner's home, in Oakfield Road, on April 2 2023Tree protectors outside Andrew Brenner's home, in Oakfield Road, on April 2 2023 (Image: Nathalie Raffray)

In 2017, Mr Brenner filed a complaint through the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), which said the house could be underpinned without removing the tree, but Aviva did not do this.

The High Court heard a further complaint to the FOS last year has been "delayed" as insurance companies did not submit information in time for the court hearings regarding Haringey’s bid to stop protesters.

Haringey’s barrister Nicholas Grundy told the High Court the council’s legal team had advised the report was "irrelevant".

Mr Brenner fears felling the tree could even make his structural problems worse. Without roots taking up water, the clay soil could expand in a process known as heave - the opposite of subsidence – causing further damage.

He claimed the council said it does not follow up after trees are removed, and that warnings about heave were not even discussed in court.

He added: “Because the council doesn't follow it up and the insurers don't chase them about heave, neither are pursued when the house has further problems. All that is hidden.

"We are now forced to wait to see if the house is affected by heave before the insurance company will act."

Jane Leggett, of campaign group Haringey Tree Protectors, said the group was "extremely disappointed” there would not be a judicial review.

She added there was a “strong possibility” the insurance companies would walk away from their responsibilities to the two homeowners.

A spokesperson for Aviva said: "It is not appropriate to comment as there are ongoing legal proceedings relating to this matter."

A Haringey Council spokesperson said: “We will not be making any comment until the legal proceedings are concluded.”

Allianz and Crawfords & Co were also contacted.