Message from Penny James, CEO, Direct Line Group
During these unprecedented times, we are working day and night to keep our people safe as well as looking after our customers. Following the Government’s announcement last month, I want to update you on what we have been doing across the Group and set out how we will operate during this period.
It’s important for the national interest that we continue to stay at home. By the 19th March, the large majority of our 11,000 people were working from home and they continue to do so. Where roles are deemed as critical, or key workers who need to be in the workplace, the numbers are the absolute minimum and we have taken steps to ensure they have the safest working environment possible. All our people will continue to receive their usual pay, regardless of how their specific working practices may change during home working. I have also reassured everyone that we will be protecting all roles through to the autumn.
As a result of our home working policy and the unprecedented demand on the phones, we have made changes to our services to ensure we can help our vulnerable and existing customers as quickly as possible. All new business is now online only, and we are asking our customers to think before they call the phone line so that we can prioritise:
Claims: Customers who have an urgent claim that needs to be dealt with immediately.
Financial difficulty: Customers who find themselves in immediate financial difficulty in respect of paying for their insurance this month, should speak to us as soon as possible as it gives us the best chance of providing support.
We have set up Covid-19 pages on each of our brand websites which houses frequently asked questions and advice for our customers. If you are an existing customer and have questions about your renewal you can also use our online systems via the brand pages.
We are focused on continuing to run our 24/7 rescue service and our Accident Repair Centres will operate on a reduced service to repair vehicles which are undrivable for customers who need their cars. We believe it is in the national interest to keep these services running to help our customers who may be key workers providing essential services to the country, or reliant on their car to buy food or seek medical assistance. We are incredibly proud of our people for continuing to serve our customers and I want to reassure everyone that we have enhanced our operating procedures and changed our working patterns so that we can ensure social distancing. We are asking our rescue customers to use our app if possible so that we can reduce pressure on the phone lines for vulnerable customers.
To find out more about the app click here.
We are of course acutely aware of the impact of COVID-19 on many of the businesses that our customers own. To support our customers, with effect from 24th March 2020 we are extending the period which a property can be temporarily unoccupied to 90 consecutive days for both commercial and residential properties, to cover businesses temporarily closing due to COVID-19.
Whilst our commercial policies do cover a range of specified diseases, our standard terms do not provide cover for business losses or interruption caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19). We have therefore been working with the ABI and the Government to find ways to support businesses through the difficult weeks ahead. The UK Government has now announced a range of financial measures.
The long-term sustainability of our business is paramount so that we can continue to protect our policyholders and support our wider stakeholders. That’s why as a result of the uncertainties arising from Covid-19, on the 19th March we took the prudent decision to pause our share buybacks and last week, the Board decided that it is was no longer appropriate to recommend a final a dividend for FY2019. Our capital position remains robust, but we felt it was the right decision to seek to preserve the Group’s strong balance sheet during this period of heightened uncertainty. We understand the disappointment this has caused our shareholders and we will update our position on dividends at our half year results in August. Given the uncertainty that we face, we will continue to make the decisions we believe necessary, so we remain as a sustainable business for all our stakeholders.
Now more than ever, it is important that we all look for ways to support our country in the most extraordinary time that any of us have ever experienced. That’s why we have launched a £3.5 million DLG Community Fund to be distributed by Registered Charities to support vulnerable people in the communities surrounding our major sites during this period. Getting through this period will require all our collective strength, creativity and kindness and I am committed to looking at what more we can do to support our people, our customers, our communities whilst safeguarding the long-term sustainability of the business. I want to thank everyone who works for the Group and our customers for their patience. Together we can get through this if we support each other.