Press Articles - Health Food Shops / Retailers

It's several years since the first and landmark legal action against a retailer alleging wrongful advice in the recommendation of products supplied. Since this time a number of other complaints have been brought by customers alleging that the use of the product was inappropriate for their circumstances.

Legal action can be a painful and distressing experience for many small businesses and significant legal costs can be speedily incurred. The distraction and time lost and worry associated with it can cause the retailer to "take their eye off the ball" with detrimental effect on their business.

The law regards the retailer as possessing specialist and expert knowledge. As a result, it is reasonable for members of the public to rely upon the information and advice received. It was against this legal background that Ralph Pike of the NAHS sought to find a solution. His concern was that specialist insurance cover was required if retailers were to be adequately protected, but it was not at that time available in the UK insurance market.

After research and negotiation, UK Special Risks was able to develop a specialist policy that combined the benefits of shop insurance with an extension in cover for advice given in the recommendation of products supplied. The specialist Policy has been available now for four years and approximately 20% of the industry benefits from this cover. As the product has become better known within the industry, it has been endorsed and recommended by other groups including The Health Store for its members.

The Wrongful Advice extension covers all employees whether full or part-time, whether they are qualified or unqualified for the advice provided in the recommendation of products supplied. We support the Health Food Institute Training qualifications and encourage all to become Certificate or Diploma holders. Significantly there are no hidden restrictions in cover and no small print clauses. Cover is wide and unambiguous.

Not surprisingly UK Special Risks has received claims of all types ranging from the predictable to the unexpected; from minor incidents to substantial claims for damage and injuries. Breakage of glass shop front and theft of cash affect all retailers and health food stores are no exception. Deterioration of chilled and frozen foods due to the breakdown of machines is a common cause of claim. More significant claims have arisen from water damage caused by, say, a burst pipe in a flat above the shop causing extensive damage and loss of trading.

Other significant claims have arisen from injuries to members of the public on-site in the shop, and allegedly from wrongful product advice. Allegations can be spurious and ultimately found to be without foundation, but can be a painful and costly process for the retailer.

UK Special Risks has been extended since its launch. Feedback from retailers on the major issues affecting their business highlighted one particular area of concern - the tidal wave of employment law affecting all businesses. Within the past two years the maximum award for unfair or constructive dismissal has been increased to £50,000, with unlimited awards for sex, race and disability discrimination.

Retailers who have acted reasonably and fairly may still be disappointed to lose an Employment Tribunal because they have not followed the necessary procedures. Over the past 10 years the number of applications to employment tribunal has increased by 150% and currently stands over 100,000 per year. As a result, UK Special Risks is negotiating a Legal Expenses facility for the industry which provides a cost-effective means of access to legal advice and meets the costs of defending employment related disputes - as well as the costs of in-depth Tax and VAT investigation. The product is available as an optional extra at a cost of approx £50 per retailer.

We live in an increasingly litigious society and believe that retailers should have access to the best possible protection. The arrangement was originally designed for members of the NAHS, but it was Ralph Pike's desire that the facility should be available to the entire industry. Many of the disputes concerning advice given are not widely publicised and don't make headlines. Retailers continue to be unaware of the potential liability.

UK Special Risks supports the Save our Supplements Campaign. For every new and renewing Policy undertaken during 2004 a donation will be made to the campaign funds.

Keith Woolley - Owner, Boots Herbal Stores
When Boots Herbal Stores was trading in 1939, Frederick Boot, the owner, would dispense from well-stocked shelves of inhalants and balsams, pills made from dried herbs, sugar-coated and rolled through a manual pill machine, and tinctures made from herbs soaked in alcohol. In those days the remedies would be taken home and prepared by the 'elders' who were well versed in the natural ways of keeping the family fit and able.

In 2004, the public equally relies on our advice. It is the absolute responsibility of the health store retailer to ensure that the advice given is reliable and correct - and that criterion also applies to the staff.

The problem of imparting wrongful advice gives me great concern. At Boots Herbal Stores, we have been avid users of Healthnotes in our outlets for many years. Healthnotes is a great tool and I would recommend it to anyone in the Health Profession, from health stores to practitioners, from GPs to nurses. In fact, anyone who the public relies on for advice on any natural or 'alternative' product.

Healthnotes forms part of our staff training module, which alongside training from many of our suppliers, forms a weekly session with our staff. To consolidate, for the past few years we've insured through UK Special Risks. The cover for 'wrongful' advice is the reason why. I tried to get similar cover on my own, but was unsuccessful. Access to the policy is via the NAHS -and that alone is why every retailer should sign up to be a NAHS member.

UK Special Risks Ltd, Registered office First Insurance Solutions House, Centre 3000, St. Leonards Road, Maidstone, Kent ME16 0LS