Important: COVID 19 Coronavirus - Information for Church Scheme customers - Find Out More

COVID 19 Coronavirus: Information for Church Scheme customers (Updated 23rd September 2020))

  • Published: Thursday, 26 March 2020 12:36

Notes regarding this webpage:

This webpage is regularly updated with the most current advice regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the Church of Scotland Insurance Services Church Insurance Scheme. All articles are shown below in chronological order with the most recent at the top. This allows access to the previous advice provided should it be required.

All our staff continue to work from home but their contact information including direct dial numbers are shown on the contact page of this website. 

Advice from the Church of Scotland regarding managing the risk from COVID-19 can be found at


Insurance premiums for properties that remain closed after 23rd September 2020

Aviva have now confirmed that at this time they will not charge any additional premium for properties that remain closed solely due to COVID 19 but that do intend to reopen.

It should be noted that they had to take an active decision not to charge premiums that were due to them under the scheme agreement and that this decision will save congregations a significant sum of money. Hopefully this decision will help dispel the idea that Aviva are in any way trying to influence congregation’s decisions on reopening.

Implications of unoccupancy for properties that remain closed due to COVID 19 after 23rd September

As all congregations should be aware by now the final extension to normal policy cover offered by Aviva, for properties closed solely due to the COVID 19 lockdown, ends today 23rd September 2020. Cover now reverts to our standard policy wording the most recent copy of which can be found here.

If your property could be considered unoccupied you should familiarise yourself with the unoccupancy clause and the restrictions in cover. In an attempt to be helpful I have identified and commented on the key areas of the policy dealing with unoccupancy this in the text below.   

It is important to note that the unoccupancy clause requires additional measures to manage risk beyond those in the previous management condition. In particular it requires services to the property to be turned off and drained down.

The policy includes definitions for Empty Building and Unoccupied as noted below. It can be seen that properties that are temporarily not used for church services for a period greater than 45 days may be deemed to be empty and potentially unoccupied.

Empty Buildings: Premises that are no longer used for church services either on a temporary or a permanent basis and/or that become Unoccupied. Please also see General Conditions.

Unoccupied: Any building or portion of a building that is

(1) not physically occupied by You during Your normal working hours, and/or

(2) not used for the purposes of the Business, and/or

(3) empty, vacant, disused, unused, untenanted or unfurnished, and/or

(4) awaiting refurbishment, redevelopment, renovation or demolition;

for a period in excess of 45 consecutive days.

General Conditions

The policy includes a series of general conditions that apply to the insurance contract. At the current time the first of these is particularly important. Whether or not you deem your property to be occupied you have a duty of care to take reasonable steps to prevent damage. In particular if you are having a low frequency of services you need to make sure that you continue to manage and monitor your property dealing with issues that arise.

As has been mentioned in several of my emails it is a condition that the insurers are given notice as soon as possible where a property has become unoccupied. Currently we are trying to monitor this with the assistance of presbytery due to the numbers involved but we will return to direct communication once the numbers fall to more normal levels.

The third of these is also worth noting as it is the requirement to advise insurers if there is a charge that leads to an increased risk of damage or liability. Once again unoccupancy would trigger this condition.    

(1) Duty of Care You must maintain the Buildings, Contents and any equipment in a satisfactory state of repair and take all reasonable steps to prevent damage to the Property Insured or accident or injury to any person. You must also comply with all legal requirements and safety regulations and conduct The Business in a lawful manner.

2) Unoccupied Premises When the Premises becomes Unoccupied it is a condition of the Policy that You give Us notice as soon as possible. Upon the Premises becoming Unoccupied cover is restricted and We shall be entitled to amend the basis of cover; or impose special terms or charge an additional premium.

(3) Alteration of Risk You must tell Us of any change of circumstances after the start of the Policy which (a) increases the risk of Damage, injury, or liability,

The Unoccupancy Clause

The policy includes a clause that triggers once a property is deemed to be unoccupied. Item (1), (2), & (3) follow the management clause that provided the existing extension to cover and should therefore already be being complied with by congregations. Item (4) is the important addition and includes the requirement to manage services into the property including draining down of water systems and to turn off all sources of power and water. It is important that congregations understand this additional requirement and take steps to address it.

As noted in the clause failure to comply with the conditions will lead to a claim being repudiated.

Unoccupied Premises If in relation to any claim for Damage while the Premises are Unoccupied, You have failed to fulfil any of the following conditions, You will lose Your right to indemnity or payment for that claim.

You must

(1) carry out internal and external inspection of the Buildings at least every seven days

(a) maintain a weekly log of such inspections to be retained for a period of at least 12 months

(b) as soon as possible, repair, or arrange to repair, any damage or defects found including the removal of graffiti

(c) carry out a monthly management check of the weekly inspections log.

(2) remove all loose combustible items, including furniture, pallets, mail/flyers, waste, refuse, stock and materials in trade, and gas bottles, either within or outside the buildings, from the Premises.

(3) securely lock all external doors, close and secure all windows,


(a)  turn off all sources of power, fuel and water at the mains and wherever possible, chain and padlock the isolation valves,

(b) drain all water and fuel supply tanks, apparatus and pipes. However, where the buildings are protected by

(i) an Intruder Alarm, CCTV or Fire Detection System You must provide sufficient power for their effective operation.

(ii) a sprinkler installation, You must provide sufficient power or water supplies for its effective operation and sufficient heat to prevent it freezing.

(5)  advise Us immediately if the buildings are to be occupied by contractors for renovation alteration or conversion purposes or if the buildings are to become occupied or used.

Restrictions in Cover

Where a property is deemed to be unoccupied cover under a number of import Perils is excluded this includes

-          Riot, Civil Commotion and Malicious Damage

-          Escape of Water/Oil

-          Accidental Damage

-          Theft

-          Theft Damage to Buildings

-          All Risks

In addition the Extensions to Material Damage Covers do not apply to unoccupied property.

I know that both managing and reopening of properties is challenging for many congregations in these difficult times. Please bear in mind however that insurance is only one aspect of this and that CoSIS role is purely to assist you in understanding the insurance position. Congregations need to decide the appropriate action for them taking all factors into account whilst being aware that some courses of action will have consequences for the insurance of their property.

Due to the potential number and speed of change as lockdown restrictions evolve Presbytery continue to assist us with monitoring the opening and potentially closing of churche property. If however you have any queries regarding the technical operation of your insurance in this matter or any other please call a member of my team. All of their direct dial numbers can be found here.


Current position on re-opening of Church buildings - Presbytery Involvement

We'd like to thank all those congregations who found the time to let us know the position regarding the re-opening of their church buildings in respect of the 5th of August return to the standard church scheme policy wording. (See full details in the article below.) All congregations should by now either have reopened or, to comply with their duty of disclosure, have advised CoSIS that they are now unoccupied and ideally have provided the information required to otain the extension of full cover until the 23rd of September.

Unfortunately a large number of congregations did not respond or waited until the last few days before the deadline to respond, often with insufficient information to trigger the additional cover. This produced a situation that could not be managed by CoSIS staff without a risk that significant numbers of congregations eligible to remain on full cover would fail to take advantage of Aviva's offer to provide it.

Thankfully Presbytery offices throughout Scotland agreed to assist in this exercise and they have collected as much information as possible in lists that Aviva have agreed to accept as confirmation on the key points required to trigger the extension in cover. Even if you have already advised CoSIS directly, if you have not already done so, can you please let your presbytery know the current position in respect of reopening your church. This is important as we hope to use the lists created by presbytery to manage the challenges around 23rd of September when any property that has not re-opened will be deemed unoccupied and will suffer a significant reduction in cover.

Given the numbers involved and the need to get as many congregations as possible onto a full cover basis CoSIS priority is currently to work as closely with presbytery as possible to create and maintain their lists summarising the current position on reopening for their congregations. Where congregations have written to us directly we will note your instructions on file but it is unlikely that we will be able to provide an email response. You can however assume that you are benefiting from the extension to cover as long as you have either

  • 1. Re-opened your church following lockdown (by 5th August)
  • 2. Written directly to us to confirm all three points below

 - Your property will not be occupied by 5th of August

- You would like to benefit from the additional cover being offer by Aviva until 23rd September

-You will comply with the terms of Aviva's management condition

3. You have confirmed all three points above to your presbytery who have advised us in the agreed format (This is the preferred method.)

I'd like to take this oppotrunity to thank Presbytery for their support, which was provided at very short notice. Their involvement has helped avoid congregations being in breach of their duty of disclosure and resulted in many benefiting from full cover until 23rd September who would not otherwise have done so.

Discussion on streaming services and when church buildings will be considered "open". (7th August 2020)

We are being asked regularly whether streaming a church service through YouTube, Zoom, or other format is sufficient to have a church building be considered open and in use for insurance purposes.  As I'm sure many of you are aware the policy document definition of "unoccupied" makes no mention of the form or function that occupancy may take. The final decision on whether use is sufficient to confer occupancy will therefore be made by the insurer in the event of a claim. 

in an attempt to provide some insight into how this might be considered we have asked Aviva whether they can foresee any circumstances where an internet streaming service on its own may imply that a building is open. They have indicated that if the scale and frequency of the creation of streaming content from the property was sufficient to pass a test of reasonableness that they would be minded to take a positive view. This would be increased by supporting ancillary processes taking place in the property such as office work, or preparation for re-opening. They warn however that they can envisage some limited forms of streaming service that, in their opinion, would clearly not pass this test.

Clarification in the article below. (21st July 2020)

Following receipt of correspondance from congregations Aviva have clarified their position confirming, as noted in bold in the article below, that congregations must advise that they are able to comply with the clause providing full cover on properties that remain unoccupied as of 5th August 2020 to obtain the benefit of the additional cover.

If therefore you are contacting COSIS to advise that your church will not be open as of the 5th of August please also confirm that it is your intention to comply with the terms of the clause wording shown in the article below.  



Impact of the relaxation of Scottish Government COVID-19 Regulations on Insurance of Church Property and Key Dates for the return to the policy definition of unoccupancy (14th July 2020)

This document will provide an outline of changes to the insurance cover available for Church of Scotland properties as the Scottish Government Regulations are relaxed in respect of places of worship following temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aviva, the primary insurer on The Church of Scotland Insurance Service’s (COSIS) Church insurance scheme, have adopted a supportive stance during the COVID-19 crisis by agreeing that property temporarily closed solely due to the pandemic would not be deemed by them to be unoccupied. This agreement was subject to individual policyholders carrying out appropriate risk assessments and implementing reasonable steps to manage the change in risk. The current and final extension of that approach will expire on the 5th August, several weeks after the transition to Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s “route map” to exit lockdown.

Insurers recognise that the pace of change at which church premises will move towards full use (services of worship, weddings, funerals, etc.) will vary by congregation. During that transitional phase, they have accepted that if the premises are open to the public for worship, even in a restricted way such as regular private prayer, the premises will be deemed to be “occupied” for the purposes of your insurance.

What might change after the 5th August? Will churches that don’t reopen be considered Unoccupied then?

As you know, the use of church premises was curtailed due to “lock-down”. The insurer’s response was to support policyholders by ameliorating the standard terms and conditions that would apply to unoccupied premises under the policy. As soon as churches are permitted to re-open insurers will, not unreasonably, look to return to their standard policy terms and conditions.

Recognising, however, that the pace at which congregations will be able to progress towards full use of their premises may differ from one to another, insurers have maintained their supportive approach, but with an important change in how they define unoccupancy.

From 5th of August where a property will not be open for use it will be deemed unoccupied. If this is the case you must advise COSIS immediately as you have a duty to disclosure an unoccupied property to your insurer. Once we know about this, we will be able to agree a further extension of full cover to a date no later than 23rd September 2020. This extension of cover will be strictly subject to your compliance with the clause noted below which will require to be endorsed onto your policy. If you wish to benefit from this clause you must confirm to us that you have made adequate provision to deal with its requirements otherwise the standard terms of your policy will apply and your insurer may not be obligation to settle your claim on a full cover basis.

Covid 19 - Temporarily Unoccupied Premises Condition

If in relation to any claim for Damage while The Premises are Unoccupied, you have failed to fulfil any of the following conditions, You will lose Your right to indemnity or payment for that claim.

You must

(1) carry out internal and external inspections of the buildings as least every seven days and

a) maintain a weekly log of such inspections

b) immediately repair, or arrange to repair, any defects found

i) in the buildings, including removal of graffiti

ii) in the security or alarm or fire protection installations.

(2) remove all waste either within or outside the buildings, from the Premises.

(3) securely lock all external doors, close and secure all windows

Please note that in addition to weekly inspection you must keep a log of your visits noting any damage 

05th August 2020 - Buildings undergoing contract works

If your building will not re-open after the 5th August solely because it is undergoing contract works please contact COSIS to ensure the correct cover(s) are in place – these should be no different to those that would normally have applied prior to “lock-down”.

05th August 2020 – Other types of occupation

If a number of your buildings are being used but not as places of worship, for example by local schools or as a food bank, then it is likely that those particular buildings will be considered occupied. Please call COSIS to discuss if you have any doubts in respect of your congregation’s individual circumstances.

23rd September 2020 - Resumption of normal policy terms and conditions

After the 23rd of September standard policy terms and conditions will resume on all cases. It is almost certain therefore that any church which has not re-opened to provide, at the very least, regular private prayer will now be considered unoccupied under the terms of your policy. As soon as you are aware that this might be a possibility you should get in touch with the COSIS team to discuss your circumstances as you have a duty to disclose unoccupancy to your insurer. Should your property be deemed unoccupied it is likely that restrictions in cover and inspection requirements will apply. In addition depending on the proposed schedule for re-opening there could be additional premium charges to meet.

05th August - Properties that may never reopen

If for some reason you believe that your property may not re-open for worship, please let COSIS know so that we can review and update your insurance arrangements as necessary. This is an example of a material change in insurance risk and you have a duty to disclose this to your insurer. It is likely that restrictions in cover and inspection requirements will apply and additional premiums could be charged.

COVID-19, Liability Insurance and Risk Management

COSIS has received a number of enquiries asking whether there is cover for liabilities relating to COVID-19 under the policy. It should be noted that there are no specific changes to the Employers Liability or Public Liability covers in respect of COVID-19 but there is an expectation that congregations will act reasonably to manage their risk within the Scottish Government’s Regulations and current guidelines. The Church of Scotland has issued a large amount of advice that should assist you in this. (See below)

Risk Management Advice – COVID-19

It has been impossible for insurers to provide each individual policyholder with specific risk management advice. Instead, given the scale of the challenge, they have provide broad risk management information across a range of industries/sectors. One of the key messages was that policyholders should conduct risk assessments, as appropriate to their individual circumstances, allowing them to manage risk within the spirit of the Scottish Government’s Regulations and guidelines.

COVID-19 risk management information has been issued by the Church of Scotland for the benefit of Kirk Sessions and congregations. It has been compiled from information provided by insurers as well as information from Government and the Health and Safety Executive. It is regularly reviewed and update. This information is available on the Church of Scotland’s website at…


12th June Update - Extension of period of grace on unoccupancy due to COVID 19

The 90 day period of grace provided by Aviva, during which they agreed not to consider buildings closed purely due to the impact of COVID 19, is due to end shortly. We have however now been advised that they have extended this period for another 45 days. The period of grace on unoccupancy should therefore not come to an end until several weeks into Phase Three of the Scottish Government’s COVID – 19 Route Map, assuming it proceeds with no set-backs or interruptions.  See link to Aviva announcement below.

The Church of Scotland has also issued its guidance on the re-opening of church buildings following the COVID – 19 lockdown and this can be found at the link below.

Generally speaking insurers are not looking to become involved in the detail of re-opening buildings as long as the process is being carried out in line with the Government’s COVID 19 regulations and with appropriate health and safety processes and risk assessments in place. There are however a number of things that congregations should consider in respect of their insurance when deciding how best to manage their risk during this period.

  • The position is fluid and could change between now and the end of the current extension. Please continue to monitor both this web page and the Church of Scotland website for the most up to date information.
  • Aviva have indicated that they will take a positive view when considering whether a church building might be deemed to be occupied. Any regular service, including online broadcasts, funerals, and public prayer, is likely to be sufficient to allow the building to be considered to be in operation again.
  • As a rule of thumb, for insurance purposes, having some form of service once a month will generally be sufficient for a property to be considered occupied. Whether you are able to open your building will however be dictated by your specific circumstances and should be governed by the procedures outlined in the Church guidelines linked above.
  • Some congregations will know that their church buildings will continue to remain closed for a significant period even when they are allowed to re-open to under the Scottish Government’s regulations. If your property will remain closed beyond the 1st of August you must contact COSIS as Aviva’s announcement makes it clear that it is unlikely that there will be a further extension. Your property will therefore be considered unoccupied and might suffer significant restrictions in cover and increased premiums. Please note that occupancy is material information and there is an obligation to declare this to your insurer.
  • If your property is at risk of being considered unoccupied at the start of August then you will require to carry out inspections once a week to make sure that all is well and there is no damage to the property. A note of these visits should be retained along with an indication that no damage or other issue has been identified. Most congregations are currently carrying out some kind of inspection but you may need to increase the frequency depending on the current system you have in place.
  • Whilst, as noted above, insurers are generally happy for congregations to proceed within the regulations if you have an issue specific to your congregation that is material to your insurance risk please contact the COSIS team to discuss whether it needs to be referred to Aviva.

I hope this provides some clarity on the position on unoccupancy of church buildings in the run up to churches being able to re-open but suggest you monitor this website for updates. In the meantime if you want to discuss any aspect of your insurance you will find the direct dial numbers for all COSIS staff on the “Contacts” section of our website.

Overview and impact on COSIS servicing arrangements (Original article)

As I’m sure you are aware we are currently in the midst of a challenge from COVID 19 that is unprecedented in living memory. Whilst the insurance industry, like many others, had detailed business continuity plans no one imagined a shutdown on this scale with the need to move much of the industry to remote working at short notice. To add to the insurance industry’s difficulties it finds itself protecting a vast range of property no longer occupied or used as described when Insurers accepted the risk and calculated a premium. This will be an important consideration when trying to understand and interpret insurer's communications during this crises.

In response to this challenge COSIS issued an email to all church scheme policy holders on the 17th of March advising that it was moving to home working for all staff. This is a significant challenge particularly for communication by telephone and mail. The main telephone line is on an answering service but is being monitored. Our strong preference however is that you get in touch with us in the first instance by email, either using the “contact us” option on this website or emailing us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This will then allow us to allocate your query to an appropriate person who can respond by phone or email as required.     

Insurers have had to consider how they might reasonably deal with the changes forced upon their clients by the governments response to COVID 19 but prior to the announcement of the “lockdown” the pace of change had been such that advice written one day had become obsolete by the next. Hopefully however we will now have a short window of stability that will allow this advice to remain valid over the next few weeks.

This web-page is primarily intended to provide guidance on managing and protecting church property from an insurance stand point. The Church of Scotland has however issued general advice regarding COVID 19 as well as specific information regarding the management of your property which can be found at the links below.

Managing the change in your Property Risk

The most common question COSIS staff are being asked is what the requirements are for managing church property closed directly following recent government advice to avoid public gatherings and subsequent lockdown.  Aviva have now agreed to extend the period before an active church, closed following the lockdown, is deemed unoccupied from 45 to 90 days. This is very helpful as, for a significant period, it avoids additional premiums relating to unoccupancy and the associated formal requirement for inspection. It is important to note however that congregations still have a Duty of Care under their insurance policy to

-            maintain their Buildings, Contents and Equipment in a satisfactory state of repair

-            take all reasonable steps to prevent damage to the Property Insured

-            take all reasonable steps to prevent accident or injury to any person

-           comply with all legal requirements and safety regulations and conduct their business in a lawful manner.

It is impossible to be prescriptive about what must be done to meet this duty of care as each church has its own individual circumstances. Aviva have suggested that congregations should carryout risk assessments to consider the changing risk/lack of supervision. As a minimum however inspection both internally and extenally on a regular basis and both before and after an increased risk, such as extreme weather, would seem like an appropriate base level.  

An Important Notice regarding your policy can be viewed here that summarises the areas that Aviva think you should be considering for action.

Property where there are existing Inspection or Management requirements

Please note that the text above only applies only to property which has closed as a direct response to the Government’s request to avoid public gatherings. Where a property was already subject to an agreed inspection or other risk management requirement this will remain in place without specific referral and agreement to the contrary. In general the requirement that these properties are inspected both externally and internally is unlikely to be waived.


Loss of Income from Letting Churches and Halls

In addition to concern over risk to the building many congregations will be wondering about the position regarding loss of earnings from letting their hall. Unfortunately there is no cover under our church policy or the vast majority of commercial insurance policies. The only cover for loss of revenue due to disease relates to named diseases specified in the policy wording where the risk can, to a degree be statistically quantified, and an appropriate premium charged.

Aviva’s statement on this issue is shown below

Does Aviva's Business Interruption cover COVID-19?

The Government announcement on Tuesday evening (17 March) concerning both ours and other insurers' position with regards to Business Interruption has caused some confusion and as a result, we've received a number of queries from both you and your clients.

To clarify, COVID-19 is not covered under our standard Business Interruption policies and, as the chancellor said, you cannot retrospectively change insurance contracts at this time without threatening the future of the insurance industry.

Our Business Interruption cover is based on a specified list of diseases and has been since the SARS outbreak in 2003. These policies exclude Business Interruption due to new and emerging diseases, like COVID-19.

Our policy wording clearly identifies the diseases we offer cover for and, in addition, highlights that new and emerging diseases like COVID-19 are not covered.

For information both you and your clients may find useful, please see details of the additional support the Government is provided on