Customers of the burnt-out Access Self Storage warehouse at Byfleet fear they will receive less than £4,000 in compensation for their destroyed possessions, even though they might be worth much more.

Unit holders who paid an insurance premium to Access say they are being encouraged to accept the minimum cover promised, with an excess amount deducted, rather than an amount up to the maximum of £35,000. 

Around 250 of the people who rented space at the warehouse in Oyster Lane have joined the Access Self Storage Byfleet Fire Loss Group on Facebook. They had possessions stored in the 480 units in the building that were devastated by a fire that started on the evening of Thursday, May 18.

A spokeswoman for the group said: “All unit holders, when signing their contracts, were told the insurance would cover a minimum of £4,000 and a maximum of £35,000. Access has decided all unit holders will be rewarded with the minimum payout claim regardless of the size of their unit or the value of its contents.

“One of the unit holders has tested the claims process with the Access claims handling company, ICA. After providing the requested details, they got a reply from ICA stating they were happy to proceed with the claim for the minimum cover of £4,000 less an excess amount of £150, amounting to a total payable of £3,850.”

She added customers accepting the minimum payout had to sign a settlement document forfeiting all rights to items that might be able to be salvaged – which would become the property of Access.

A sub-group of the Facebook group discovered Access stopped acting as an insurance company last year, when its registration with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ended. It previously insured possessions kept in its units through Access Self Storage (Insurance Administration) Ltd.

In November 2022, the company informed its clients their contents cover was being switched from insurance to “contents protection”. The price was raised from £15 to £20 a month from January 1 this year, with the minimum payout increased from £2,000 to £4,000.

The Facebook group spokeswoman said Access’ terms of business still stated the company ran an insurance company registered and regulated by the FCA, despite the registration ending in September last year.

“The unit holders find themselves in a dire position. Not only have we lost our belongings but we are being pressured to file insurance claims all the while forfeiting any rights to our belongings and further compensation.”

The Facebook group is pressing Access to allow its members to search the remains of the warehouse for salvageable and undamaged possessions. Access said on Monday, June 26 that demolition work was due to start, on the advice of Woking Borough Council’s building control officers.

“The safety of our customers, staff and the public is paramount and, given the dangerous nature of the structure and the site still being subject to ongoing investigations, members of the public are not able to access the building,” a statement from the company said.

Access Self Storage says it is up to its customers to decide what level of protection to take out.

It says there are policies available that pay out a maximum of £35,000.

And it has reiterated support remains accessible for customers.

In response to clients’ claims, a spokesperson from Access Self Storage said: “When renting a storage unit, customers have the option of taking contents protection with Access or arranging their own insurance cover. 

“Customers who take contents protection with Access decide themselves what protection they need to cover the total value of their goods – from a minimum of £4,000 to a maximum of £35,000. 

“The monthly cost to the customer is dependent on the level of protection they choose to pay for. 

“All customers are prompted and reminded to ensure they take out the right level of protection to ensure their goods are fully protected.  

“During the demolition works, the contractors will be sensitive to the possibility of finding potentially salvageable property. 

“While the prospect of salvaging items is unlikely, we have instructed contractors to take due care during the works.

“And if it appears there is property which is potentially salvageable, they will notify us and the insurers so any items available can be released back to owners.

“We understand the impact the fire has had for so many of our customers and staff. 

“Our support lines have been open since the day after the fire and continue to remain open. 

“We can be contacted by email at [email protected] and by calling 0161 425 7721.”