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What counts as a home emergency?

A plumber inspecting a boilerNow the cold weather has set in home insurance providers are standing by to promote home emergency cover. But what counts as an emergency?

Home emergency cover can be bought as an add-on to a home insurance policy or as a standalone policy.

The majority of home emergency policies cover central heating problems and boiler breakdown.

However, there are lots of extras that can be added on for a price. These include water supply pipe cover, vermin protection and appliance breakdown.

There are now 163 providers offering 307 variations of home emergency cover according to financial research company Defaqto.

These policies range in price from an average of between £8.65 and £45 a month.

Read the small print

But the big thing to understand if you're considering cover is what counts as an emergency.

This will be detailed in the small print so make sure to read before you buy. 

For example, while a blocked toilet may be on the list of things you can claim for, you’ll usually only get a call out if it's the only loo in the house.  

It can be the same with lost keys, as the services of an emergency locksmith may only be covered if it's your one and only set, not simply to avoid a five hour wait for your partner to come home with their set. 

And these policies aren't a substitute for regular servicing or designed as a rescue service in the wake of cowboy traders or your own botched DIY repairs.

Read why a little winter maintenance goes a long way when making a home insurance claim.

How much cover do you get?

Home emergency cover will usually pay for call out costs, parts, labour and VAT up to a fixed limit. 

For example, with providers LV= and Nationwide it's up to £500 per claim, although with premium policies it can be as much as £1,500. 

One bonus with home emergency policies is there’s usually no excess to pay, unlike claims on your home insurance.

Also, there’s often no limit to the number of claims you can make, providing they fit within what your policy classes as an emergency.

How fast will they come out?

Response times can vary. 

Lloyds TSB and Halifax aim to respond within a few hours and LV= say it's within the same day.

However, unless your policy gives a guaranteed response time it could, depending on the problem, be quicker calling a local tradesperson yourself, although costs for this won't be met by your policy. 

Are you already covered?

Before paying out twice, check your home contents insurance as some policies may already include boiler cover.

With things like water supply pipe cover some water companies will fix this for free, so it's not worth paying for something you don’t need. 

It’s the same story with the appliance cover offered on some home emergency policies, as you may find you're covered under the product's warranty. 

And if you have a packaged bank account, where you pay a monthly fee for extra benefits, home emergency cover may be included so do check. 

What to check before signing up

If you decide you want a home emergency policy, do check if there are age limits on cover for boilers and heating systems. 

Also, find out whether having your boiler and heating system serviced annually is a condition of the policy, as with some you may find irregular servicing means cover is void.  

Finally, consider whether you really do need all those optional extras which can boost the cost of your home emergency cover.

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Sue Hayward

Carl Chambers

Sue Hayward is a personal finance broadcaster, journalist and author. Sue talks and writes on money matters including chatting on BBC Radio & TV as well as contributing to magazines, websites and newspapers. Sue's also written two books; the latest of which is 'How To Get The Best Deal'.

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