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16 common home insurance questions answered


From 'what is voluntary excess?' to 'how much contents cover should I get?', we answer some of your most frequently asked home insurance questions.

House in palm of hand 1. Is home insurance compulsory?

There is no law saying you have to have home insurance, though you will probably require buildings insurance as a condition of your mortgage.

2. What is the difference between buildings and contents?

Buildings insurance covers the structure, fixtures and fittings of your home, such as roof, walls, ceilings, floors, doors and windows, plus certain outdoor structures. 

Contents Insurance covers possessions such as electrical goods, furniture, carpets and jewellery.

3. How can I save money on home insurance?

Here are four quick ways to save:

1. Use comparison sites like to find home insurance bargains.

2. Switch every year. Home insurance competition means prices change all the time, so you could find cover for less than you paid last year.

3. Only pay for what you need, e.g. don’t over insure your property, and consider whether you really need extras like accidental damage cover. See Home Insurance – how much do I need? for more details.

4. Agreeing to pay a higher level of excess insurance will reduce your premiums.

4. How much buildings cover should I get?

You only need to insure for the cost of rebuilding your home and not its market value. The rebuild cost can be approximated by using a rebuild calculator.

5. How much contents cover should I get?

A typical three bed home needs £50k cover at least.

To work out how much you need, walk around your home and list the contents of each room. Do the same in the garden, shed or garage if required.

Tot up the value of all the items to arrive at how much contents cover you require. Our contents calculator may help here.

To remain adequately insured, don’t forget to increase cover when necessary, e.g. after buying expensive new items for your home.

6. What is voluntary excess?

This is the amount of any claim that you agree to pay over and above the insurer’s compulsory excess. 

For example, if your home insurance has compulsory excess of £100, voluntary excess of £100, and you make a claim for £300, you will only receive £100 back in compensation as the various excesses total £200. 

However, the more voluntary excess you agree to pay, the lower your premiums.

7. What does new-for-old mean?

If your contents cover includes ‘new-for-old’, then any insured items that are stolen or damaged will be replaced as new, regardless of age. E.g. if you break your five year old laptop, the insurer will replace it with a brand new equivalent model.

8. What is a high-risk item?

A high risk item is something the insurer deems to be either expensive to replace if lost/broken or attractive to a thief and therefore more likely to be stolen.

9. What is accidental damage cover?

Accidents happen and most policies won’t cover you for them. 

With buildings insurance, accidental damage can cover your home if, for instance, you drive into your wall or garage door. With contents, you can be covered for such events as a wine spill on a new carpet. 

Read Accidental Damage Explained for more info.

10. What is legal cover?

If you have a legal dispute arising from owning your property (e.g. rent arrears, boundary disputes, injury claims) then legal cover will pay for your legal costs. 

11. What is business use?

If you have a business registered to your address or you run a home office, this is classed as business use. 

Simply working from home on the odd occasion would not be considered business use. To learn more, check out’s guide to Home Insurance for Home-Based Workers.

12. How much does it cost to cancel my current insurance?

The cost of cancelling your home policy will depend on your insurance provider, however the Financial Services Authority has given guidance that it should not be a punitive amount.

It is therefore typically one month’s premium (£40 average).

13. How do I know what my alarm type is?

An alarm should be accompanied by certification. If you can’t find the certificate, try researching the model number online. 

The most common certification is NACOSS – National Approved Council of Security Systems. Check out’s Guide to Burglar Alarms for more information.

14. How do I know what type of locks I have?

When applying for home insurance, you’ll usually be asked about the kind of locks you have on your outside doors to help assess your property’s security level. 

The vast majority of homes will have locks compliant with BS3621 – which is the insurance industry standard - and have the British Safety Standard Kitemark stamped on the lock plate.

If you want more information about the different sorts available, check out our handy guide to lock types.

15. Is there a set limit on ‘away from home’ items?

Our home insurance panel has limited us to a maximum of £6,000 of away-from-home cover. Typical ‘away from home’ items include laptops, mobile phones, MP3 players and bicycles.

16. What is a self-contained property?

A self-contained property is one which has its own lockable front door, a kitchen and a bathroom.


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