Is your home covered against storm damage?
Home insurance claims for damage to property often surge when storms hit. We take a look at when insurers pay out – and when they won't.
The vast majority of homeowners have a buildings insurance policy in place to protect against storm and flood damage.
However, problems can arise when an insurer says that a particular instance of damage is not covered under a customer's buildings insurance policy.
Although insurance is useful for combating storms and adverse weather, we also need to maintain our homes.
In some cases an insurer will refuse to pay out for a weather-related home insurance claim if it feels that the homeowner hasn’t maintained their property to a sufficient standard. But what do you need to maintain?
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What is storm damage?
The Financial Ombudsman Service, which resolves disputes between financial firms and their customers, receives about 560 complaints every month about buildings insurance claims.
"Around three quarters relate to claims, such as repairs, policy terms and delays" says Debbie Enever, Head of External Relations at the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Many of the complaints the ombudsman service sees are due to the weather – such as storm damage, for example whether the storm actually caused the damage mentioned.
The majority of complaints that the Ombudsman receives are claims for storm damage which usually involve disputes between the consumer and the insurer about what actually constitutes a "storm".
Some building insurance policies define what a storm is. If there is no policy definition, the ombudsman says that a storm usually involves violent winds, usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow.
It also receives complaints from consumers who are unhappy about the repairs the insurer did to put the damage right.
What's covered by insurance?
Buildings and contents insurance policies generally cover financial loss caused by storm damage.
If the house is uninhabitable as a result of a storm, the insurer will usually pay for the temporary accommodation while its being repaired.
Read more: How much home insurance cover do I need?
Wear and tear
In some cases, insurers can refuse to pay out for a weather-related claim if it feels that the homeowner hasn't maintained their home to a sufficient standard.
This could be where the insurer thought that roof tiles had already been damaged by general wear and tear.
Disputes can also arise where insurers decide that gutters had not been kept clear of leaves and other debris and had contributed to water damage to the property, for example.
When it comes to floods, again many disputes are caused by an insurer disagreeing that a flood occurred or a disagreement over whether the damage in question was actually down to flooding.
Enever says "the ombudsman service often sees cases where a consumer has noticed that a ground floor or basement room that had been watertight before has started to let water in.
"The insurer may have turned down a claim for the damage on the grounds that it was not caused by a flood, but by other problems instead such as leaks, damage to drains or underground pipes or a rise in the water table.”
An insurer may then argue that the property wasn’t adequately waterproofed before the flood, so the claim is not covered under the terms of the policy.
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How to make a home insurance claim
You should report a claim as soon as possible: a lot of insurers expect a claim to be reported within 48 hours. The claim will be dealt with, and ultimately settled, a lot more efficiently the sooner it's reported.
Householders should check with their policy provider before arranging any repair work too.
Insurers will allow alternative companies to carry out any repair work, but may need to agree costs with them. If claims costs are kept to a minimum, it could help to keep future premiums down.
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Why home maintenance matters
It's important to maintain the property throughout the year. Act upon any damage, no matter how small, even if you don't need to make a claim.
Any future claims could be invalidated if you haven't made sufficient attempts to protect yourself from subsequent adverse weather, despite realizing the risk.
First published 14th of January 2014