As the UK mops up after the latest round of storms and flooding, insurance is on the minds of many people who have suffered damage to their homes and belongings.
If you are among those who have borne the brunt of the gale-force winds and heavy rainfall, what do you need to be aware of before you make a claim and who can assist you during the claims process?
Making a claim
When insurers assess a claim for storm damage or flooding, they take into account the prevailing wind and rain conditions in your location when the damage occurred. “They will look at what the weather conditions were at the local weather centre nearest the property,” says Malcolm Tarling, a spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Most specify what they will consider a storm, and your policy should outline the criteria.
He warns that if an insurer can demonstrate that the flooding or storm damage has been caused by the fact that your property has been poorly maintained, your claim could be turned down.
“If you know that your roof tiles are loose, if you’ve been worried about that damp patch on your top-floor room for some time and haven’t checked it out, and then if it can be shown that the damage was caused by poor wear and tear, your policy may not offer cover,” Tarling says. “Insurance is not an alternative to a maintenance contract.”
However, he thinks “in most cases” insurers will find it difficult to prove that damage that occurred during Storm Dudley, Storm Eunice and Storm Franklin was caused by poor maintenance or wear and tear, especially if a neighbour’s home has been similarly affected.
“I don’t think any insurer, if you make a claim for wind damage over the last few days, is going to say: ‘Hmm, I’m not sure if there was a storm or gale-force winds.’ Because, obviously, quite clearly, there were,” he says.
For flooding, the rules are less prescriptive. “A heavy shower or a thunderstorm can cause flooding,” Tarling says.
Damage to fences, hedges and gates is not typically covered by home insurance policies. Sheds and outbuildings, such as greenhouses, might not be. “Exclusions will vary, though, so check your policy wording carefully to see exactly what is and isn’t covered,” says Chris King, the head of home insurance at Comparethemarket.com.
Typically, he says, your home insurance policy will cover the following problems resulting from hail, wind, snow or ice: roof damage, water damage, sewer backup, frozen pipes and fallen trees, if they damage your home.
“Avoid moving or clearing up debris before you’ve taken photos of the damage to support your insurance claim. Where the damage is extensive, your home insurance provider will probably send someone out to assess the situation,” King says. The average amount spent on repairs is £3,500, he says.
If the storms have made your home completely uninhabitable, you should expect your insurer to sort out and pay for the cost of alternative accommodation.
Tarling says insurers’ call centres are busier than usual now, so if you feel confident starting off your claim online, this might be worth doing. “Insurers will be prioritising their vulnerable and older customers,” he added.
Help with flooding
The National Flood Forum is a charity set up by people at risk of flooding. The chief executive, Paul Cobbing, says it helps those who have been flooded, with things such as “insurance problems, where to get accommodation and for people who are not insured, how to deal with flooding and dry out your home.”
The poorest victims of flooding often do not have insurance or the means to get back on their feet and deal with the damage that has occurred, he says.
Calls to the charity helpline (01299 403 055) last 30 to 40 minutes on average, he says. “Very often, it’s emotional support because we understand about flooding – and we understand the things that people go through.”
Often people who call need practical help, too: “They’ve lost all their insurance details, they don’t know where to begin or even how to get through to the next day.”
It can also provide help to callers who have made an insurance claim but are struggling to get a resolution from their insurer. “We can guide them who to contact, how to make sure things progress and complain if need be,” Cobbing.
Sometimes people find they are underinsured because they have not bought enough cover to meet the full expenses of their claim. Others experience problems with contractors or are offered cash or property protection measures by their insurer and don’t know whether to accept them. “We can guide people on all of that,” he says.
Getting insurance after you have been flooded
The average flood insurance claim can easily run into tens of thousands of pounds and is typically about £30,000, according to the ABI. In the past, owners of homes known to be at risk of flooding struggled to get insurance or saw their premiums rise dramatically after a claim to the point that they became unaffordable.
However, a government-backed scheme called Flood Re has been put in place to address this. Under this scheme, insurers will offer owners of homes at high risk of flooding cover for flood damage where the premiums are fixed and linked to the council tax band. Homes in the UK that were built and which had a council tax band prior to 2009 usually qualify.
“A lot of people haven’t got insurance against flooding because they’ve tried in the past and been refused,” Cobbing says. He urges people in this situation to try getting insurance via the Flood Re website or to contact the National Flood Forum. “We can give people details of the companies that are listed on Flood Re, or if a specialist insurer is needed, we can guide people through to those.”
What to do if you are worried about your flood risk
It is also worth asking your insurer what you can do to reduce your risk of being flooded. “They will know from their records whether you’re at risk or not,” the ABI’s Tarling says.
He thinks property owners should be wary of acting on advice from flood management agents, without talking to their insurers. “They can suggest you fit all these expensive gadgets and adaptations and then your insurer can turn around and say: ‘If there is a flood, we’re not going to repair to that standard.’” Always speak to your insurer first, to find out what they suggest, before you spend any money on measures that aim to reduce your home’s flood risk in the future.