Sadly, none of us are perfect which means accidents happen and sometimes the damage can be extensive and expensive.
This is of course why we have insurance policies – but what policies do you need, how do they differ and what is and is not covered?
As with all insurance policies, the level of cover provided will depend on the policy you have chosen. As a general rule of thumb, accidental damage buildings insurance will cover things like broken or cracked windows, damage to kitchen units, damage to baths/showers/basins/toilets and any holes made in walls – possibly due to unsuccessful DIY efforts! If you accidentally damage your roof trying to fix some tiles, inadvertently drill through pipes or cables, or put your foot through the ceiling when emptying out your loft, you may well be covered for any damage caused.
What you won’t be covered for is gradual wear and tear. Accidental damage policies will always exclude any damage caused by deliberate acts – so slamming a glass paned door in a fit of anger might prove an expensive mistake. Also, accidents that happen while your home is unoccupied are unlikely to be covered either.
Accidental Damage cover may be available as an addition to your buildings Insurance policy – this will depend on the level of cover you choose. In some cases, accidental damage may be automatically included as part of the policy – it is important to understand exactly what your policy includes.
A standard buildings insurance policy covers the cost of rebuilding your home if it's damaged or destroyed by, for instance, fire, flood or subsidence. The policy would typically include costs of demolition, site clearance and any architects' fees.
Buildings insurance is usually compulsory if you're buying your home with a mortgage – in fact you probably won’t get a home loan unless you take out building insurance. Accidental damage buildings insurance is essentially an optional bolt-on to a standard buildings insurance policy (though we have already mentioned that it may be automatically included in a more comprehensive policy).
Unlike standard building insurance which covers damage due to external factors such as storms, fire or vandalism/burglary; accidental damage is when damage is the result of unintentional action by you or an invited visitor to your home.
It is how the damage is caused that is the important factor here in terms of whether you are covered or not. Here is a simple way of explaining it – a tree in front of your house is blown over during a storm and it breaks a window. You would be covered under your standard building insurance policy. Two weeks’ later, the same window is broken when your kids unintentionally hit a cricket ball towards the house. In this instance, you will not be able to make a claim unless you have accidental damage cover.
Your lease should state who is responsible for arranging and paying for buildings insurance. With most leases, the landlord organises and pays for buildings insurance and accidental buildings insurance, and then passes on the costs either as part of the service charge or as a separate itemised bill.
Only a few home insurance policies include accidental damage contents cover as standard. In most cases you will have to pay an increased premium to add it as an optional extra.
Accidental damage contents insurance provides protection against the cost of repairing your belongings when they get damaged by mistake.
Levels of cover will vary depending on the insurer and the policy you choose. Areas you can expect to be covered in the event of accidental damage within the home include things like:
TV, audio equipment and digital boxes
Games consoles and DVD players
Desktop PCs, laptops and computer equipment
Electronic tablets and notebooks
You may also be covered for damage to aerials or satellite dishes fixed to your home and fixed glass in furniture – for instance mirrors, glass tables or shelves.
A typical, standard home contents insurance covers the cost of replacing your belongings in your home if they are stolen or destroyed (for instance in a fire or due to a flood). Essentially these contents are the items that you would take with you if you were to move house. So this would include beds, sofas, wardrobes, curtains, dining tables and chairs, cutlery, cookware, microwave, game consoles, TVs, laptops, jewellery, musical instruments, ornaments and antiques – this is not an exhaustive list but it gives a flavour.
The distinction between the two types of policies is in relation to the cause of the loss or damage. A standard contents insurance policy would cover the costs of damage to a sofa due to a flood but would not cover damage caused by young children drawing with felt tip pen all over the cushions.
This might seem a daft question given that the product is called ‘accidental damage contents insurance’ but not all accidental damage is covered. For instance, most insurers will not cover damage caused by domestic pets, nor will they cover computer equipment struck down by a computer virus. Unless it is clearly specified within your policy, it is highly unlikely you will be able to make a claim for scratches or dents to household belongings – this is usually classed as wear and tear.
Cover for accidental damage may also depend on the location of your belongings at any given time. For instance, if the accidental damage occurs in student halls, in storage or in a caravan, you will need to check your policy to see if you are covered. Usually you can only claim for damage to items in your house and garden. You will probably need personal belongings cover, which protects your items away from home.
There are specialist student contents insurance policies that can include accidental damage cover. The policies are designed to cover the sort of high-value items that students will bring with them to college - smart phones, games consoles, laptops musical instruments, bicycles as well as books and clothes.
Most student policies will cover for theft or loss but accidental damage will often need to be bolted on as an extra. You will probably need to specify any items over a certain value. Whatever policy you choose, it is worth remembering that if you leave your belongings behind, for instance over the summer break, you may not be insured. Holiday cover can be added if required and if you don’t want to bring all your gear back home for the summer.
Given that accidental damage insurance is usually optional, the choice is yours as to whether you take it out. You will have to pay a higher premium if you want extra peace of mind. A recent report from Aviva UK shows that more than 2 in 5 (42%) home insurance claims were for accidental damage.
You might also want to consider the ‘kids’ factor. School holidays often markedly increase the risk of accidental damage. Aviva data shows spikes in accidental damage claims when the kids are at home, especially during the summer break. Anything from mobile phones dropped in toilets, to scissors through sofas and slime or paint on the carpet.
If you initially decide not to have accidental damage cover but then have a change of heart, most insurers will allow you to add accidental damage to your contents insurance during the policy term. As with all insurance products, shop around and ensure you are getting the best cover possible for the premiums you can afford. Also ensure you understand any policy excess - the amount you pay on any claim. If your excess is £200, for instance, you will be liable for the first £200 of any replacement or repair costs.
If you decide to make a claim it helps to provide as much detail or ‘evidence’ as you can. A clear explanation of what has happened, details of what you are claiming for and photos of any damage will all help your claim to be processed. It is helpful to provide any relevant receipts too – not just as proof of ownership but also for valuation purposes.
It is Christmas Eve and Doug goes into the loft to bring down presents for his kids. He accidentally puts his foot through the roof of the loft damaging the ceiling on the landing below. To make matters worse he drops the brand-new TV he is carrying which falls heavily to the ground.
Thankfully, Doug is well insured. He is able to make a claim on his accidental damage buildings insurance for the damage to the ceiling needs repairing and redecorating. He is also able to make a claim on his accidental damage contents insurance for the TV. He is able to provide a receipt for the TV and has supplied the insurer with photos of the damage to the ceiling. The matter is soon resolved and the repair and replacement costs are covered by the insurer.