While we all dutifully sign up for buildings and contents insurance each year to protect our properties, we all secretly hope never to have to claim on it.
But sadly, unpleasant situations such as water leaks, subsidence and burglaries do occur, and having to think about claiming compensation at such a distressing time can be the last thing you feel like doing.
What’s more, with around 1 in 6 home insurance claims being rejected each year, you might not receive the compensation due, even if you have dutifully paid your insurance premiums for many years.
So how can we ensure our claim has the greatest chance of success?
Buildings and contents insurance policies are policies of indemnity: this means their aim is to put the policyholder back in the position they were in just before the loss or damage occurred.
Essentially, your insurer should decide if the loss or damage in the claim is covered by the policy. If it is they should accept the claim and decide whether to:
Replace what has been lost or damaged
Pay cash to cover the cost of repair or replacement
Repair what has been damaged
It is vital, therefore, to have taken out the correct cover for your needs.
When taking out home insurance, take some time to properly assess the value of your contents as this is one area we tend to underestimate.
Items that are more expensive than the single article limit must usually be listed separately on your policy and you will need any receipts, valuations and photographs as proof, should you need to claim.
Also ensure that you answer the questions regarding types of locks fitted on doors and windows accurately, to avoid invalidating your policy.
While it can be very tempting to take the cheapest home insurance quote available, if the policy doesn’t cover all of your belongings, fails to recognise expensive items of jewellery, or has an exorbitant excess, is this appropriate for your requirements?
When using comparison tables, an insurance quote might seem competitive, but when you take a closer look they may reveal excesses of £400 or more.
While the compulsory excess is set by the insurer and can’t be changed, you can decide on the voluntary excess. Decide upon the excess you are happy with, make that part of your search and the table may look very different.
If you find something has been stolen or vandalised, report it to the police as soon as possible and note down the crime reference number for your insurer.
Take a look at your policy details to check that you are covered for what has happened.
Your policy should state if there is a procedure that you need to follow, such as calling a specific claims telephone number. If it is an expensive 0870 number, you can ask if they can call you straight back.
If you have a water leak, for example, ask whether you are allowed to call your own plumber, or if you must use someone registered by your insurer. It is important to consult your insurer to find out what to do. Avoid paying for any repairs straight away as you may not get refunded.
If you’ve had a burglary, take photos to show any damage caused.
You will then need to fill out and return a claims form.
Your insurer will need to assess the claim and let you know if it has been approved or rejected. If your home requires repairs, your insurer may send an approved builder to fix it, or allow you to get quotes from local firms. If items have been damaged or stolen, your insurer may replace them or make a cash payment for their value.
It is important to hold onto and take photographic evidence of any damaged items until the insurer tells you what to do with them, however unpleasant this may be.
For example, if you have to submit a home insurance claim for water damage, you may feel sorely tempted to throw away any sodden or water damaged items. However, your insurer will want to assess the damage and then advise you on what to do.
The home insurance claim process is lengthy, so it is important to tell your insurer as soon as possible. While some insurers allow up to 180 days for you to put in your claim, it makes sense to start the process quickly, particularly if the claim is large and will require further investigation.
If you do need to make a contents insurance claim, you will need to supply the insurer with as much information as possible. So, ensure that you store receipts and valuations for valuable items carefully and take photographs if possible.
Of course, having a hard drive filled with photos of valuables is not much use if your computer was also stolen, so consider alternative methods of storage, such as saving photos onto a USB stick that you ask a friend to keep, or emailing them to yourself.
One reason that insurers regularly reject claims is due to wear and tear on properties caused by the fact they haven’t been maintained properly.
While your buildings and contents insurance will provide protection against unforeseen things, it is not there to pay out for damage caused by normal wear and tear, or for problems caused because you haven’t looked after your property sufficiently.
For example, regular maintenance of guttering can prevent drain blockages that can lead to flooding, and getting your roof regularly checked can spot problems that can lead to damage in bad weather.
Insurers will also reject claims due to lack of due care. If you leave doors unlocked (or wide open) and your computer is stolen, you could find your home insurance laptop claim is rejected.
Another common reason for claims to be rejected due to the fact the cover has been invalidated somehow. Not taking reasonable care when taking out the policy to answer questions honestly, failing to tell the insurer about a change in circumstances, or not keeping to the wording of the policy are just some of the issues that can make your policy invalid, so take care to avoid falling foul of these.
If your claim is large, your insurer will probably decide to send a loss adjuster (investigator) to your home to confirm what has happened and assess what repairs are required, which can be slightly daunting.
If you are concerned, you can pay for your own assessment from an independent loss assessor. Or, if you purchased your policy through an insurance broker they might be able to help.
This is an obvious one, but it is essential to be honest, stick to the facts and not to exaggerate losses when reporting your situation to your insurer. If you are found to be dishonest in any way, your insurer may simply reject the entire claim.
On top of having a lot of expenses you may find you have problems getting insurance in the future.
Once you have put in your claim you will be keen to know how long it will take and rather alarmingly, home insurance claims can take anything from 48 hours to a year, depending on the complexity of the case.
Generally speaking, the more information you can supply with your claim, the smoother the process will be.
You can help by explaining what has happened factually and consistently. It can help to write down details such as dates, times, what happened and what you are claiming for.
Supply your insurer with everything they ask for in a timely manner including any proof of purchases or CCTV footage if you’ve had a break in. If you can’t find receipts for expensive items, you can send over any bank or credit card statements that show purchases.
Keep a note of the date, time and the person you spoke to for all phone calls to your insurance company. Save any letters received and copies of any letters or emails you send.
Of course, deciding whether or not to claim on your insurance for loss or damage comes down largely to common sense.
For example, if you have an excess of £100, claiming for an item worth £125 means that you would receive just £25, should your claim be approved. This clearly may not be worthwhile, particularly as your insurance premium for the following year would reflect the fact you have made a claim, and could then increase by more than £25.
Another reason we tend to avoid claiming on insurance policies is the fear that we will be punished financially when the time comes to renew the policy.
While major claims are likely to drive up your premiums, as the insurer will deem you riskier to insure, you need to consider why you have insurance in the first place. We pay for cover to protect us in times of need so we shouldn’t be afraid to claim, should we need to.
Should you find your insurance premium has risen significantly, consider using comparison sites such as Bankrate as you may be able to shop around to find a cheaper deal.
Insurers are generally thorough and only refuse claims for very good (and obvious) reasons. However, if your claim is rejected but you disagree with your insurer’s explanation, it is up to you to prove it is unreasonable.
Insurers have a duty of care to their customers to ensure their wording is clear, easily understood and avoids confusing technical jargon.
Go through your policy document and highlight any wording that shows you should be covered for your situation.
If you feel things have not been explained in clear English, or that the wording is ambiguous or confusing, highlight this too.
Make sure your details are correct
If your insurer has rejected your claim as it didn't have information that it now says you should have disclosed (but it never asked for) write this down
Collect together all letters and emails pertaining to the case that you have sent and received
Once you have everything in place, you can call your insurer and find out what you need to do to submit your complaint in writing.
You should then receive a ‘final response’ from your insurer. If you are unhappy with the response you receive, or you receive no reply after 8 weeks, you can take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman for independent investigation and assessment.