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Play safe: take a rain check

From fund-raising sports days to weddings, bad weather can be a disaster. But you can take cover. Paul Slade reports
Elgin Athletics Club could hardly have picked a worse day than 18 July for its 1998 highland games fund-raiser. Over an inch of rain fell on the site that afternoon, making the whole event a wash-out.

The club treasurer, Steve Down, recalls: "We've got a cinder track, and you couldn't see lanes one, two and five, because they were completely underwater. It was more like a pond. The high jump was cancelled, the dancing was cancelled. It was constantly raining, and a lot of the stallholders had asked to go home. Probably about 500 people turned up, and we usually get well over 2,000."

Down's organisation was not the only one to have its big day ruined by rain this summer. England and Wales had 125mm (5 inches) of rain in June, against a June average of just 65mm. July's rain was lighter than the month's average, but persistent. Andy Yeatsman, a Met Office spokesman, says: "On average, you'd expect to see rain every other day in June and July, whereas this summer so far, we've seen it on all but two days".

Fortunately, Elgin Athletics Club had insured its Highland Games against rain. The loss of gate receipts meant the club raised no cash from the day, but at least the insurance payout allowed them to break even. The club paid Eagle Star a premium of pounds 192.66 to secure a pounds 2,000 payout under the company's Pluvius policy. This would be triggered if more than a tenth of an inch of rain fell on the site between the crucial hours of 2pm and 5pm.

John Lear, Eagle Star's rain expert, says the company has received as many rain claims for events in June as it would normally expect to get in a full year.

Pluvius policies - named after the Latin word for "rain" - cover about 3,000 events a year. Elgin Athletic Club's cover was what insurers call an "agreed value policy". Lear says: "People insure against a certain amount of rainfall, perhaps during the important hours of the event. If it rains X amount, we pay."

Premiums for this cover depend on when and where the event is. For cover of pounds 2,000, lasting three hours, Eagle Star's August premiums range from pounds 192 in London or Leeds, to pounds 317 in Keswick, Cumbria. This cover would pay out in full if at least 0.15 inches of rain fell during the crucial period.

When assessing whether enough rain has fallen to trigger a successful claim, Eagle Star not only relies on Met Office data; it may also lend the organisers a rain gauge. Just in case the organisers are tempted to top up the gauge to safeguard their claim, Eagle Star insists it is read by a pillar of the local community, such as a policeman or a vicar.

Lear says: "I've been doing this job for eight years, and I've had to question only three readings."

A few people take out Pluvius insurance for their wedding day, but most rely on specialist wedding cover instead. These policies, which include an element of bad weather protection, work very differently. The weather has to be bad enough not just to ruin the day, but for the "whole ceremony" to be cancelled. The insurer will pay out if gale force winds blow the reception marquee into the next county, or if flooded roads mean that more than half the guests are unable to get there.

Ron Barnot is a product development officer at Methodist Insurance, one of the companies with a specialist wedding plan. He says: "We're talking about extreme conditions. I don't think you could call the rain we've had in the last two months extreme by any means. It has just been persistent."

If weather hits the bride or groom's own travel arrangements, that may be good enough. Barnot says: "We had a claim in January from the north east of Scotland, where the groom would have been prevented from reaching the church if he hadn't hired a four-wheel-drive vehicle. We paid for the hire of the four-wheel-drive."

Methodist's wedding insurance package will cost you anywhere from pounds 40 to pounds 190, depending on how much cover you want. The basic cover will pay out up to pounds 2,500 for cancellation, plus up to pounds 3,750 to cover loss or damage to wedding clothes, photographs, rings, cake and presents.

These other aspects of wedding insurance can prove handy even for problems you could never have foreseen. One Methodist Insurance policyholder successfully claimed pounds 188 to pay for emergency wedding photographs, when the photographer dropped dead half-way through the ceremony.

But there is one unforeseen event that even the best wedding plan will not protect you from. If the bride or groom gets cold feet and flees, this counts as what Barnot calls "disinclination to proceed", and is excluded in the small print.