Flash, bang, sparkle: are you covered for this?

Bonfire Night insurance is a party essential, says Melanie Bien
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The Independent Online

If you are going to celebrate Bonfire Night in your back garden this Friday, you need to take certain precautions before inviting friends and family round.

If you are going to celebrate Bonfire Night in your back garden this Friday, you need to take certain precautions before inviting friends and family round.

Otherwise, you could find yourself with a hefty legal bill for injury to your guests, or for damage to neighbouring property. And if you haven't got adequate household insurance, you won't be able to put in a claim if a stray firework lands on your own home.

Private parties on Bonfire Night accounted for just under half of all firework injuries last year, according to the Department of Trade and Industry. Insurers receive claims for tens of thousands of pounds every year for damage to houses and outbuildings caused by fireworks and bonfires.

If you are organising a party and not charging admission, you should be covered by your home insurance, says Russ Brady at Co-operative Insurance.

But it is worth checking with your insurer that you have personal liability cover in order to avoid a financial nightmare if one of your guests is injured or the property next door is damaged.

"Typical home insurance policies automatically provide cover for private bonfire or firework parties," says Ian Firth, the operational underwriting manager at insurer Cornhill Direct. "This means that if you invite friends over to join your celebrations and a stray spark or firework sets neighbouring property ablaze and you are found legally liable, then your policy should pay out."

To be on the safe side, it is worth digging out your buildings and home contents policies to check the small print - before the party. Ensure you are covered for fire damage to both your property and your garden.

Even if you have enough cover, you can't sit back and relax. Policies have a "duty of care" clause, which means that you must prove you took proper precautions, such as building bonfires well away from property, hedges or fences. If you fail to meet this requirement, the claim could be turned down or your payout reduced. It is also better to avoid an accident in the first place. As well as siting the bonfire carefully, see that it is never left unattended; if you take it in turns to watch, make sure each person in charge knows when it is their responsibility.

At the end of the evening, make sure the fire is extinguished. Keep water or hoses nearby throughout the night in case it gets out of hand.

When buying fireworks, make sure they comply with the British safety standard BS 7114 and are clearly marked "Indoor, Garden and Display". Also, ensure you follow the Fireworks Code (see below).

Remember, if you are planning to charge those who attend your party, you need to arrange extra cover.

"Home insurance covers private parties only," says Mr Firth. "If you are planning a public event and charging for admission, then specialist cover will be required.

"However, some events fall into a grey area, such as displays for playgroups, Girl Guides or Scouts, because they probably won't charge for entry. Here we strongly recommend that the organisers approach whoever insures the premises where the event is taking place to check if it will be covered. If not, they will need specialist cover."

If you keep one eye on the bangers and sparklers, you will minimise the safety risks. Then you can keep the other eye on your open backdoor; theft and burglary claims are 25 per cent higher on 5 November than on most other days, according to insurer Select & Protect.

At bonfire parties, front doors are left open as well as garage doors, garden gates and passageways by the sides of houses, explains Scott Fynn, senior marketing manager of Select & Protect. "Not only is this an open invitation to burglars, it also gives them a choice of escape routes."

As not everyone knows everyone else at a party, it's easy for burglars to slip in and help themselves to handbags or car keys without anyone noticing. Select & Protect advises using only one entrance and exit at a party and making sure it is manned until all the guests arrive. And if you are going to someone else's party, lock up carefully or your empty property could attract burglars.

FOLLOW THE FIREWORKS CODE

  • Buy fireworks with the British safety mark BS 7114.
  • Light sparklers one at a time and wear gloves to hold them.
  • Never give sparklers to a child under five.
  • Always keep fireworks in a closed box.
  • Follow the instructions printed on each firework.
  • Light fireworks at arm's length using a taper.
  • Stand well back after lighting a firework and never return to it.
  • Never put fireworks in your pocket.
  • Never throw fireworks.
  • Keep pets indoors.

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