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Head for cover! Mice and moles are on the move

Pest infestations are on the rise, and now you can insure for their removal. Alessia Horwich reports

Regardless of where you live, city or countryside, you are never far away from a rodent pest. Last year's National Rodent Survey showed that household pest infes-tations are on the rise, leading to the spread of disease and sometimes even devastating household damage. Insure4Retirement.co.uk, the online provider of cover, thinks the problem is now so widespread that it is introducing a new policy solely covering the costs of pest removal.

The three big problems are mice, rats and moles. Rodent colonies expand rapidly and spread diseases such as salmonella, but their main destructive power is in their teeth. Both mice and rats must wear down their ever-growing incisors, and this need to gnaw drives them to chew through anything – electrical wires, plastic pipes and more – causing annoyances like broken extension cables and even leading to serious incidents such as electrical fires. Moles are to blame for destroyed suburban lawns, but the rocks and stones they heave up in their digging can also damage mechanical equipment from Flymos to heavy farming machinery worth thousands.

Other beasties eager to eat up your fabrics are moths and carpet beetles, which get into the home via birds' nests in the gutters or on the roof. Don't be fooled by the name – carpet beetles are not fussy and will digest their way through not only your rugs, but curtains, furniture and anything else on offer.

The cost for removing these pests varies depending on the size and type of an infestation. According to the British Pest Control Association, the average procedure for rat infestation is three treatments, seven days apart. This includes a detailed report on how the infestation started and what was done to prevent it happening again, and any minor works – plugging up holes and so on. The cost is anywhere from £80 to £120. Similar procedures for wasp or hornet nest removal will also set you back in the region of £80 to £120, and beetle or moth infestations between £70 and £130.

In the past, infestation was the responsibility of local councils, which would deploy pest-control officers for you and pick up the bill. Today, many are saving money by charging people for pest-control services, albeit at a reduced rate. However, waiting lists are long, prices vary and some councils simply no longer offer the service. Trying to claim for pest removal on your home insurance is often another dead end.

Hayley Parsons, the chief executive of GoCompare.com, says: "It often comes down to the individual policy, but as a general rule there will be no cover under a standard home insurance policy for the removal of pests or the damage caused by them."

It is this gap in the insurance market that gave the idea to David Holden, Insure4Retirement's managing director. He says: "I'd had experience of long council waiting lists for pest removal, and high contractor charges, so I wanted to launch an affordable product to help customers avoid the unwelcome cost of private exterminators that result from unwelcome house guests."

PestShield cover is an add-on to Insure4Retirement's standard home insurance policy, and includes the removal of 10 types of pest, including rats, mice, grey squirrels, wasps' nests and booklice. Available nationwide and for £25 per year, it covers up to £150 worth of call-out and labour costs for each infestation. You can claim as many times as necessary.

Specialist insurer HomeServe offers similar pest-contamination cover for £41.99 per year for unlimited claims and up to £300 cover for each occurrence. Like Insure4Retirement, it does not cover the damage caused by infestation, only removal costs from the house or garden.

Esure and Sheilas' Wheels also offer additional cover for five species to existing home insurance customers. Unlimited claims cost £21.99 and £19.99 per year respectively and pay up to £150 per infestation. There is no excess, but you can't claim during an initial 14-day exclusion period or if the property has been empty for more than 60 days. Pre-existing infestations or those that reasonably could have been avoided will not be covered.

Although useful for the removal of infestations, whether you should take out this cover or not really depends on the individual. Ms Parsons at GoCompare says: "If you live somewhere rural where you might expect more of a pest issue, then the cover could be worth it. But for urban areas it might not have as much value."

A huge problem with vermin infestation is the destruction they cause and, like standard home insurance, these policies rarely cover any damage (an interesting exception to this rule is Saga home insurance which does include damage caused by squirrels). However, larger problems resulting from any infestation, such as electrical fires, should be covered, and small-scale destruction may be insured under any accidental-damage cover you have.

If you don't want to pay yet another insurance premium, there are both preventive and curative measures you can take yourself. Kevin Higgins from the British Pest Control Association says: "Lots of people don't want to have anything to do with the pests, but for most pest removal you can go down to your local DIY store and get an approved product with instructions on how to use it."

Stick to products registered with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for actual extermination, and prevent any further infestation by covering up holes in walls and roofs with wire mesh, or stuffing them with steel wool. Rodents don't like either of these and should be deterred from moving in.