Insurance claims flood in

If you have suffered storm damage, here is how to make good your losses
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The Independent Online

Whether tiles have come off your roof, the local river has flooded your living room or a tree has fallen on your car, the recent storms may well have left you with an insurance claim. Here is what you should do.

Whether tiles have come off your roof, the local river has flooded your living room or a tree has fallen on your car, the recent storms may well have left you with an insurance claim. Here is what you should do.

Is getting repairs organised my first priority?

No. Move one is to make sure existing damage does not get worse - cover holes in the roof with plastic, and put out buckets to collect drips. Move two is to ring the insurer's helpline registering your claim. The number will be on your policy.

Can helpline staff do more than take down details?

Yes. They can probably tell you the damage your policy will, and will not, cover. They can recommend or send round repairers belonging to their network . At Direct Line, for instance staff can authorise repairs costing less than £1,000 or £1,500.

Do I have to pay part of the bill for damage myself?

Yes. Usually you have to settle the first £50 of any claim, though one or two insurers now make it £100. The bill will be higher if you have taken a "voluntary excess" - becoming responsible for an extra £200 or £300 of each claim, in return for lower premiums.

Will my policy pay for damage to garages and to huts and sheds in the garden?

Absolutely, though you have to pick up the bill if your gates, fences or hedges are damaged by floods or storms. Insurers will only pay up if they are stolen, or destroyed or damaged in a fire.

Do I have to claim if a tree in my garden falls over and damages my neighbour's roof?

No. He should claim on his own policy. The one time he can come back on you, is if the tree was so rotten that the storm was just the last straw.

Is there a simple test to show what comes under buildings cover and what counts as contents?

Broadly, buildings insurance applies to what you cannot take with you when you leave. Contents policies cover anything movable. So fitted cupboards come under the buildings heading, though the industry cannot decide whether fitted carpets do the same. You just have to check with your insurer.

Will insurers pay for the food in my fridge and freezer ruined when there was a power cut, or electricity cut-off?

Yes, most policies cover them. Typically you can claim for up to £250 for ruined food, though Norwich Union will go for £1,000.

How will my insurance company decide on how much to pay for serious repairs?

Most will use loss adjustors. Their job is to assess how much damage has been done and to negotiate the cost of repairs with local builders The companies are always keen to stress that they cover the costs of damage done by storms, floods or other disasters, and not the cost of keeping houses in good repair. So insurers can make deductions risk if neglect helped cause the trouble. Once figures are agreed, loss adjustors supervise the work.

How do I pick a builder of my own, if loss adjustors are not involved?

Start with the insurer's helpline, though the builders on the group's approved list may be fully booked. Ask friends for the names of builders who have done repairs for them, and what they were like. Using people who just turn up offering their services can be disastrous. If you are tempted, ask for names and telephone numbers of people who have used them, and you check them out.

Membership of professional groups, like the Federation of Master Builders, is quite a recommendation.

Are there limits to what companies will pay for repairs?

Yes. Every policy has a "sum insured", the most the company will pay out, whatever happens. It should be designed to reflect the cost of rebuilding the house from scratch. The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has a useful leaflet setting out typical figures, and details appear on its website. Insurers will not quibble if you are in the right financial areas.

Can my insurer penalise me if I am under-insured?

Yes. Assume damage will cost £150,000 to repair and your insurance only covers you for £150,000. You will then have to find the missing £50,000 on your own. Insurance contracts are based on the new for old principle. If you are dramatically under-insured, the companies cut back what they pay to allow for wear and tear over the years. Others work on a percentage basis. If you are 50 per cent under-insured, they only pay 50 per cent of your bill.

Will insurers pay for alternative accommodation, if my house is damaged and living there is impossible?

Yes.

Will I lose my no claims discount even though the damage is hardly my fault?

Yes. Discounts depend on claiming, not blaming

Can I complain to an outsider, if I'm not happy with my insurer's decisions?

Yes, but you have to go right through the company's own complaints procedures first. Write down all details of names, times and promises. Ultimately, you can write to the chief executive. If you are still unhappy, you can go to the Insurance Ombudsman.

What impact will the storms and floods have on premiums?

No one knows as yet. Many flood alerts are still in place. But even the highest estimates of damage so far are around £300 million, whereas the Great Storm in 1987 cost £1.4 billion. Insurers, like Legal & General, stress they take a long-term view. All the same if weather patterns are changing, high risk areas are bound to face higher premiums.

Association of British Insurers (ABI) Guide to Buildings Insurance for Home Owners 0207 600 3333, or www.abi.org.uk, Insurance Ombudsman: 0845 600666

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