Savvy Money: Going away? Make sure your home cover is leak-proof

Burst pipes or broken boilers are bad enough so don't let your insurance leave you high and dry

You're making your final preparations to go and see family and friends over Christmas: you've packed the presents, you've stocked up with mince pies, chocolates, once-a-year liqueurs and you're about to set off. But have you checked your household insurance policy? The answer is probably no. Why on earth would you?

Rising tide of water claims

If you don't know what your home insurance policy covers, you could have a nasty surprise if you need to claim because, for example, a water pipe bursts while you're away. Figures from the Association of British Insurers show that almost one in five claims on home insurance were as a result of 'escape of water' – damage from an internal supply, rather than by water coming in from outside.

£500 excess

Over the past couple of years there seems to have been an increase in the number of insurers that impose a higher excess (the part of any claim payout that is withheld by the insurer) if you make a claim as a result of a burst pipe or other leak, than for other claims. In effect, the excess is a back-door premium rise, so when assessing which policy to go for, be aware that you may not be comparing like with like. A few pounds saved through a cheaper premium can be a false economy if you find you are paying out hundreds when claiming because of a very high excess.

Often, while a £50 policy excess is standard, insurers won't pay the first £250 for frozen/leaking pipe-related claims. I checked a handful of insurers, including Tesco, Aviva, Halifax, Axa, Direct Line and Allianz. Most had an excess of £250 for escape of water claims, but Axa First's policy (one of several Axa policies sold only through brokers) imposes an excess of £500, while Direct Line policies and Axa's bought direct typically have an excess of £350.

Boiler breakdown

It is not just frozen pipes that cause problems. Somehow central heating boilers seem instinctively to know when plumbers are on double time or in short supply. If you have emergency cover included in your home insurance – either as part of the policy or as a paid-for extra – you can claim for the cost of essential repairs.

But you may not get a penny if your boiler is older. Most insurers will allow emergency cover claims for boilers up to the age of 15, but some (such as Direct Line) won't cover boilers over the age of ten. I know that condensing boilers don't tend to last as long as older-style, less-efficient ones, but my understanding is that ten years is not exactly geriatric, even for a condensing boiler.

Several insurers, including Axa, may not pay a boiler-related claim if you cannot show that it's been serviced regularly. Others refer to regular servicing in the policy documents, but insist that it's a recommendation rather than a condition of making a claim. And the Financial Ombudsman Service, the free-to-use complaints service, says it may force a company to pay a claim if not having the boiler serviced didn't cause the problem.

Unoccupied properties

You may have seen a flurry (sorry!) of articles explaining how to prevent frozen pipes. Typically the advice is to leave your heating on at a low temperature and to open your loft door if you have a water tank in the loft. If you're leaving the property empty for anything more than 'a few days' to 60 or more (the time varies from insurer to insurer) or, for example, you're selling an unoccupied property because a relative has died, check what you're expected to do by way of prevention.

Insurers may insist you turn off the heating and electricity and drain the heating system, or that you leave the heating on low. But what counts as a low temperature can vary from ten degrees (Halifax) to 15 degrees (Direct Line).

Verdict:

Be aware of the excess levels for water claims. You might not mind paying the first £350 – or more – of a claim, but if you do, there are insurers that impose a lower excess on burst pipe claims. If you're going to leave your property unoccupied for any length of time, make sure you don't fall foul of the policy small print, particularly over the number of days you are allowed to be away from home in a calendar year – but complain if you think the insurer is being unfair. If you do complain, always make a record of the date and time you lodged your complaint and who you spoke to. Once you exhaust the internal complaints system, you then have the right to take your case to the Ombudsman.

savvymoney.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

    Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

    SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

    £22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

    Day In a Page

    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
    UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

    39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

    There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
    Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

    Computerised cooking is coming

    From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
    Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

    Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

    The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
    Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

    Education: Football Beyond Borders

    Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
    10 best barbecue books

    Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

    We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
    Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

    Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most