The winter dilemma: cover up or risk it?

Pick wisely when it comes to insuring against the worst the wind and snow can throw at you, says Neasa MacErlean

The Highways Agency, Met Office, AA and emergency services providers and planners are all starting to prepare now for winter. Ordinary residents and motorists could also begin getting ready too, as cold weather, strong winds and heavy rainfall can set in very fast. Scotland is used to getting snow in October, and the Met Office calculates that the UK is affected by 20 days of sleet or snow in the average year.

People who do not prepare for bad weather stand a strong chance of suffering. More than one in four households suffered damage in the winter period two years ago, according to AA Insurance and pollsters ICM.

The main areas of vulnerability for all of us in bad weather include our boilers and heating systems, the warmth and water-proofing of our houses and the safety of our transport systems, particularly our cars and the roads we use.

The best way to protect ourselves is, clearly, to ensure that our homes and vehicles are as safe and water-tight as possible. But we can also buy insurance if we think that we are still exposed to major weather risks.

Boilers

About 41 per cent of Which? readers have boiler cover. But the signs are that homeowners could do without it if they keep their boilers and heating systems in good condition. Boilers are the responsibility of landlords so people who rent do not have the financial burden of maintaining them, although they will want to be sure that their boilers continue to work well. Which? calculates that the "average cost of an annual boiler service is £70, while the cheapest annual service contract costs around £140 without call-out fees". Worcester Bosch's service plan, costing £171 a year, comes out top of the Which? customer ratings with a mark of 74 per cent. On one-off servicing, independent engineers and plumbers get higher customer ratings (averaging 86 per cent) than British Gas (42 per cent).

Boiler cover can be included, as a standard feature or as an add-on, in home contents policies, or they can be bought as stand-alone insurances.

Emergency cover

Home emergency cover can be bought separately to cover problems such as leaking roofs, broken windows, boilers that have stopped working and failing central heating systems. Some of these issues can also be insured through home insurance policies. The kind of complaints made on them relate closely to weather conditions. "Burst pipes are on the increase," says Steve Foulsham, head of technical at the BIBA (British Insurance Brokers' Association). "It's of concern to insurers."

The Financial Ombudsman Service – the body which adjudicates complaints when consumers have exhausted the complaints system of the organisation they bought their policy from – is upholding consumer complaints in nearly half (47 per cent) of household insurance claims. Common problems, says the Ombudsman, include "claims being rejected because there was not a single 'storm' that caused the damage" and "complaints about properties being considered unoccupied when damage has occurred".

Homes are particularly vulnerable when they are empty. Steve Foulsham of the BIBA suggests keeping the heating on at a low level (or even draining the water system for longer trips away) so that freezing of pipes is less likely to occur.

The majority of Which? members appear to have some version of home emergency cover – 37 per cent on stand-alone policies, 23 per cent as a standard part of their home insurance and a further 8 per cent who purchased it as an add-on to home cover. However, of those who have made a claim, 42 per cent had to wait until the day after they reported a problem to get help and 30 per cent felt that their policies had failed to deliver.

Roadside assistance

Car breakdown cover is an area which is developing fast, not least because of the difficult weather conditions of the past few years. In January this year, the AA saw a 28 per cent rise in claims as 100mph winds hit some parts of Britain. In February, call-outs to the AA rose 80 per cent on usual activity levels as ice and freezing fog brought chaos for many motorists.

Problems are caused by external objects as well as by the car's mechanics failing. In high winds, dislodged roof tiles and flying branches are a widespread source of damage. But wheelie bins and even garden sheds can be lifted by the wind if they are not securely tethered or weighed down.

Some drivers have been buying specialist snow tyres for winter. Sales of winter tyres "have rocketed but are still not widely used", says Ian Crowder of AA Insurance. A problem in which some insurers saw the fitting of snow tyres as a modification to the car, thus invalidating a potential claim, has largely been resolved now in the consumers' favour, say the BIBA and AA Insurance.

The Highways Agency is meeting contingency planners such as the AA, RAC and the Met Office next month to discuss the issues for this winter. There will be concern that last winter, which was relatively mild most of the time, will have pushed planning issues down the agenda for many drivers. As winter draws in, more messages will go out to encourage motorists to have a spade in their car, a blanket, survival kit and some water. People tend to think of the principal road problem as a snow drift, says Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, when a more dangerous problem is often "long traffic jams with people trapped overnight". Howard strongly urges people to keep an old sleeping bag or blanket in the car.

"You don't starve in a hurry but you do freeze," he says.

If people are worried about a trip they are going to make, Howard suggests that they ring ahead to ask people at their destination about conditions and the best roads. "Quite a lot of the time it is the last four or five miles which will cause the problem," he says. And, if conditions do deteriorate to the extent that roads have to be cleared, Howard adds: "Always stick to main roads. They will get treated first. That is the way the entire system works."

The Ombudsman is finding in favour of consumers in just under half (47 per cent) of roadside assistance cases now.

Which? points out that a particular problem on these policies is that premiums can go up heftily if they are automatically renewed. The magazine cites the example of a two-car two- person policy which cost £140 in the first year, was put up to £205 on automatic renewal and which was lowered to £135 when the policyholders complained.

A common claim which is just about always turned down is when an owner leaves the keys in the car which is then stolen. This happens particularly often in icy weather. "People start the car up," says Ian Crowderon frosty mornings. "They pop back in the house for a cup of tea and wonder why the car isn't there when they come out. If your car is stolen this way the insurers will not pay out on it."

Thieves are becoming very alert to the kind of opportunity that weather can present to them.

Boiler protection ‘buys only a peace of mind’

Roy Gooderson, a buy-to-let landlord of 25 years' standing, lets six apartments in the Whitstable area. Would he buy boiler cover for them? "Absolutely not," he says, explaining that he feels he would be out of pocket had he done so.

Mr Gooderson has good, long-standing relationships with gas fitters and services and relies on them – and his own knowledge – to keep boilers in good condition.

Nevertheless, Mr Gooderson is happy that his mother has taken out a boiler cover contract with British Gas. "It's only a good idea for people who want peace of mind," he says.

Modern condensing combi boilers dispose of water through a pipe that goes outside. "The biggest call-out for gas fitters in winter is when the condensation pipe freezes," he says.

So, in his own properties, he uses other solutions to avoid this happening, such as linking the pipe to the washing machine discharge.

He has all his boilers inspected once a year but thinks the new boilers have a shorter lifespan than their predecessors, and he prefers to change them every 10 years.

"I wouldn't have a brand new boiler serviced for two or three years," he says, believing that the technology is such that they should rarely have problems in that period. And boilers are so tightly regulated and cut off so quickly if anything appears to go amiss that safety is no longer an issue, in his view.

Links

AA www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/seasonal/winter-checklist.html

Financial Ombudsman Service www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk, 0800 023 4567 and @Financialombuds

Gas Safety Register (to check that gas fitters are registered) www.gassaferegister.co.uk

Highways Agency Information Line 0300 123 5000 and www.highways.gov.uk/traffic

Institute of Domestic Heating & Environmental Engineers (including calculator to work out boiler size for consumers): idhee.org.uk/homeframes.html

Met Office (5 and 30 day forecasts): www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather/forecast/?tab=5day

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

    Telesales & Sales Support Apprentice

    £221.25 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a well established Inter...

    Client Relationship Manager - SQL, Python

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Client Relationship Manager - SQL...

    **Financial Services Tax**

    £35000 - £50000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: Take your chance to join the...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit