Savvy Money: Harsh truth – your storm cover may not protect you from a rainy day

But be prepared to make waves if you think an insurer is wrong to reject your damage claim

The stormy weather and tidal surges of a few weeks ago seem to have abated, but not surprisingly insurers are reporting a sharp increase in the number of claims they're getting (one insurer reported a six-fold increase in storm damage claims at the end of 2013).

While storm damage claims can be relatively cheap, flooding claims often aren't and, in some cases, sorting out your insurance claim may not be straightforward.

Was it a storm?

The first problem is that your insurer may not think a storm has taken place at all - there's no industry-wide definition of what constitutes a storm.

Some insurers' starting point is to say that a storm has only taken place if the wind reached a certain speed; normally force ten on the so-called Beaufort scale. However, it's rarely that simple.

And even if the wind near you is "storm force" it may not be easy proving it.

Insurers often check regional weather stations, which may be some distance away from your property.

Getting evidence

If your insurer is disputing that a storm has taken place, find out if your neighbours' properties have been damaged.

However, evidence of damage to nearby properties isn't on its own enough to guarantee an immediate payout.

A while ago I had an email from someone living in a block of flats where a communal chimney was damaged: two insurers decided a storm had taken place, while another said there was no storm.

Hmm.

Storm damage complaints

The Financial Ombudsman Service, which takes complaints from consumers who've already complained to their insurer or bank and have been unhappy with the outcome, says it receives around 350 complaints about buildings and contents insurance every month and half of those relate to storm damage.

Most complaints are from people whose insurer didn't think a storm took place, but others get in touch because their insurer doesn't believe the storm caused the damage being claimed for.

Wear and tear or storm damage?

Disputes like this can be hard to resolve. Insurers may ask for evidence that a property has been properly maintained. Tricky, as homes don't need to have an annual MoT or service.

If you're the kind of person who checks the roof for loose tiles regularly and makes sure the guttering and windows are up to scratch, keep a record of what you've done when. Or keep receipts if you've paid for maintenance.

Even if damage wasn't caused by a storm, an insurer may pay out on one part of your policy but not on another.

For example, you could have a successful claim for damage to your home's contents as a result of a storm (for example, water damage to carpets and furniture which you could claim for under the accidental damage part of your policy) but not for the damage to the roof itself.

Shoddy repairs

Even if your insurer does pay out quickly and without a quibble, you may not be home and dry (sorry!) just yet.

Some insurers work with a panel of approved contractors while others will ask you to get quotes from two or three local traders.

Do bear in mind that if you use a contractor suggested by your insurer, the insurer is responsible for making sure the work is carried out to a satisfactory standard.

If you insist on using your own trader it may be down to you and the trader to sort out any disagreement about the standard of work.

Verdict

Storm claims may not be straightforward, but don't accept the view of your insurer if you think they're in the wrong. Challenge what they've said and, if you don't get anywhere, take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

But before taking your case to the Ombudsman, you need to have exhausted the internal complaints procedures of your insurer.

savvymoney.co.uk

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