Thaw may bring cold comfort for householders

Household insurance should cover burst pipes caused by frost, but it pays to check the wording. By Paul Gosling

This winter's freeze has already caused a pounds 500m bill for frost damage and 75 per cent of all claims in the past two weeks have been for burst pipes.

Householders returning after a Christmas holiday to burst pipes and waterlogged homes might tell themselves that it could be worse. Home and contents insurance should pay for new pipes and damage to building and belongings where frost has caused the burst, although Commercial Union is one of few insurers who does not charge a pounds 50 to pounds 200 excess on claims.

If the same thing had happened because of corrosion, the cost of replacement pipes - which can be several hundred pounds - would not be covered.

The water companies have problems of their own with burst pipes and leaking mains. But some of them are wrongly claiming that householders are not normally covered for pipe bursts from frost between the stopcock and a property boundary.

Colin Winsper, managing director of South Staffordshire Water, said: "There are one or two [insurers] that cover repair to pipe work but very, very few." This view was also expressed by representatives of Anglian Water and North Surrey Water, which sell policies.

Leaflets put out by Anglian Water and South Staffs Water promoting policies underwritten by Leatherhead-based Gesa (Group European Assistance) both say: "What may surprise you is that in the event of a flood caused by a burst pipe, it's unlikely that a standard home insurance policy will cover the cost of repairs." The brochure does point out that a standard home insurance policy provides cover for accidental damage to water supply pipes or drains, but fails to explain that insurers classify frost damage as accidental.

John Kirkman of Green Flag, which underwrites the policies offered by 12 supply companies, including North Surrey and Yorkshire Water, added: "Our understanding is that the mains supply to a house is not covered." But the Association of British Insurers said that it believed all standard home insurance policies included cover for bursts of the supply pipes arising from frost. And in an extensive phone round of insurers the Independent could find none whose policies excluded underground pipe bursts from frost.

Tony McMahon, claims manager of Sun Alliance Connections, suggested: "Each individual should check their policy carefully. The wording may vary from insurer to insurer and policy to policy. The main exclusion will be if a property is unfurnished or unoccupied."

The worst problems face occupants who took a winter holiday and failed to take precautions against frost. Householders may even find they have lost their insurance cover if the absence was prolonged - either over 30 days or 60 days, according to the policy - and they did not make special arrangements with their insurer.

Insurers will normally insist on either central heating being kept on, or water supplies switched off at the stopcock, and homes being visited daily during a long absence or weekly in the case of second homes. In rare instances insurers may require water systems to be drained.

There are other cases where policies may not provide cover. Unprotected external pipes, and those in outbuildings, are not covered by Direct Line's policies, though they are by most insurers.

Standard buildings and contents policies give cover for consequential damage (such as to possessions, plasterwork and ceilings) from burst pipes, whether they are caused by frost or wear and tear. But standard homes policies only cover replacement costs of pipes where they have been "accidentally" damaged, a definition that includes bursts caused by frost.

Several water supply companies are offering policies that provide cover against bursts caused by wear and tear - which Gesa, underwriters of some of the policies, points out normally cause 90 per cent of bursts. Taking out a supplementary policy may be justified, but householders need to be aware of the limited benefits they are gaining. Gesa's Home Service Scheme costs an annual premium of pounds 45, for which cover is obtained for up to pounds 150 for internal plumbing emergencies, and up to pounds 550 for external pipe bursts, including those caused by wear and tear.

Green Flag's Home Assist policy, at pounds 72 a year, is more extensive, and covers other home emergencies, such as faulty central heating boilers, and its Home Assist Plus policy, at pounds 96, also covers roofing problems. Cover is limited to pounds 100 of parts and material, plus four hours of labour. Gesa's and Green Flag's policies contain no excess charges for claimants to pay.

One of the advantages of home assistance policies is that the insurer will engage the plumber on behalf of the householder, but some insurers, such as Touchline, also offer this facility.

The benefits of insurance are demonstrated by 72 year old Mrs Cecilia Wilson of Kilwinning in Ayrshire. She woke up last Saturday morning to find the flat upstairs had been flooded from a burst pipe. When the water cascaded into her flat it destroyed her ceiling, the television, video and various bits of furniture.

Mrs Wilson has a standard home and contents policy with Direct Line, which is not only paying to replace damaged items, but is also meeting any costs from her husband having to stay in a nursing home while the flat is made habitable. Mr Wilson was in hospital when the burst took place.

Mrs Wilson is grateful to her insurers. "They have been absolutely splendid," she said. "They came in right away. I don't know how much it is all going to cost, but the insurer is going to pay it direct."

Green Flag: 0800 800688

Gesa: 01372 366701

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

Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal

I had dinner with the pensions minister Steve Webb this week. There was a wide-ranging discussion about the new pensions freedoms starting in April, and changes to the state pension. Crucially, I also got to ask Mr Webb whether he had any plans to have another look at the injustice that is frozen pensions.

Mark Dampier: We always bring down Britain. But there's plenty in the tank

While the health of the economy is not insignificant, Mark Dampier finds it incredibly unpredictable in terms of its impact on the stock market

If you haven’t switched supplier or tariff in the last 12 months then you could almost certainly save money by doing so

There are easier ways to save hundreds on your energy bills

A new free app is aimed at the three-fifths of Brits who have never switched supplier

Worse hit are loyal customers with long-standing accounts – their loyalty is rewarded with lower interest rates than more recently-launched accounts

Savers are being let down by banks and building societies, says Financial Conduct Authority

Regulator’s investigation into the market found that around £160bn was held in easy access savings accounts that pay interest lower or equal to BoE base rate

What to do if you're facing repossession: However far you fall, you're not on your own

Helen Fisher had to become a 24-hour carer, and then she faced repossession. But going to the right places for help changed everything, writes Simon Read

Simon Read: Information is power. And it's in the wrong hands when people are cold-called by companies that know they're in debt

In debt? You're likely to be targeted by unscrupulous companies that hope to profit from your misfortune. They may try to pretend to be your friend by offering what they call "help" – but almost certainly that help will come with a cost and leave you worse off than you were before they got in touch.

Mark Dampier: So you've got pension freedom... will it end up as a cold shower?

In less than three months' time radical changes to pensions will take effect, providing investors with more freedom. Yet for those who prefer to make their own investment decisions, the choice of funds available is overwhelming. And an income drawdown account is also not particularly easy to manage.

The move marks the culmination of a long campaign by debt charities and insolvency firms and follows a call for evidence launched by the Minister last August

Bankruptcy rules to change, Business Minister announces

The minimum amount for which you can be forced into bankruptcy is being raised from £750 to £5,000

Three-quarters of parents say being unable to afford to heat their home adequately is hitting the health of their children

Family well-being and health hit by heating costs

A shock report reveals that fuel poverty is affecting desperate families – and their children

Many people have no understanding of pensions

Are you ready for pensions reforms?

Most people are too confused to know how to use their pensions for a secure income

At a rate of 7.5 per cent, the wind is blowing behind ethical investors

A new initiative has financial and ethical virtues, says Simon Read
Ticket to cry: many passengers have been penalised with exorbitant and unnecessary rises

Simon Read: Inflation is riding the slow train. So why have we been given a one-way ticket to travel on the fares express?

I struck a chord with many of you when I wrote a piece earlier this week about rising train fares. It seems there is an army of travellers who feel they've been ripped off by increased transport costs.

Your money: Let’s hope for a fairer, more honest 2015

Poor service from banks and energy companies has sadly been a theme this year

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

    Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

    Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project