Trickle of claims precedes the deluge: Vivien Goldsmith explains some facts for flood victims

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The Independent Online
HOUSEHOLDERS are too busy clearing up the damage caused by the floods that swamped the South and South- west to worry about making claims, according to insurance companies.

A spokesman for GRE said: 'It is too early to to give a definitive assessment of the damage. People are dealing with the situation. The last thing they are thinking about is making an insurance claim.'

Sun Alliance said the claims were modest. The damage was localised and much had been to agricultural land.

But the Prudential, Britain's largest contents insurer, has recieved 2,000 claims in the past week. Its Cardiff office, which deals with the South- west region, has been the busiest. Some of the claims relate to wind damage, but these are for small amounts to cover the loss of tiles and chimney pots.

Flood claims received so far are for larger sums where the whole house has been submerged.

Loss assessors are people who offer to help policyholders fill in claim forms and act for them in dealing with the insurance company. They charge the policyholder 10 per cent of the payout plus VAT.

They tend to rush into areas where they might find business. But they have not been able to reach the worst affected parts because roads are blocked.

Alan Harris, of London- based Harris & Co, said it had people all over Hampshire, Kent and Sussex. 'It is too dangerous to get through to the worst hit areas,' he said. 'We are being turned back by the police.'

Ian Balcombe, of Sidney Balcombe, said people should not be in a rush to reinstate damage. It took time for water damage to dry out and the extent of damage to be assessed.

He said loss assessors knew how to claim for every item affected. For example, a claim might include eating out if cooking facilites were affected or hotel accommodation if the family had to leave the home.

Even if they stayed with relatives, extra costs could be claimed. They could also claim for labour if redecoration was a do-it-yourself job.

The loss assessors would also help policyholders faced with the insurance company's loss adjuster, who might query the sum assured, whether it was individually assessed or under a single policy with a universal maximum. In these cases the insurance company usually scales back the claim, but it can refuse to pay out at all.

Loss assessors normally will not take on claims under pounds 2,000 or pounds 3,000.

Many insurers have special helpline numbers to help policyholders get instant repairs.

The AA disaster line has had double the usual number of calls. It warned that garden furniture and other outdoor equipment were not covered by contents policies unless brought inside. If taken into a shed, greenhouse or garage, this would count as 'inside'.

GRE warned homeowners not to endanger their lives to save property. Electricity and gas should be turned off and checked before being turned on again after a flood. Carpets should be left in place to dry.

(Photograph omitted)

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