Are you insured against aliens?

From weddings to pets, you can buy a policy for anything. But is there any point? asks Harvey Jones
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The Independent Online
It has been 30 years since the first moon landings, and space is now full of old hardware and unwanted satellites. So it is not surprising that you can buy insurance in case some of this junk lands on your head. It's unlikely, but apparently less unlikely than being abducted by aliens: there are 4,000 takers for insurance against this in the UK alone.

So we have got to the stage where just about every danger in everyday and paranormal life can be covered by an insurance policy. The trick is to work out how much risk you can bear in a lifetime, without the "peace of mind" that only a cash payout can bring. In this article we have covered some of the big growth areas in insurance terms - all sold on the fear factor that intrudes on our normally safe lives.

Kids

One big growth area is childhood accident insurance. You may have been content to spend your childhood playing uninsured on swings and roundabouts, with asphalt to break your fall. Parents today are much more cautious. Kids play on rubber playgrounds and many of them are insured against accidents: private schools offer it as a (semi) optional extra on top of fees, and parent-teacher associations in some state schools offer deals.

Alternatively, you can buy an individual policy: Holmwoods Insurance Services pays out for death or permanent disability after an accident, to help cover nursing, convalescence and any other costs arising from the accident. Policies cost from pounds 20.54 a year for pounds 100,000 maximum benefit. Legal expenses cover costs an extra pounds 9.45.

Peter Newnham, the managing director of Holmwoods, says: "Make sure you don't take a policy with silly exclusions - for example, not covering children doing hazardous activities. Being a child is a hazardous activity in itself." That's a depressing world view.

Pets

Around 10 per cent of owners feel the need to buy cover, which is sold on the fear that you could end up having your beloved cat or dog put down because you cannot afford unexpected bills. These deals concentrate on paying out after accidents and emergencies, and they do offer useful third- party insurance. This pays out if someone else makes a claim against you because of your pet's behaviour: Petplan recently paid a pounds 36,000 third- party liability claim after an owner's dog knocked down an elderly man in a park, breaking his hip.So if you have a boisterous or unruly dog, this is worth having.

Petplan has nearly half the market and charges from pounds 8.45 a month for a dog and from pounds 4.95 for a cat. This covers pounds 4,000 in annual vet's fees and third-party liability up to pounds 1m. Premiums vary according to location, and are more expensive in London and the Home Counties. Pet insurance only covers accidents and illnesses, not routine vaccinations.

Household hassle

All appliances come with a one-year guarantee. If you want to extend that, it is generally cheaper to do so through the manufacturer. Don't fall for the sales patter in the shop; the assistant is on commission.

A Which? magazine survey suggested that longer-term policies normally cost more than you are likely to pay in repairs. A five-year warranty on a washing machine costing pounds 350 would set you back a further pounds 220 - much more than most people will pay in repairs over that time.

If you do find yourself suckered into taking out a warranty each time you buy a new stereo or video, it might be worth looking at a single policy to cover all your household appliances.

Starting from pounds 7.99 a month Norwich Union Direct will cover your washing machine, tumble drier, oven, hob, fridge freezer, non-portable audio equipment and other appliances, making it easier to say no to the shop salesman next time.

But the first step is to check your household contents insurance, which may cover many of these mishaps.

Home owners distracted by advertisements pushing deep freezer contents insurance may find that their contents policy automatically covers them up to pounds 500.

Taking out a stand-alone policy may be worth while where you have notably expensive items. Garden insurance may sound daft to those without green fingers, but if you have statues, ponds or prize-winning rhododendrons, these may be worth more than the pounds 250 cover most household contents policies pay.

Weddings

A one-off wedding insurance policy may be worth while if you want one thing less to worry about at this stressful time. It costs from pounds 40 and guards against disasters such as illness, cancellation, damage to wedding clothing, lost or damaged photographs and loss of wedding gifts or rings.

Cornhill Insurance, for example, charges pounds 48 for standard cover, which includes pounds 3,000 for cancellation, pounds 2,000 for wedding clothes, pounds 2,000 in presents cover and pounds 2m public liability.

Ecclesiastical, Leisurecare and Wedding Plan also offer this insurance.

One-offs

If you have a passion for snakes, you ought to insure your pets, says David Cubbin, marketing manager with Colin Ryan Insurance Brokers. A broker will be able to tailor-make a policy to match your interest. Mr Cubbin has arranged one-off cover for a man with a pounds 10,000 collection of football promotional figures and several for people who keep unusual reptiles as pets.

Whether you sign up for extra insurance depends on your finances and your attitude to risk. Unless you are particularly unlucky, it may be better to dig into your savings when problems arise.

n Contacts: Cornhill Insurance, 01189 575491; Holmwoods Insurance Services, 0800 318312; Norwich Union Direct, 0800-0562 450; Petplan, 0800 282 009.

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