Flat sharers struggle to find cover

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PEOPLE who share flats - and their landlords - may encounter difficulties in obtaining contents insurance.

The problem has become more acute as traditional flat sharers, such as students and young professionals, have been joined recently by house-owners wanting to let a furnished room in their only or main home to claim the tax-free income now available from this sort of let - provided it is less than pounds 3,250 a year.

Carol Brown, from Brighton, writes: 'We recently let a room in our maisonette. By not taxing the room for rent, we feel the Government has encouraged us to do it.

'Not only does it help us financially, it can be seen as socially responsible, helping to fill a need for good, private sector accommodation. Why then will the insurance companies not give us house contents cover because we have a tenant?'

The reason insurers are hesitant giving contents cover in this instance is because a tenant is likely to be unknown to the house-owners and have keys to the flat, making theft an easy option. The companies that do offer cover for shares, stipulate that there must be signs of a break-in (or out).

If the tenant is convicted of theft, Cornhill Insurance, for example, says that only if the landlord has unsuccessfully sued the tenant will it cover up to pounds 2,500 worth of contents taken by a disreputable lodger.

Pauline Schaffer, assistant manager of the property management department of Cluttons London Residential agency, has found it difficult to get contents insurance while she has been living in a three- bedroom flat in Chelsea with two other people. Although she is 27, works full-time and shares with two 26-year-old men - a teacher and an accountant - she found that only Barclaycard and the AA would insure them.

'My brokerrang around many companies,' says Miss Schaffer, 'and they all said it was too high a risk to insure more than two people sharing.'

The quote fromBarclaycard, for contents totalling pounds 15,000 between the three of them, was pounds 323 per annum. This covered accidental damage, fire and theft and also covered them for pounds 1,500 worth of property away from home.

From the landlord's side, it is little easier. Miss Schaffer said: 'At Cluttons, our landlords use Cornhill Insurance if they are insuring a furnished property. In London, a one to two-bedroom flat costs pounds 212 a year to insure, a three-bedroom flat pounds 296, a four-bedroom pounds 370 and a five-bedroom pounds 452 per year. 'However, if there are more than four people sharing, they have go back to the broker, and it is then at the discretion of the underwriters.'

Cornhill Insurance has a product called Letsure, sold through Thomas Winter Insurance Brokers of Marlow, Buckinghamshire. This has three policies: buildings insurance, landlords' contents and, a new one brought in during the last couple of months, tenants' contents.

'We are aiming to exploit a niche market caused by people not being able to find a house and having to rent, and also for people who are employing managing agents to let their property while they are abroad or until they find a purchaser for their home.'

An AA spokeswoman says it will offer cover for sharers in joint names but will ask how long the sharers have known each other and will put in a clause for theft that there has to be forcible access.

Jamie Jago shared a flat a few years ago with another girl, whose father owned the property. 'I was 26 years old and just assumed that my belongings would be covered under her insurance.

'When we had a burglary and I had about pounds 3,000 worth of jewellery stolen, I realised I was not able to claim anything under her policy.'

(Photograph omitted)