Floods test the gaps in policies

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HOUSEHOLDERS swamped by last week's floods are discovering how far their insurance cover stretches.

Broadly, buildings insurance deals with the fabric of the house, and contents insurance deals with anything inside. Comprehensive motor policies will pay for repairs to cars. Normally, damaged paths and drives will be covered, but hedges, fences and gates will not.

Most policies will pay for alternative accommodation if the property is so badly affected that you have to move out. Commercial Union, for instance, will pay up to 20 per cent of the sum assured for somewhere else to live.

Insurance policies never pay out when a downpour reveals nothing more than poor maintenance. But often a maintenance problem will only be noticed when a storm occurs. In these cases, the insurer will normally pay for all the resulting damage, but may dock the cost of the routine repairs which were not carried out from the final payment.

Sometimes damage as a result of a flood will only become apparent later - perhaps tiles will lift from a floor or the lawnmower sump be foundto be filled with water. The insurance company should pay for the repairs, but may ask for some evidence that the damage was linkedto the flood.

Most insurers will authorise householders to spend money immediately to limit the effects of the damage. Many run helplines to put policy-holders in touch with plumbers, electricians and joiners.

If carpets are saturated, they should be lifted to dry. But if they are only partially affected by water it is better to leave them in place to prevent shinking.

The Association of British Insurers publishes a free leaflet, How to Claim for Storm Damage to Your Home. Send an SAE to: Winter Weather Leaflets, ABI, 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ.