Property insurance claims rocket by 58%

Domestic property insurance claims rocketed by pounds 218m in the first three months of this year against the same period in 1995, a rise of 58 per cent, according to figures from the Association of British Insurers yesterday.

The increase in the value of claims raises fears of rising premiums for millions of policyholders. A number of large insurers have said that the long-running price war for home and contents cover may be drawing to a close.

Sandy Dunn, managing director at Touchline Insurance, part of GAN, one of Europe's largest insurance groups, said: "The rise we are seeing demonstrates that the market is beginning to adjust to a more realistic level.

"It is anticipated that this trend will apply to buildings insurance in the near future, with contents insurance following later in the year."

The ABI's survey showed that although theft claims dropped slightly over the first three months of this year, weather damage increased by 155 per cent, to pounds 308m. The value of subsidence claims doubled in the first three months of 1996, costing insurance companies pounds 68m.

Commercial property insurance also saw a substantial increase. Fire claims cost pounds 118m, a rise of 13 per cent over the first three months of 1995. Business interruption claims, many of which were made in the wake of the new year cold snap, rose 14 per cent, to pounds 48m.

The overall figure for weather damage in relation to commercial property insurance rose by 208 per cent, up to pounds 111m.

Mark Boleat, director general at the ABI, the industry's trade body, said: "The main factor in these disappointing results is the freezing conditions in the early days of 1996, with the effect of last year's hot summer still coming through in the form of subsidence claims.

"The overall rise in the cost of commercial property claims is disturbing, particularly as three of the four main categories of business have shown marked increases, with the new year having a marked impact."

The ABI's figures also showed domestic theft claims, at pounds 160m, down 3 per cent on the same period last year. Although the average cost of a claim at pounds 1,010, rose by 5 per cent on the first three months of 1995, the number dropped 9 per cent to 158,000. Commercial property claims were down by 25 per cent, to pounds 40m.

Mr Boleat added: "The only encouraging news is the reduction in theft claims, but even here, ttheft of computers and associated equipment continues to rise and too many of the traditional targets are still receiving the attention of thieves."