The burglar never called, but the bad weather did

In worrying about crime, we neglect a bigger risk: flood and storm damage. Plug the leaks in your cover, says Melanie Bien
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The Independent Online

Crime is a concern for many of us when deciding if we should move home to a particular area. Whether or not somewhere feels safe - when we're walking home alone late at night or leaving our property empty all day - is a big factor.

Crime is a concern for many of us when deciding if we should move home to a particular area. Whether or not somewhere feels safe - when we're walking home alone late at night or leaving our property empty all day - is a big factor.

But insurer More Th>n thinks we should be more worried about the threat from the elements than from burglars. According to its research, we were more likely to suffer weather damage last year than theft.

Two-thirds of homeowners surveyed by More Th>n felt their property was more at risk from burglary than anything else. Only 14 per cent felt they were most at risk from storms and only 4 per cent from flooding. But as the table on the right shows, bad weather was to blame for 30 per cent of actual claims, compared with 26 per cent for burglary.

Climate change is beginning to have a noticeable effect - witness the hurricanes and tempests this summer. In the past five years, the insurance bill for storm and flood damage in the UK has doubled to £6.2m, according to the Association of British Insurers.

Flash flooding, which caused devastation in the Cornish village of Boscastle in August, affects around 80,000 people a year. What's more, the risk of flooding is set to rise tenfold over the next century, warns the Environment Agency.

"Fear of crime, and burglary in particular, is often at the forefront of people's minds when moving home," says Graham Hollebon, head of personal finance at More Th>n. "However, there are other risks that homeowners need to take into account. Surprisingly, many have no contents insurance, but it is important for everyone to get insurance cover against any potential loss."

Making sure our homes are insured against the elements is very important, especially as flooding and weather damage are afflicting areas that weren't previously at risk.

Karen and John Bowes are relieved they took out buildings and contents cover with NFU Mutual after their farmhouse in Gleaston, in the Lake District, was flooded during heavy storms at the end of August. The property has been in the family for more than 100 years (the couple have lived there for 22 years) but it had never flooded until then.

"On the night it happened, there was a terrific thunderstorm with lightning, which kept me awake," says Mrs Bowes. "The rainwater usually runs down a path between the side of our farmhouse and another building, away from the property. But on this occasion it ran down the drive and straight into the house. We have a windowsill about five feet above ground level and there is a water mark on it.

"The water came in through the back of the house. It was very mucky and covered everything with a layer of silt. There was water in the kitchen and dining area, although it didn't get as far as the lounge and the hall. We were lucky: most floors affected were tiled."

After 10 hours of scrubbing, Mrs Bowes managed to clear up the damage, although their home has still not completely dried out. NFU Mutual has advised her not to replace any carpets until then.

Mrs Bowes says her insurer has been very helpful. "Someone from NFU came down the day after the flooding to assess the damage. We went through it all. He looked at the ruined carpets and the tumble dryer that didn't work and said we'd have to wait to see if the kitchen cabinets dried out or whether they'd need replacing.

"I got a quote for replacing the damaged items and was also able to claim for clearing up the mess. I contacted NFU with the figure, which was agreed, and I got the cheque last week."

Mrs Bowes agrees that if they hadn't been insured, it would have been a different story - the sort of sad story that too many people are in danger of telling. More Th>n says the typical home has contents worth over £42,000, but that 22 per cent of households are underinsured or not covered at all.

If you have got a policy, check it to ensure your home and possessions are fully insured. And when choosing cover, be certain that you accurately estimate the cost of replacing your belongings. Rather than pluck a sum out of the air, go through your home and jot down the value of all your goods. Otherwise, you may forget the CDs and DVDs, the full contents of your wardrobe or how much you paid for your electrical goods.

Bear in mind that particularly valuable items, or expensive equipment that you take out of the house, such as laptops and digital cameras, may need to be insured separately.

Check the excess - the amount you have to pay when making a claim. It can be anything from around £50 to £250. A higher excess will mean lower premiums, but can you afford to pay the excess in the event of making a claim?

Finally, shop around to get the best price for your cover. Use a broker to do the legwork or log on to the internet and check out or Remember, your policy won't necessarily be so competitive when it is due for renewal; you may find a cheaper deal elsewhere.