Having to make a claim on your home insurance isn’t an ideal situation to find yourself in, but most people will probably have to at some point in their lives. The reasons for needing to vary enormously; from the more simple type of claim such as those involving stains on carpets or lost house keys, to the larger, more complicated incident which might include burglary, flooding or fire. Although homeowners and those who rent pay insurance premiums to ensure they have a financial safety net in place if something happens to their home and possessions, ideally no one would have to claim.
Unfortunately, claiming usually affects the future cost of your cover, whether it’s a claim on the buildings or contents element of your home insurance, or both. Perhaps worse still, it also means that something unfortunate has happened which may have had an extremely disruptive impact on your life. However, remember that if you do have to claim, your insurer is there to help, not hinder, you. A good insurance company provides immediate advice and assistance, and should handle your claim smoothly, efficiently and hopefully swiftly as long as they’re provided with all the claim information they need. From your point of view as the insured, knowing the best way kick start a claim and assist your insurer in the claim process goes a long way to ensuring the best outcome for you.
What are the common reasons people claim?
There are a great number of unforeseeable events that can lead to claims being made on home insurance. While unlikely claims are sometimes made such as for sinkholes appearing in gardens and plane engines landing on roofs, more common reasons for claims include:
- Accidental damage – Accidental damage cover usually only comes as standard with some home insurance policies, on others you need to pay for it as an ‘add on’.
- Storm damage – Damage due to storms is, of course, most common in winter and is increasing as a reason for claims.
- Leaks/escape of water – Freezing pipes in winter is a very common cause of this type of claim.
- Theft – Don’t forget, the more secure your home, the less likely it is to be burgled, and quite often the lower your insurance premiums compared to similar homes where you live.
Claims which lead to the largest average pay outs include:
- Subsidence – Subsidence can seriously damage the foundations and structure of a home, leading to very large claims.
- Floods – As we have seen recently, more homes than ever before are at danger of flooding as UK winters become wetter and stormier.
- Fire – Potentially the most frightening of all possible events leading to a claim, fire has the can completely destroy a home, and even those around it. If in doubt, you should check your home insurance total claim limit is sufficient to cover the need to fully re-build your property.
What steps should you need to make a claim?
First of all, it’s worth bearing in mind that most insurance claims are successful. The ones that tend to fail are those where the claimants aren’t aware of certain policy exclusions, haven’t disclosed information when taking out the policy, or haven’t provided sufficient evidence for a claim to be met. Starting the claims process quickly, clearly stating what happened, and being organised and diligent in collating the necessary information an insurer requests helps greatly in ensuring a claim is successful. Many people assume that a simple form will be all they need to complete, which in some cases it might be. But most claims involve a fair amount of communication, and possibly even a home visit by your insurer, before a claim is resolved. Here’s how you should go about starting a claim and the best possible steps you should follow during a claim to ensure the outcome you want.
- Check your policy – The first thing to do is dig out your home insurance policy documents which should provide you with a claims helpline number to call, or email address. You will also be able to double check that you’re actually covered for the type of claim you want to make and the circumstances which have led to it.
- Criminal activity – If the reason for you wanting to make the claim is a crime such as burglary, you should report the incident to the police. Your insurer will often require this under the policy terms, and you’ll also be given a crime reference number which you’ll need to proceed with the claim.
- Emergency action – If emergency action needs to be taken that can’t wait for the insurer’s response or even possibly advice, such as having locks, windows and doors re-fitted, try and collect evidence before the work is done. If you can, take photographs and make a full notes on what the situation was and the work that needed carrying out, and keep all receipts and/or invoices from tradesmen.
- Don’t delay – Any delay for which there’s no particular reason between the event occurring and the claim being started can be very damaging to a claim’s potential success. And a really lengthy delay can negate the claim altogether.
- Contact your insurer – Once you’ve located your policy booklet and/or the claims helpline number or email address, call or write to your insurer explaining what’s happened. The insurer will send you the relevant claim form, or you can usually download it from the insurer’s website to save time if you prefer.
- Evidence to support a claim – It’s in your best interests to collate as much supporting evidence for the claim as possible. The best things you can provide include photographs, estimates for building work and replacement items, valuations and, estimates for replacement valuables, even witness statements if you can.
- ‘Proof’ of ownership and the value of items – Of course, receipts for items are about as good as it gets when it comes to a claim. But insurers recognise these often aren’t kept over the years and other documentation, such as valuations, quotes for the same or similar items online or from a retail outlet, as well as photographic evidence, and your description of what happened and the item, or items, affected, all count in your favour.
- Claim form first, estimates later – It can take a while to get together all the right supporting evidence, so if you can’t get estimates and quotes straight away, focus on completing the claim first, and indicate you will send the right supporting information and documentation later. Most insurers apply a fixed length of time from the initiation of a claim to when claim forms have to be returned, and this is a deadline you don’t want to miss. They should allow the submission extra information after the deadline, as long as the form itself has been returned and you indicate this.
- Damaged items – Try and keep hold of any damaged items that you’re claiming for, or at least create a record of what they are if they’re contaminated, dangerous or impossible to store. Even if this means piling up wet carpets or smoke damaged items in a shed or spare room.
- Small claims and larger claims are treated differently – It stands to reason that small claims are usually settled quicker than larger claims. For larger claims, your insurer will probably send a loss adjustor (also known as a claims investigator) and other experts to your home to assess the claim, possibly sort out any necessary repairs, and talk to you about what happened. Be aware that if you disagree with their findings, you have to right to appoint your own loss adjustor to get a second opinion, or ultimately take your grievance to the insurance ombudsman.
- Is it worth claiming? – Certainly for smaller claims you might want to think hard about the impact claiming might have and whether it’s financially worth going through with it. You might have built up a good deal of no claims discount and losing it would increase your premiums. Consider the level of excess (the first part of a claim the insured pays), or when deciding whether its worth claiming or not.
Things to consider when making a claim
There are a number of circumstances and rules which most policies have in common which could affect your claim, and even whether you can actually make it in the first place. These commonly might include:
- Excess – The excess is the amount you are expected to pay out yourself before your insurer makes up the rest of the claim. You fix the excess at the outset of your policy, or at renewal time, and it typically ranges from £50 to £500. Obviously if it’s closer to £500, this might have serious implications for whether the claim is worth it at all.
- Wear and tear – If you own something that has simply worn out through age and use, you won’t be able to claim for it. Unfortunately, mechanical failure and the stress of repeated use on items of furniture, white goods and the like, isn’t something insurers cover.
- Check cover limits – All policies have set limits for how much you can claim at any one time, and how many times you can claim over the period of cover. For contents cover, single item claim limits of around £2,000 are common, as are maximum total claim limits of £40,000. For the buildings element of your cover, the maximum claim limit should be the sum the whole property is insured for (i.e. the cost of totally rebuilding the main building, and, if your insurance allows, outbuildings too.). Rules governing different types of claims in relation to claim limits often vary; for subsidence, for example, there is usually a much higher excess to pay.
- No claims discount – It’s worth repeating that your no claims discount, if you’ve built one up, can be very valuable to you, with reductions of up to 70% on the standard cost of your home cover potentially on offer. You should weigh the loss of this up against any claim you’re making.
- Have you got cover elsewhere – It’s common these days for certain types of financial products, such as bank accounts or credit cards, to provide insurance cover as an incentive (e.g. for your mobile phone or boiler, for example). You should check if this is the case as it would in all likelihood be in your best interests to claim on this rather than your main home insurance.
What to do if your claim is rejected
If your claim is rejected and you think the insurer is being unfair or unreasonable, there is action you can take which may lead to the decision being changed. You should ask yourself a number of questions and check policy documentation and approach your insurer for answers: Is the policy wording clear and unambiguous in relation to your claim? Did you answer all the questions your insurer asked? Is the insurer saying you should have voluntarily disclosed information that they didn’t ask about? Did you notify them of a change of circumstance in the past? If you believe the insurer is wrong, you need to write a formal letter of complaint to them, detailing your complaint, clearly stating your name, policy number, what you would like the company to do to put things right and include any supporting evidence. As has been already stated, you can appoint your own loss adjustor to make an independent assessment. If the insurer also rejects your complaint as well as your claim, then you can go to the insurance ombudsman. You might feel like going straight to the ombudsman as soon as your claim is rejected, but you will need to go through your insurers complaints process first.