Accidental Damage

Inevitably, damage to your possessions and property caused by unforeseen accidents will happen. Dropping a collectible vase, spilling red wine on an expensive carpet or breaking a prized armchair can be extremely annoying both in terms of hassle and cost, especially if you’re not insured.

Accidental damage insurance, as part of your home insurance, is there to provide you with financial assistance if such incidents occur, ensuring you can afford to replace or repair the affected items.

What does Accidental Damage cover mean?

Accidental damage cover applies to events which are unforeseen and unintentional. Definitions among insurers differ, but generally they agree that the damage must be caused by acts that were sudden, unexpected and not deliberate.

The damage may well be physical and plain to see, but can also be something which causes a ‘loss of function’, which may not be visible. Two good examples would be a smashed window and a blocked drain; the window is clearly broken, but a blocked drain is not ‘broken’, it’s simply being prevented from doing what it was made to do.

Types of accidental damage cover

Most standard home insurance policies allow for some types of accidental damage occurring to buildings and possessions. However, it’s generally limited in scope and certainly won’t cover you for a large number of the things that can typically happen unintentionally in or outside of the home.

Under standard cover, some insurers offer limited accidental damage cover for:

For a much greater level of accidental damage cover you will need to pay a little extra. Your policy will then include:

  • Extended buildings accidental damage
  • Extended contents accidental damage

What does standard buildings accidental damage cover?

As mentioned above, most standard buildings insurance policies provide some limited cover for accidental damage.

Policies are usually strict as to the structures and areas of buildings this includes. Insurers will differ as to what these are, but should define them in the terms and conditions, so check carefully when you take out a policy.

Typically these might include damage to:

  • Underground drains, pipes and cables
  • Fixed glass, such as windows, as well as sanitary fittings and ceramic hobs.

It’s worth remembering the damage doesn’t have to be visible, as ‘loss of function’ also applies.

In other words, if your drains become blocked, you should be able to claim if you have to pay to have the drains cleared. The drains might not be damaged, but they clearly can’t perform the tasks they were made to do (i.e. they’ve suffered a ‘loss of function’!).

What does standard contents accidental damage cover?

As with buildings insurance, most standard contents insurance policies (again, usually bought as part of a home insurance package which includes buildings cover) allow for a certain level of accidental damage.

It is generally limited, often only covering accidental damage to mirrors, fixed glass in furniture and ceramic hobs.

What is meant by ‘extended’ accidental damage cover?

Extended accidental damage insurance covers you for a much wider range of potential problems which can arise from accidents and other unintentional events.

It also ensures some of the ambiguities associated with standard cover, such as what constitutes weather damage and whether it was ‘accidental’ or not, are less likely to arise if a claim is made.

Buildings extended accidental damage

Extended accidental damage insurance covering buildings usually includes:

      • DIY accidents – DIY accidents that cause damage to a building and its various structures are extremely common. So taking out extended buildings accidental damage cover means you’ll be insured for putting a foot through a ceiling, or driving a nail into a pipe causing both pipe and water damage, for example.
      • Damage caused by children – Children are perhaps more likely to cause damage to your home’s contents than the building itself, but nevertheless it’s not unusual for insurance claims to arise from children damaging walls, bathroom fixtures and garden fencing, as well as doors and windows, and causing blocked drains.
      • Damage to fixtures and fittings which come under ‘buildings’ cover – Such fixtures and fittings might include baths, showers and other bathroom fittings, fitted kitchens and built-in wardrobes. Cracking a bath or ruining a kitchen work surface and units can prove very costly, for example

A note on building work:

If you’re having building or renovation work done, make sure you let tell your insurer beforehand. Builders are a common source of accidental damage to a buildings structure, for obvious reasons.

Informing your insurer of the type of work that’s going to take place, and the dates, is often a policy stipulation. It may invalidate your cover if you don’t, and you might even need to increase your cover for the duration of the work.

Contents extended accidental damage

Extended accidental damage insurance covering contents usually includes:

      • Spillages – One of the most common accidents which occur in the home, spillages can damage carpets, sofas, curtains and even electrical items which could result in claims worth thousands of pounds.
      • Dropped items – Another extremely common cause of damage in the home is the simple accident of dropping something. Whether it’s an antique vase or expensive laptop, the resulting damage can mean you’re hugely out of pocket if you’re not insured.
      • Damage caused by children – Children can cause a huge amount of damage in a home. They’re much more likely to drop something or knock it over, scribble on walls and spill things, as well as kick and throw balls around, be sick on furniture and carpets and generally unintentionally (or ‘intentionally’!) cause mayhem.

A note on ‘away from home’ accidental damage cover:

Many people often carry thousands of pounds worth of personal possessions around with them when they’re out and about; from expensive laptops, phones and other hi-tech gadgets, to jewellery, handbags and watches.

For not much extra, accidental damage insurance that includes ‘away from home’ cover can be bought to ensure you’re protected from the same sort of mishaps that can occur in the home when you’re away from it. Whether that’s spilling a coffee all over your laptop, or sitting on your glasses, it gives you peace of mind.

Don’t assume that it forms part of your home insurance policy though, as not all policies include extended accidental damage ‘away from home’ cover as standard.

What’s not covered by accidental damage?

Many people don’t realise that not all types and causes of accidental damage are covered, and can be left very disappointed when it comes to making a claim.

The main problem insurers face is that they have to draw a line between what’s considered ‘accidental’, and damage that might have occurred simply from negligent behaviour, wear and tear, or goods that become faulty due to no fault of the insured (e.g. mechanical failure that isn’t caused by an ‘accident’).

There are a number of exclusions common to most accidental damage policies which you should be aware of. Such exclusions typically include:

      • Wear and tear – Possessions, and parts of a building’s structure such as roofs, doors, window frames, ceilings, walls and fencing, naturally degrade over time. So woodwork around windows which has rotted, or poor grouting around a bath that causes a leak, will not be covered
      • Pet damage – Most policies also exclude damage by pets. If you own animals, you should check cover levels, although the chances of getting full cover for pets is slim
      • Wilful or deliberate acts – If the damage has been caused deliberately by those named in the policy, it won’t be covered.
      • Defective workmanship – If work carried out by tradesmen such as builders, plumbers and electricians turns out to be defective, you won’t be able to claim for it. You would have to approach the individual or company that carried out the work for compensation.
      • Mechanical failure – If your television, computer, bicycle or toaster simply breaks down due to something going wrong with the mechanisms that make it work, it won’t be covered
      • Lodgers and other paying guests – If you have lodgers, or other paying guests, they may be excluded from cover for any accidental damage they might cause.

What to watch out for with accidental damage

    • The excess – The ‘excess’ is the first part of an insurance claim that the insured has to pay. This might be as little as £50, or as much as £500 (or even more); you agree the ‘excess’ when you take your insurance out. However, when it comes to accidental damage, the excess you pay might be different than the general excess agreed on the policy.
    • Incidents in your garden, garage etc. – Not all policies will cover you for damage that doesn’t occur within or to the main building. So if you dropped your smartphone or iPad in your garden, for example, you might not be covered. Check carefully if you want to ensure you’re covered when out in your garage, greenhouse, garden office or other area that’s external to the main home.
    • Bicycles – Many policies won’t cover bicycles worth more than £500. If you’re a keen cyclist, with an expensive bike, or want away from home accidental damage cover to include it, you might have to pay extra or seek specialist insurance
    • Cover limits – Cover limits for accidental damage claims may differ from the terms for the rest of your home insurance cover; you may find that they’re lower than for the rest of the policy cover. £1,000 is a fairly common figure, whereas for the general contents insurance element this might be £2,500
    • Cleaning – If you damage something when you’re cleaning it, such as a dining room table, or make a small red wine spill much worse by using the wrong cleaning method, you won’t be able to claim as the damage isn’t deemed to be ‘accidental’
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