In the cold winter of 2011/2012, 20% of homes experienced problems with their heating systems. Being one of the 20% wouldn’t have been much fun, especially if the whole system had gone down. There are plenty of home-related emergencies that can happen which most of us wouldn’t have a clue how to sort out. And anyone who’s faced a boiler breaking down in the depths of winter, or the electrics completely failing, knows just how serious such incidents can be. It’s often hard to find a plumber, electrician, builder or other tradesman to fix things at short notice, even in an emergency, and trying to do the remedial work yourself can just make things worse and might be dangerous. So the idea of having one central contact available round the clock that ensures an action plan is initiated immediately to get things fixed is hugely attractive: Home emergency insurance can provide just that.
What is Home Emergency Cover?
Home emergency cover is there to provide support when emergencies arise that, quite commonly, most people are unable to deal with themselves. Whether that’s a blocked drain, broken down central heating system, burst pipe, collapsed ceiling, pest infestation, smashed in front door or roof damage, there are insurance policies available that provide you with the support you need to deal with the immediate aftermath of such emergencies, and the financial cost, swiftly and with minimum disruption.
Is emergency cover included as standard?
Some insurers provide a certain level of Home emergency cover within the terms of standard policies, but the extent of cover is usually relatively restricted, with low claim limits, plenty of exclusions as to what can be claimed for (see ‘Exclusions’ later in this guide), and usually no boiler cover (insurers nearly always ask extra for cover which includes boilers as they break down comparatively frequently and can be costly to repair and replace). Most home insurers only offer full home emergency cover as an optional extra, which can be added to your standard home cover if you pay more on your annual premiums. In nearly all cases, you’re provided with 24-hour support via an emergency helpline number and email. It provides great peace of mind knowing that got the support necessary to deal with most home emergencies. Emergency cover can also be bought as a completely separate policy to your ordinary home cover. You might want this if your current home insurer doesn’t offer it, or you require a level of cover they can’t match. The cost generally depends on the level of cover you require, with most insurers offering various levels which generally reflect how much you’re willing to pay; most basic home emergency policies won’t include complete boiler breakdown, or overnight accommodation elsewhere if needed, whereas the more expensive ones will, for example.
What does Home Emergency insurance cover you for?
You should always check the different cover levels you’re being offered, especially if the emergency cover forms part of a standard home insurance deal. You may have certain requirements which you’ve decided you can’t do without, such as cover which includes boilers, for example, and might need to pay extra for it. It should be noted that only the most complete emergency cover includes maintenance such as an annual boiler service and electrical and plumbing checks. Cheaper, more standard emergency cover won’t. Better home emergency insurance typically covers you for the following (if you choose the most basic cover option available, you only get a limited number of these).
- Boiler breakdowns (sometimes servicing too)
- Central heating breakdown
- Plumbing problems
- Water supply problems
- Frozen pipes
- Gas supply problems
- Electrical failures
- Home security involving windows, locks and doors
- Roof problems
- Pest infestation
- Drainage problems
How much does Home Emergency cover cost?
If your insurer offers home emergency insurance as an optional add-on to their standard home cover, the cost would probably be an extra few pounds a month or more, depending on the level of cover. If you opt for a stand-alone deal, you should expect to pay more; around £6 to £10 a month for a basic home emergency package, and £25 to £40 a month for a fully comprehensive policy. The level of cover most stand-alone policies provide is usually higher than an ‘add on’ to a standard home insurance deal.
Who does the work?
Once you’ve contacted your insurer and explained the problem, they will try and get one of their appointed tradesmen to you within 24 hours (on most policies). They may also send a claims assessor to ensure that the claim is allowable, fits the description of an ‘emergency’, and that the correct work is carried out to remedy the problem. You won’t be able to appoint the tradesman yourself. Most insurers insist that they appoint the person to do the work as they want to ensure that the individuals involved are qualified and will carry out the work to the required standard.
Will Home Emergency insurance cover me at all times of the year?
In most cases, you’ll be covered for home emergencies no matter what time of year. However, boilers can get special treatment in this regard. Boiler breakdown is often considered to be an ‘emergency’ in winter months only. So, unless you’ve checked the small print, you could be unaware that from May to August your boiler’s not covered. This might be something that can’t be changed, whether you pay extra or not, and you would have to wait until renewal time to change to a provider, or buy a stand-alone policy, which includes boiler breakdown for a full 12 months.
Do you need home emergency cover?
Whether you need home emergency cover or not largely comes down to personal choice, and whether you are offered emergency cover as part of your standard home insurance (bearing in mind the cover probably won’t be fully comprehensive if it comes as standard). You might decide that you can’t do without it, or you might be prepared to sort any emergency out yourself and not pay extra for having your insurer do it for you. Additionally, if you rent, you generally won’t need to pay for emergency cover as it’s your landlord’s responsibility to sort out the types of problems the cover is there to help deal with. The costs involved with repairing the damage home emergencies can cause, and paying for replacements can be considerable, so it’s worth thinking about whether you could cope without the sort of financial help emergency cover provides.
Always shop around
If you have decided that home emergency cover is vital, the insurer which offers what you think is the most competitively priced standard insurance deal that includes it might not be the best provider for you. Other insurers may be more specialist when it comes to the emergency cover element, which they might offer as an add-on or completely different policy. You need to shop around and compare what’s on offer as part of standard home insurance deals as well as cover that’s offered as optional extras or stand-alone deals; compare the various levels of cover available, the cost, and which you think gives you the right cover for your requirements. If you’ve just moved into a home, for example, and the electrics seem a little temperamental, you might want to make sure your emergency cover allows for full electrical failure.
The amount you can claim on home emergency cover varies considerably, both between the different levels of cover one insurer might offer, and among the seemingly similar policies offered by different providers. Policies set maximum claim limits, both per claim and in total for the period the insurance is set for. Insurers nearly always also specify the total number of claims that can be made. For a basic level of emergency cover, perhaps offered as part of a general home insurance deal, this might be as little as only £200 per claim, with no cover for complete system replacements, such as for boilers or electrics, and with no more than 3 claims allowed in a year. Or, for better policies, claim levels could be as much as £1,500 per repair, or even more, as well as the full replacement cost of a boiler and other vital systems, such as plumbing and electrics (up to a maximum specified amount). And the better policies will allow for a greater number of claims per year.
Exclusions common to home emergency cover include:
- Boilers over a certain age – Often boilers over certain ages are excluded from Home Emergency policies. With ourselves here at Policy Expert we make sure this is boilers over 15 years old, but commonly it might only be 6 years.
- Boiler servicing – Cover that includes boilers might only be valid if your boiler is serviced annually.
- Call out charges and parts – You need to check if call out charges and parts are included.
- Systems servicing – As with boilers, many policies insist central heating, electrical and drainage systems are regularly serviced.
- Initial no claims period – It’s common that you’re not allowed to claim within an initial period of cover (e.g. typically for the first 48 hours of cover).
- Definitions of ‘emergency’ – The insurer has to see that the claim is for an ‘emergency’. Intermittent faults and things caused by wear and tear are not included, especially if only part of the system isn’t functioning. For example, your shower isn’t working, but the rest of plumbing is fine.
- Toilets – Be aware that, if you have two toilets, often it’s not an ‘emergency’ if only one toilet is blocked and not working. Both need to have ceased to function.
Don’t forget the excess
With most home emergency cover, you will be expected to pay out the first part of any claim. This is known as the ‘excess’ and is a figure which you agree with the insurer at the start of the policy; typically anywhere between £50 and £500 (the greater the level of excess, the lower your premiums as the insurer is being asked to take less of a financial risk). However, some policies, usually the more comprehensive and, unfortunately, costly ones, waive the excess when it comes to emergency cover claims. They recognise that in many cases the agreed excess could often be more than the call out charge for a plumber coming out to clear a drain or fix a frozen pipe, or an electrician to put right a lighting issue, for example.