Home Insurance – Making A Claim
In this section, we will look at the following aspects of the house insurance claims process. Much will depend upon your insurance provider and procedures will vary from one insurer to another.
Equally, not all insurance claims staff will agree with the information I have provided here.
However, it is a useful general guide to the steps involved and it should help you move your claim along swiftly to a conclusion that is satisfactory for you.
This information is based on the assumption that you are claiming from a direct insurer. For cover provided via a broker, you will have a similar experience but brokers will be able to guide you through the process.
These are the areas we will look at:
Home Insurance – Emergency Assistance Services
Most policies now provide a 24 hour helpline that is intended to provide a contractor in an emergency. Some go further and will provide a contractor for most domestic problems but some or all of the cost will have to be paid for by you.Check your policy wording carefully! This is an excellent idea but how well does it work in practice?
I will set out below my own experiences of contacting these help lines when I have had a problem or someone I know has asked me to assist them. If you have any stories to tell, please let me know!
My first encounter was on behalf of my mother in law a few years ago. She had a minor emergency that required urgent assistance – hence called on me. She needed the services of a plumber. I rang the help line number she had been provided. They were rude, unhelpful and could not provide the contractor we asked for. They suggested we call the insurance company.
The second experience involved removal of a wasps nest. Yes, some of the better policies provide for this at the expense of the assistance service provider. I had great difficulty getting through to the right person. The number provided was for car breakdowns! I had to wait to be transferred several times.When I was finally put through to the correct person, she did not believe the cover was there and I had to spell this out by reading from the policy booklet. She finally conceded and confirmed the service would be provided. From there on it was excellent. Within 24 hours, a pest controller arrived, decked out in the appropriate protective gear and successfully removed the nest from my loft.The message is, that this assistance provider worked well once they accepted the claim but I had to persevere in order to make it happen.
The third experience involved a gas cooker. It developed a fault but there were no gas leaks. Having called the help line number, it turned out the insurer had changed the assistance service company but had not properly notified it’s customers! The lady who took the call was unable to provide the new number and suggested calling the insurer – fat lot of good that is at 8am on a Sunday morning! So I have to revert to Yellow Pages to find a suitable engineer myself. That is yet another story!
Home Insurance Claims – Cause of Loss
Step One – determine if you have the cover for the loss or damage that has happened. This is a major problem area. You can only claim if the cause of your loss or damage is actually covered.
If you have read the section on policy cover and understand your policy, you can skip this bit. So many times, policyholders phone up and describe an event that has happened only to find that, whilst they have buildings or contents policy that the loss itself is not covered. And they do not understand why.
Let me try and explain simply. There are essentially two types of cover. One is ‘standard’ (standard perils) the other is ‘accidental damage’ (all risks).
If you have the former, you must compare the cause of the loss with the list of perils you are covered for. Your contents policy might define that your three piece suite is part of your contents but if you spill paint on it and you only have standard cover, you cannot claim.
With accidental damage or all risks cover, you need to check the exclusions to see if your cause of loss is not covered. This small print lists those risks for which the insurer is not prepared to provide cover. If it is not listed, you are probably OK to claim. As so many more, smallish claims, are paid for with this type of cover, it costs a lot more than the standard cover.
Home Insurance Claims – Claims Forms (Or The Lack Of Them)
It is now estimated that only 50% of insurers still require a written claim form to be submitted, those that do will send you a form to complete. Some will complete it for you on their computer system during the initial telephone call, but you will still need to sign it. Insurers will submit details of the claim to national anti fraud registers and they need your signature on the form in respect of the Data Protection Act. If you don’t sign the form, they will not deal with the claim. To avoid delays, make sure you complete the form as fully as possible.
For those insurers that do not require a claim form, your conversation with them will be recorded. They are required to read out a statement to you in respect of the Data Protection Act and the recording they make will be the evidence that they have complied. The big benefit for insurers relates to complaints. If you complain about the way you were spoken to or the service provided during the call, they can produce the recording for any arbitrator to listen to. So where they say that ‘calls may be monitored or recorded for training purposes’ whilst this is true, it is not the main reason for doing so. There is some benefit for you where calls are recorded. You will get a faster service. Your insurer does not have to wait until the signed claim form comes back before springing into action.
As for claims on Internet insurers, they seem to be split between combinations of the above two methods combined with completing the claim form on the Internet.
As with all insurance matters, the more information that you can supply, the quicker the claim can be dealt with. Answering all questions fully will lessen the chance of the company having to contact you for further information.
Home Insurance Claims – Replacements (New For Old)
Most policies (but not all of them) will provide for replacement (contents) or reinstatement (buildings).
Buildings claims generally do not provide much problem here. The vast majority of buildings claims involve repairs to the property and reinstatement means repairing with new parts – which is what you would expect. It could be a problem with a major claim where part or all of the structure has to be demolished and rebuilt.
It is with contents claims that the issues usually arise. Your policy says that if it can’t be repaired it will be replaced (within certain restrictions – see policy cover). Insurers like to arrange replacement for you via their supplier. This enables them to buy goods in bulk at wholesale prices and thereby save a lot of money. They do not like it where you want to replace the item or ask for cash instead.
In the first of these, your policy does not restrict replacement to that provided by the insurer and if you want to go out and buy the item yourself, you are entitled to do so. But you will need to pay for it, obtain a receipt and send this to the insurer for reimbursement. If you buy something that is better or upgrade, then you have to pay the cost of the upgrade yourself.
Where your insurer is arranging replacement and you want to upgrade, talk to them. They will usually accommodate this by asking their supplier to charge the additional cost of the upgrade to you. You will benefit from the discounts your insurers enjoy.
Where you want cash, insurers will now restrict this to ‘indemnity’ settlement, not ‘new for old’ . They will deduct wear and tear. But if the item was only a few months old, or of a nature that does not depreciate much (e.g. jewellery) it might be worth your while seeking a cash settlement if that is what you want. Beware, however, that your insurer might regard a request for cash settlement as a fraud indicator.
Home Insurance Claims – Repairers & Contractors
Some years back insurers were using external databases of contractors. This is a bit like the recommended repairers that insurers use for car repairs. The theory is that you call the insurer on the number provided. Some insurers answer the number, others out-source it to the firm providing the contractors database.
You would not know if you were talking to your insurers or not or even if the person at the other end of the phone line is in this country! The external database then appoints its approved contractor to repair the damage. It sounds fine in principle but it has all sorts of problems that can arise.
Many insurers are now reverting back to the more traditional approach of asking you to obtain estimates from contractors of your choice. The downside of this is that you have to do the leg work, find the contractors you are happy with and very often take responsibility for the contract with the repairer. This is still the preferable option, at the very least you are able to use a repairer that you or a friend has confidence in. Our main advice in these circumstances is that you get the insurer’s agreement before giving the go-ahead for any work to commence.
Home Insurance Claims – DIY?
Do you have the ability to carry out the repair work yourself? If so, this could be the ideal solution. You should discuss this with your insurer before proceeding.
Your insurer will normally pay a contractor to do the work and their bill includes the materials they use, the labour for their employee(s) to do the work, overheads for their premises and administration staff, profit and VAT.By doing the work yourself, you can get paid by your insurer for the hours you work and save them money as they do not pay the last three items. It is a ‘win win’ solution. Keep receipts for the materials you purchase, count up the number of hours work and submit to the insurer for reimbursement.
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