While it might not be a topic we like to consider, it's important to understand the protection you should have in place to cover fire, flood, subsidence or storm damage.

No-one likes to think about their home getting damaged by fire, flood, subsidence or storm damage. 

But these are all risks you can’t ignore, especially as your home will be one of the most valuable things you own. 

Provided you have home insurance in place, you should be able to claim back any costs for structural damage from your insurer. 

This gives you the peace of mind of knowing you are covered in case the worst happens. 

What cover do I need?

As a homeowner, your lender will stipulate as a condition of your mortgage that your property must be protected with adequate buildings insurance

Buildings insurance covers the structure of your home – the bricks and mortar – along with any permanent fixtures and fittings, such as the carpets, cables, drains, windows and light fittings. 

You can claim on your buildings insurance if the structure of your home is damaged, perhaps due to a fire, a flood, subsidence, or a fallen tree. 

The other type of insurance you can take out for your home is contents insurance. This covers everything which would tumble out of your home if you were to tip it upside down and shake it – such as your furniture, clothes, jewellery and valuables. 

Unlike buildings insurance, contents insurance is not compulsory, but by the time you have added up the financial impact of replacing all your possessions should they be damaged or destroyed in a fire, it is recommended. 

What can I do if my home burns down?

Buildings insurance covers your home if it is damaged or destroyed. If there is a fire, it should cover the cost of rebuilding the property. 

While your entire property burning down is quite extreme, any serious fire will be traumatic.

But as long as you have insurance, you can be reassured that your buildings and contents should cover the damage and loss provided you weren’t negligent. For example, you left a candle burning when you left the house.

If the fire brigade has been called, you will have a fire report number to give to your insurer. 

One of the big issues with fire damage is assessing the extent of the damage caused, as the image of soot and smoke can be quite extensive. 

Some of the key issues to think about making an insurance claim include contents left unrecognisable by the fire, smoke damage to walls, ceilings, pipes and electrical items, and unseen damage to the structure of the property. 

Hard as it may be, resist the temptation to throw away items that appear to be smoke damaged or beyond repair until you have agreed this with your loss adjuster. 

It is their job to talk to you about what happened, assess the claim, and work out the cost of replacements and repairs.

The insurer will then organise firms to carry out repairs and work through its preferred provider or pay the amount you are claiming. 

If you need to move into alternative accommodation because you can no longer live in your home, or if you need to move temporarily while repair work is carried out, your insurance should cover this too.

What can I do if my home gets flooded?

If your property gets flooded, you should be able to claim on your buildings insurance for any damage. 

But if you are unlucky enough to suffer this misfortune, your priority will be dealing with the emergency at hand. This is likely to mean calling out a plumber. Once the immediate panic is over, you should then contact your insurer to start your claim. 

Insurers are usually understanding and should reimburse the cost of emergency repairs, provided you keep receipts and invoices for work you have carried out. 

You should also be able to claim for things such as damaged kitchen appliances and flooring, lost or damaged household items, and stains caused by flooding. 

If alternative accommodation is required, your insurance should cover this too.

If you are making a claim for extensive damage after a flood, your insurer may also want to send a loss adjustor out to your home.

What can I do if subsidence damages my property?

Subsidence is the downward movement of the site on which a building stands, where the soil beneath the building’s foundations is unstable.

Most home insurance policies cover loss or damage caused by subsidence, but it’s important to note they only cover the cost of repairing the loss or damage and not the cost of preventing further subsidence.

What can I do if a vehicle hits my property?

 If a vehicle crashes into your home and the crash was the fault of the motorist, he or she is responsible for the damage caused to your property. 

A driver’s insurer should deal with any claim for third-party property damage, but if there is damage beyond the limits of the driver’s car policy, you may need to claim on your home insurance. 

Equally, if there are other issues claiming on the motorist’s car insurance, you may need to claim on your home insurance to get the repairs and rebuilding done. 

It’s important to speak to your insurer and check the small print of your policy. 

Home insurance – what it will and won’t cover 

According to the Association of British Insurers, one of the main reasons for home insurance claims being rejected is the incident not being adequately covered by the policy, so bear this in mind when taking out cover.

Claims may also be rejected if you were negligent. For example, a claim for storm damage may be turned down if your roof was found to be poorly maintained. 

Other things which may be excluded from home insurance include wear and tear, Acts of Terrorism, and claims made after you home has been left unoccupied for longer than agreed in your policy – usually 30 days.

Make sure you have the right amount of buildings insurance in place

A standard buildings insurance policy should cover the full cost of rebuilding your home if it was destroyed, including labour and materials. 

But you should ensure you are only insuring for the cost of rebuilding your property, not its market value. 

To get a rough idea of the rebuild cost, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors provides a free calculator through its Building Cost Information Service, although you will need to register to use it.

You could also speak to an insurance broker for help working out the rebuild value you need. To find a broker, visit Biba.

Don’t fall into the under-insurance trap with your contents cover 

While homeowners often overvalue their property for buildings cover, they frequently undervalue their belongings when it comes to contents insurance. 

Being under-insured, either inadvertently or deliberately, could cause issues if your home gets damaged in a disaster such as a fire or a flood. If your insurer finds you hadn’t purchased enough cover, you could be left short if you need to claim. 

For example, if you insure your home contents for £30,000 – but the true value is £60,000 – your policy only covers 50% of the actual value. 

If a fire damages half the contents in your home, the insurer may only pay the corresponding portion of the claim. So, despite the true cost of the damage being £30,000, you will only receive £15,000. Leaving you another £15,000 out of pocket to replace the contents. 

The best way to ensure you have sufficient cover is by going from room to room, calculating the value of everything you own as accurately as you can, listing everything from furniture and gadgets to books and clothes. 

Note that valuables, such as jewellery, cameras and laptops, may need to be highlighted in the policy. 

You can compare home insurance quotes for both buildings insurance and contents insurance at uSwitch.com.

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