Will the small print sink your claim if this happens to YOUR house?

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Norfolk couple Ian Butterfield, 78, and Barbara Utting, 73, were watching TV on Friday when an 80ft beech tree smashed into their home.

It is a miracle no one was hurt. But the retired couple are still badly shaken when I visit their home in Sprowston, three days later.

I’m with Tracey Smith, one of Aviva’s 50 field claims managers who are tasked with handling some of the insurer’s most complex — and expensive — claims.

Disaster: Sven Good and girlfriend Anna Parnanen at his family home in Essex where a huge 400-year-old oak tree crashed through the roof

Disaster: Sven Good and girlfriend Anna Parnanen at his family home in Essex where a huge 400-year-old oak tree crashed through the roof

In a normal week she visits around three homeowners, but after Storm Eunice she could soon knock on eight doors a day.

Record-breaking wind speeds, which peaked at 122mph, have triggered thousands of home insurance claims, with many more still to come.

Accountants PWC say insurers could face a £350 million bill, with the average claim for storm damage around £3,500, according to CompareTheMarket.

The Good family were among those preparing to speak to their insurers at the weekend after Storm Eunice sent a huge 400-year-old oak tree crashing through the roof of their detached house near Brentwood, Essex.

Providers have been inundated with calls from homeowners since Friday. One insurer, RSA, says it received 403 per cent more calls than usual between 2pm and 3pm.

LV= alone has received more than 5,000 home and motor claims, which it estimates will cost at least £10 million.

Dislodged roof tiles are the most common claim following a storm, while heavy downpours can leave homes with devastating flood damage.

Here in Norfolk, wind speeds reached up to 74mph on Friday, leaving destruction that could take weeks to clean up.

As we drive through the countryside, there are multiple fallen trees.

But few homeowners have been hit as hard as Ian and Barbara. While the tree has been removed, their four-bedroom semi-detached house is in ruins.

Ian’s son, Stephen, greets us. When I ask how his father is doing, it’s clear he is worried, and his eyes well up.

‘He has lived here for nearly 40 years, but it is thinking about what could have happened if Barbara had been sitting by the window as usual which has shaken him so badly,’ Stephen, a 56-year-old retired IT worker says.

Tree terror: Joan and David Palmer were offered temporary accommodation when  a tree - which was protected by a preservation order - crashed onto their roof

Tree terror: Joan and David Palmer were offered temporary accommodation when  a tree – which was protected by a preservation order – crashed onto their roof

Ian’s daughter, who lives ten minutes away, alerted insurer, Aviva, shortly after the tree fell onto the house on Friday.

It took her more than an hour to get through on the phone as the firm struggled to cope with six times as many callers as usual. 

Households can also file a report via the firm’s website and upload photographs. Claims are then logged according to severity.

In this case, the tree had to be removed immediately to prevent its weight, and the rain causing even further damage.

So Aviva sent a tree surgeon on Saturday morning and builders to board up the broken windows.

But it is still too windy to put up the scaffolding needed to seal the roof temporarily with tin.

Complex cases, which the insurer expects to cost more than £25,000 or where the walls or roof have been impacted, are passed on to specialists such as Tracey. 

She also deals with vulnerable customers who may need urgent alternative accommodation. 

It is her job to oversee the claim and liaise with homeowners, answering any questions they may have and explaining the next steps.

‘These can be traumatic events and people are often in tears when I go to see them,’ she tells me.

Destruction: Stephen Butterfield at his father’s damaged home

Destruction: Stephen Butterfield at his father’s damaged home

She is joined on Monday by a surveyor, tasked with assessing what repairs are needed.

The property has been without electricity ever since the tree fell on Friday.

The carpets in the bedroom and living room will also need to be ripped up as they are covered with shards of glass. Tracey, 40, explains to Ian that it could take three months to carry out all the repairs. Some homeowners are forced to move out for up to a year.

But it still means the insurer must find the couple somewhere to live. They are currently staying in a hotel until a short-term rental can be found.

One option is a two-bed bungalow that would cost £950 a month. The landlord requires a six-month tenancy, but Aviva says it will pay the full cost even if the couple can move back home sooner.

As we leave, Tracey reassures Stephen they are monitoring the weather closely and will send builders over to fix the roof as soon as the wind dies down. He will also receive an email confirming Aviva is accepting the claim and, by the end of the week, a ‘schedule of works’ detailing what repairs need to be carried out and how long they will take.

Ian still has no idea how much the claim will be — but Tracey later tells me it could be close to £100,000.

But it will make no difference to the couple, who paid £215 for their building and contents policy last year. They are fully covered and will pay only a £100 excess.

However, not all homeowners are as fortunate. Renters don’t need building insurance policies — their landlords should have taken care of that — but a third of adults don’t have contents cover either, leaving them completely unprotected for their possessions, according to market research firm Mintel.

Others may not have the right level of cover, which can mean insurers could slash their payouts or at worst refuse claims entirely.

Comprehensive car insurance policies should pay out if your vehicle is damaged in a storm — however you are likely to lose any no claims discounts and you could see your premiums rise in the future. You should check to see whether you have windscreen cover.

If you only have third-party cover and your neighbour’s property damages your car, you may still be able to get a payout via their home policy if they were negligent. For example, tiles on a poorly maintained roof may have damaged your windscreen.

Tracey, who looks after customers in Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, tells me that the larger claims she deals with are rarely not covered.

Priority: Home insurance claims are logged according to how serious they are and if the damage is dangerous

Priority: Home insurance claims are logged according to how serious they are and if the damage is dangerous

Our next stop is an hour’s drive away in Brandon, Suffolk. It is another home hit by a fallen tree, a four-tonne 100ft birch which was due to be removed today.

But on our way there, Tracey receives a call from customer, David Palmer. He is concerned that if the tree surgeons drag the tree from the roof they could render the property uninhabitable.

David, 76, and his wife, Joan, 71, were offered temporary accommodation on Sunday, when heavy rain began spilling through holes in their roof. 

But the grandparents-of-two refused the offer. David, a retired electrician, had switched off the power, and got up during the night to empty buckets of rainwater.

‘I tend to find people with animals and sometimes the older generation don’t like to move out, so we try to do as much as possible to keep them in their house,’ Tracey tells me.

She informs David we are not far away and says we will discuss his options with the surveyor.

It is not the first time a tree has fallen into the Palmers’ garden. Four years ago, a branch from a neighbour’s tree broke their washing line.

The couple didn’t need to claim on their insurance on that occasion, but admit having been concerned for some time about the tree that’s now leaning against their roof.

But since it was protected by a Tree Preservation Order, the local council needed to give permission for it to be cut down.

On Friday morning, David was so worried he had removed his car from the garage and parked it in a local car park.

But shortly before 1pm, Joan heard a ‘big bang’ while she was watching television in the conservatory.

The tree had crashed through the couple’s fence onto their roof and destroyed a pergola. The insurer will cover the fence and pergola as they were damaged at the same time.

The insurer sent builders round on Sunday to drill holes into the ceilings of two bedrooms to allow rainwater to drip safely from the loft and prevent them collapsing.

The Palmers are determined to stay in their home to oversee the repairs. Eventually, the surveyor and the couple agree on two plans. Either a crane will be used to pull the tree off the property, or the garage door will be knocked down to allow a smaller piece of equipment access to the garden.

This will then be pushed under the tree to support it while it is winched up and off the roof, like a car jack.

The crane is a more expensive option and may cost around £20,000 — but it is preferable to the security risk that a temporary door in the garage would pose.

However, Aviva needs permission for an emergency road closure in order for the crane to park outside.

Tracey later tells me she estimates the total claim for the Palmers’ home may end up at around £35,000.

But the couple, who paid £335 for their M&S Premium policy (underwritten by Aviva), will only have to cover the £200 excess.

As Joan puts it: ‘If anyone is looking to cut back on their spending, just make sure it is not on your home insurance.’

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Shelter yourself from big losses 

Clauses tucked away in insurance policy terms and conditions can prove crucial in determining whether you’ll be eligible for a payout.

And definitions of what a storm is, and whether one has caused your damage, will differ between policies.

The Association of British Insurers defines a storm as gusts of at least 55mph, torrential rain falling at a rate of at least 25mm in an hour or at least 1ft of snow.

Small print: Clauses tucked away in insurance policy terms and conditions can prove crucial in determining whether you’ll be eligible for a payout

Small print: Clauses tucked away in insurance policy terms and conditions can prove crucial in determining whether you’ll be eligible for a payout

Aviva abides by the same wind speed, but it may consider less severe weather if a property is isolated. Others, such as RSA, do not have a set definition for a storm and rely on ‘individual circumstances’.

Policies without accidental damage cover won’t pay out if a tree’s branches fall on a property a week after a storm. 

This is because the storm may have loosened the branches but did not necessarily cause them to fall.

Fences, which are frequently blown over, are also rarely covered. And the average cost of repairing one is £939.50, according to review site checkatrade.com, with some jobs costing up to £2,000. However, if a tree takes a fence down as it falls, you may receive a payout.

Insurers may also reject claims if customers have failed to maintain their properties to avoid ‘wear and tear’. 

So if slates which should have been repaired months ago fall off, the firm may offer a reduced payout or nothing at all.

What can I claim on?

Insurers should cover the cost of any repairs if your claim is accepted. Any urgent work to prevent further damage or make the house safe is typically carried out within days.

Later, the insurer and surveyors will agree on a ‘schedule of works’ and an approximate timescale for repairs. 

If your home is uninhabitable, most firms will put you up in a hotel or pay for a long-term let if necessary. They may even give you a daily meal allowance.

Contents policies will cover damaged possessions — although you should declare high-value items, such as jewellery, when you set up the policy.

And if your belongings need to go into storage while work is carried out, your insurer should foot this bill.

Will I get cash back?

More than 370,000 homes lost power as a result of Storm Eunice. Anyone left without electricity for more than 48 hours as a result of bad weather is entitled to £70 in compensation — with another £70 for every additional 12 hours.

The maximum payment is capped at £700 and your electricity network operator can explain how to make a claim.

If you do not hear from the network after three months, find out which organisation covers your area by visiting nationalgrid.com or calling 105.

Major broadband and landline companies, including Sky, Virgin and BT, will also pay out £8.06 if your internet is not fixed two days after an outage.

The firms will continue to pay out £8.06 for each full day that your internet remains down through the Automatic Compensation Scheme.

All UK train companies will pay for journeys delayed by 15 minutes, ranging from 25 to 100 per cent of the ticket price, but you should get a full refund if your train is delayed by 120 minutes or more. Contact the company yourself, as it will not compensate you automatically.

 

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