How to mount a challenge if insurer refuses to pay out for storm damage - Jenny Ross

Jenny Ross, of Which?, considers a major personal finance issue linked to storm damage.

Dear Jenny

In January Storm Corrie ripped a flat roof cover off my home. The surveyor, acting for the insurer, said the damage was due to ‘wear and tear’ and gradual deterioration – meaning it’s excluded by the insurer. I’m not convinced by this explanation, as the roof cover survived Storm Malik just days before. Do I have to accept the surveyor’s opinion?

Damage to your property from extreme weather is exactly the sort of problem that home insurance is designed to help with. It’s just as well, considering the potential costs involved: the average payout for weather-related claims doubled between 2008 and 2019, according to the Association of British Insurers, from £1,919 to £3,722.

A yacht sails across the North Sea under storm clouds Picture: PA

But insurers are sticklers for detail, and the label they put on the damage in question is crucial in determining whether or not you have a valid claim.

Specific exclusions vary from insurer to insurer, but as a general rule of thumb your home insurance is unlikely to cover you for wear and tear or damage caused due to lack of maintenance. In other words, don’t expect a payout for a moth-eaten carpet, or a rotten window frame.

Instead, your policy is supposed to step in when damage is caused by sudden events - like a fire, a flood, or a storm.

This might sound clear cut, but establishing how damage occurred, and which part of it the insurer is liable for, can be far from straightforward. That’s why an insurer will often send a loss adjuster round to look at your property and make a call on whether there is a valid claim.

Despite what the loss adjuster has concluded in your case, the fact that your roof cover survived Storm Malik just days before the impact of Storm Corrie strongly suggests that gradual deterioration was not the problem here.

The simple answer to your question is no, you don’t have to accept this opinion. The same goes for anyone who finds themselves in a similar position: challenge your insurer and push for more information or explanation if necessary. Strengthen your case by gathering any evidence to support your opinion about the cause of the damage - this might include photos and videos of the damage, and proof of any recent repairs.

Another option for those dealing with a large claim and an intransigent insurer is to appoint your own loss assessor to get a second opinion from an expert, but you’ll need to weigh up the additional costs involved.

If your insurer doesn’t back down, escalate your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. You usually have six months from the time you reach a deadlock with your insurer in which to make a complaint.

When it comes to renewal, think twice about sticking with the same insurer after the experience you’ve had. Insurers are now banned from charging existing customers more to renew their policy than they’d pay as a new customer, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get a better price from a different insurer by shopping around - and you might get better service in the event of a claim too.