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Claiming on house insurance for a water leak

Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out whether you have burst pipe, leak and water damage insurance. Here’s how to make sure you’re properly covered before disaster strikes and what to do if you need to claim on your house insurance.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out whether you have burst pipe, leak and water damage insurance. Here’s how to make sure you’re properly covered before disaster strikes and what to do if you need to claim on your house insurance.

Written by
Anna McEntee
Home, pet and travel insurance expert
Reviewed by
Rachel Lacey
Insurance and money expert
Last Updated
21 DECEMBER 2023
8 min read
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Does buildings or contents insurance cover burst water pipes?

Most buildings insurance will cover you for water damage as standard. Insurance providers often call this ‘escape of water damage’ and it’ll cover you whether damage is caused by burst pipes in winter, a leaky washing machine or an overflowing toilet.

The situation with your home’s contents is more complicated. If you have accidental damage cover as part of your home insurance, your contents may be covered, but this isn’t guaranteed. If the water damage is caused by a slow leak – something you should have identified and repaired sooner – then your possessions may not be covered and any claim could be rejected.

How to make an escape of water claim

If you have a burst water pipe or a leak it can leave you with a lot of expensive damage to your home to deal with.

So what should you do when you discover a water leak, burst pipe or other escape of water?

1 - Minimise leak damage

As soon as you spot a leak, or damage caused by a leak, you should act immediately. If you can see what’s causing the leak, for example if it’s a burst pipe, turn off the water at the main stopcock and the water tank, if you have one. Run the taps to drain the system. If the leak is bad enough, you may also want to turn off your electricity.

Move any belongings such as furniture or clothes out of the way to prevent further damage.

2 - Contact your insurance provider

Contact your insurance provider straight away to seek advice. Many providers operate 24-hour helplines. They will advise on next steps in making a claim and could even help arrange professional repairs.

Get the leak fixed by a reputable tradesperson as soon as possible. This will help prevent secondary damage. If you have home emergency cover, this might include urgent repairs.

You might need to hold off repairing other damage until it has been inspected by your insurance provider. Confirm this before you get any work done other than stopping the leak and any essential emergency repairs.

3 – Record evidence

Take pictures of the leak and of any damage it has caused.

When you speak to your insurance provider, ask them what you need to do about recording and keeping any evidence. You may need to keep damaged items until a loss adjuster has inspected them.

4 - Book a trace and access service

With some leaks it’s very clear where the water is coming from. However, many pipes are hidden underground, behind bath panels and kitchen units or under floorboards. And a damp patch isn’t necessarily where the leak is. So you might need a leak detection expert to find the cause of your problem.

If you have trace and access cover as part of your home insurance, it can cover the cost of this. But trace and access only covers the cost of finding the root cause of the problem. It won’t cover the cost of repairing the leak or any damage it’s caused.  The ‘escape of water’ sections in your home insurance policy will tell you what repairs you’re covered for and can claim for.

5 - Meet with the loss adjuster

Depending on the size and nature of your claim, your insurance provider may send a loss adjuster to investigate. The loss adjuster will:

  • Work out the cause of the problem
  • Decide if you’re fully covered
  • Calculate the cost of repairs.

Once the loss adjuster has considered your case, your insurance provider will evaluate your claim and give you their decision on whether they will pay out and how much. Remember, not all insurance providers will pay out for damage caused by slow leaks if you could have fixed the problem earlier.

You can appoint your own loss assessor if you want to, if you dispute the loss adjuster’s estimates or to get help with your claim.

6 - Complete repairs

If your insurance provider has agreed to pay your claim, you’ll need to check with them if they want you to use their approved tradespeople, or if they're happy for you to get estimates for repairs from your preferred tradespeople. Check the terms and conditions of your policy for more info on this.

7 - Prepare your contents claim

You may need to make a separate claim on your contents insurance if any of your possessions are damaged. Again, you’ll need to record evidence of the damage and keep the possessions for inspection if necessary.

Did you know?

The average cost of a weather-related home insurance claim for burst pipes was £9,300 in 2021, according to the Association of British Insurers.

What causes burst pipes?

Freezing temperatures in winter are the biggest cause of burst pipes. Sub-zero temperatures cause any water that’s sitting in your pipes to freeze and expand – eventually causing a crack or rupture. When the ice melts, the water leaks out.

Your pipes might also burst if they become clogged and the water pressure increases.

My pipes are frozen. What should I do?

If you find that your pipes are frozen, there are a number of steps you can take to prevent or limit any damage:

  • Turn the water supply off at your stopcock. 
  • Try thawing the pipes with a hot-water bottle or hairdryer. Never pour boiling water directly onto a frozen pipe as it may cause a crack. 
  • If this doesn’t work, call an emergency plumber. 
  • Call your insurance provider. Most have a 24-hour helpline, so you can reach them at any time of the day or night.

Acting quickly is the best way to prevent the potential damage caused by a burst pipe. If you don’t know where your stopcock is – locate it now. It’s usually under the kitchen sink or in the downstairs loo.

How can I make sure I have adequate insurance cover if my home’s flooded?

If you’re looking for a new home insurance policy, or just want to make sure you’re adequately protected by your existing cover, there are a few things to keep in mind: 

  •  Check you’re covered for the cost of repairing or replacing burst pipes. This isn’t the same as ‘escape of water’ insurance, which may only cover you for any damage the leak causes.  
  • Trace and access insurance can be extremely useful. This will cover the cost of finding the source of a leak. Find out if it’s included in your home insurance. 
  • Check your excess. Claims for escape of water often have a higher compulsory excess – the amount you pay towards any claim.

How can I prevent burst pipes and leaks?

While burst pipes and leaks are sometimes unavoidable, there are a few ways you might be able to reduce the risk. These include:

  • Making sure your pipes are properly lagged - all pipes and tanks in loft spaces, and anywhere else that could be liable to freezing, should be fully lagged.
  • Leaving your heating on if you’re away during a cold snap – even if it’s just for an hour a day or at a low level.
  • Consider leaving your loft trap door open if you’re away during the winter – this can help prevent cracked pipes by letting warm air circulate in the loft space. Also ask a friend or relative to visit regularly. That way, any leak should be spotted quickly.
  • Having a plumber install your appliances. Don’t try to do it yourself unless you’re confident of doing everything correctly.
  • Installing a leak-detection device. Different devices work in different ways. Simple ones are battery operated, placed on the floor and sound an alarm when moisture is detected. Others trigger alarms, send notifications to your smart devices and automatically shut off water to prevent damage. Some monitor water pressure in pipes to detect minor leaks before a major pipe bursts. With simple systems, you just need to place sensors in areas where leaks are common. More sophisticated systems may require professional installation to fit in-line devices and automatic shut offs.
  • Check for visual signs of a leak. Look under sinks and behind bath panels for any tell-tale cracks, drips or leaks.
  • Use your stopcock. If your pipes burst, the stopcock allows you to turn off the water and limit the damage.
  • Don’t use your dishwasher or washing machine while you’re out. That way you can hopefully spot a leak before it becomes a major problem.
  • Turn off the water if you’re going away for any length of time.

What if the burst pipe is a mains water pipe?

If a mains water pipe bursts and cuts off your water supply, the water company must restore your supply within 12 hours. If it’s a strategic main pipe, that time limit extends to 48 hours, but your water company has certain obligations. For instance, it must tell you:

  • Where you can access an alternative water supply
  • When it will have your supply up and running again
  • Who to call for more information.

If your water company doesn’t fulfil these obligations, you could be entitled to compensation – £20 for the first 24 hours and £10 for every extra day that you’re without a mains water supply.

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Anna McEntee - Insurance expert

Anna’s all about delivering fantastic insurance products at a great price. Value is the most important thing for Anna, as she cuts through the jargon and finds what’s most important and worth your hard-earned money.

Learn more about Anna

Rachel Lacey - Insurance and money expert

Rachel’s a self-confessed money nerd who’s been writing about personal finance for more than 20 years. She spent 17 years writing for Moneywise, including a few years as Editor, and likes making complicated subjects like insurance, pensions, investing and tax, easy for people to understand.

Learn more about Rachel

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