The do's and dont's of home insurance

Imagine how stressful it would be to claim on your home insurance only to find out that your insurance provider refuses to pay out. To help make sure you don't find yourself in that unfortunate situation, we’ve outlined some common mistakes that homeowners make and how to avoid them.

Imagine how stressful it would be to claim on your home insurance only to find out that your insurance provider refuses to pay out. To help make sure you don't find yourself in that unfortunate situation, we’ve outlined some common mistakes that homeowners make and how to avoid them.

Chris King
From the Home team
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Posted 2 JANUARY 2020

What do I need to do to prevent invalidating my home insurance?

To prevent invalidating your home insurance policy, there are various things that you need to do, and certain information you need to tell your insurance provider.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) reported that between 2015 and 2016, 20% of home insurance claims were rejected by insurance providers. It suggests that the reasons for this are "the complex nature of add-ons and limits can appear daunting to consumers, with this confusion ultimately leading to underinsurance".

So let's clear this up and help you to make it more likely that any future claim you make is paid out. We'll highlight some of the key things you need to do to avoid potentially invalidating your cover, with the result that your insurance provider refuses to pay out on a claim on the grounds that you haven't:

  • taken certain steps to protect your home
  • shared required information with them

Make sure you read your policy documents carefully so that you know what your insurance provider expects from you.

And to ensure your claim is paid in full, you need to make sure you have the right level of cover for the protection you need so you’re not underinsured. So make sure you correctly value the contents of your home and calculate up to date rebuilding costs. If you get a quote through Compare the Market, we can help you do both of these easily when you get a quote for home insurance.

Eight things you must do to avoid invalidating your home insurance

There are certain things you need to do to help ensure that your claim will be paid:

1. Keep your property well maintained
If poor maintenance has led to a claim (for example, failure to fix a leak meant your ceiling fell in), then your cover could be invalid. Act quickly and make sure you find a reliable plumber – The Association of British Insurers found that 28% of domestic home insurance claims in 2016 were classified as for 'escape of water'. Also note that general wear and tear is not typically covered by your buildings insurance.

2. Make sure you secure your property
Some insurance providers will only pay out for a burglary claim if your home shows signs of forced entry. So, if you leave windows or doors open or unlocked, or you hide keys near the front door, you could invalidate your claim. Be honest and accurate when you describe your door and window locks – if you make a claim, they may check your descriptions match what the assessors find.

3. Secure any outbuildings
Make sure you lock your garage or shed, especially if you have valuable tools inside. Don't forget opportunist thieves who might take advantage of you popping into the house for a few minutes. A claim for stolen tools could be refused unless there are signs of forced entry. It’s also worth checking whether your policy has a monetary limit for cover in outbuildings.

4. Change your locks if you lose your keys
If you lose your keys, ensure you change the locks as soon as possible. It's worth checking your policy as you may have cover for replacement locks and keys. If you don't change the locks immediately, then someone could break in without technically 'forcing entry', which could mean any subsequent claim would not be paid.

5. Remember to activate alarms
If you’ve got an alarm system, use it. If you’ve stated to your insurance provider that a burglar alarm is fitted and used, then any claim for theft may be invalid if your alarm wasn’t set at that time.

6. Don't deliberately cause damage to your property
Although most policies cover malicious damage, insurance providers won’t cover you for deliberate damage caused by yourself, or a family member insured under the policy. That means should you, a friend or family member lose your temper and throw something that breaks a window, then your insurance provider will almost certainly not cover you for the resulting damage.

7. Don't use appliances you know to be faulty
Some insurance providers may refuse to pay for a claim if damage was caused by an appliance that you knew to be faulty – but still used anyway. For example, if you were aware of a manufacturer’s recall for an electrical item that you chose to ignore and that item then caught fire and caused damage to your house, you may not be covered as this could be considered negligence. Make sure you follow the manufacturer's latest guidance.

It's also safest not to leave the house with an appliance running, such as a washing machine. It's worth knowing that of the 27,289 accidental fires in homes in 2016/17, 35% were caused by "misuse of equipment or appliances". The second largest cause category was "faulty appliances and leads", which caused 16% of all accidental fires in homes. So don't use that dodgy lead – replace it with a safe one.

8. Don't announce a holiday on social media
Insurance providers are paying more and more attention to social media. So, if you tell everyone on Facebook that you're going on holiday– announcing your home will be empty for a few days – you could invalidate your insurance as they will view your actions as negligent. The same thing can apply to posting holiday snaps while you are abroad on Instagram.

Five things you need to tell your home insurance provider

There are certain things that you must tell you insurance provider to prevent your home insurance being invalidated:

1. If you plan to take an extended break away from home
If your property is empty for 30 days or more, your policy might be invalidated and your insurance provider could refuse to pay out if you make a claim. So, if you’re intending to go elsewhere for a few weeks, it’s advisable to tell your insurance provider.

2. If there are changes in your circumstances
Generally, home insurance policies are invalidated if information comes to light, which had the provider known about when you originally purchased your policy would have meant they weren’t willing to insure you. That’s why it’s important to give the most accurate information possible when you take out a policy. It’s vital you make your provider aware of any changes in your circumstances when the policy is in place, such as extensions, and even if you change your job or have children

3. Before you make any home improvements
If you’re having any work done to your property, whether that’s a new kitchen fitted or an extension built, you should inform your insurance provider. The work could involve builders entering the property, and your house may be less secure, so an insurance provider could see this as an increased risk. Your provider may place special conditions on your policy during the building work to cover for this risk. If you rent your home and have only contents insurance, you’ll still need to tell your insurance provider.

4. After you make certain home improvements
If you’re making significant alterations to your home, you may need to consider whether the build cost of your home has increased. This is likely if you are adding a bedroom or an extension, but unlikely if you're just renovating an existing bathroom or kitchen. But as always, it's sensible to check with your insurance provider.

5. If you use your home as business premises
If you run your business from home and customers visit, then your insurance provider could see this as an increased risk of theft or damage. Make sure you declare you have a home business when you start a home insurance quote. You might want to consider taking out additional business insurance if your home policy doesn’t offer the cover you need. 

How do I know what I'm insured for, and what I'm not?

Always read your home insurance policy documents in detail. Look carefully at any exclusions so you understand them fully. Not only do the policy documents explain the levels of cover offered, they explain the obligations placed upon you. Ensuring you meet those obligations will help keep you covered in the event that you need to make a claim.

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