Compare your home insurance
Setting out to buy insurance sometimes feels like heading upstairs for something, and arriving on the landing with mind a total blank. Questions about whether you are covered for a hamster chewing through the floorboards, or a pan burning the counter top might result in the same sort of mental block. Buildings and contents being bundled into one policy probably doesn’t help make things feel simpler, and a straightforward question like, ‘Which policy covers the carpeting?’ can be surprisingly difficult to answer.
Building and contents insurances are two distinct types of policy, although it is commonplace to treat them as one. They can be purchased individually, renewed at separate times and bought through different insurers. Mortgage lenders will insist on building insurance being in place as part of a mortgage contract. Contents insurance is not compulsory in the same way, but, as it generally covers fixtures such as carpets and curtains, which are likely to be included with a house sale, contents cover is often taken out at the same time, and thus renews with the building insurance.
Building insurance will, typically, cover householders for damage to the structure of the building from hazards such as fire, explosions, flood and storm damage, theft or attempted theft, malicious damage, water damage, damage caused by a natural disaster, or from being hit by falling objects.
The policy is likely to include outbuildings, and, possibly, driveways and boundary fences, and will generally cover those things which constitute the fixed structure of the building. This includes what may reasonably be described as permanent fixtures, i.e. sanitary ware, fitted kitchens and wallpaper.
Contents insurance protects those possessions which the homeowner could reasonably take with them when moving. This includes furniture, carpets and curtains. Whilst it is normal practice in the UK for fitted carpets and curtains to be included in a house sale, it is an industry convention that they are included on a contents policy, and this tends to be upheld by the courts in the event of any dispute. The case becomes a little less clear when talking about hard floorings such as laminates. The basic principle which would underpin the resolution of any dispute, however, remains the extent to which the given floor is, or is not, moveable. For example, a floor which is glued down, clearly cannot easily be taken up and relocated, whereas a floating floor, which simply clicks and locks into place, may have been designed with ease of movement in mind.
For most homeowners who have both buildings and contents insurance, more ambiguous elements of any overall claim should be decided between the insurers involved, but in the event of failure to agree, complaints may be made to the Ombudsman.
Policies also include optional extras such as accidental damage. This can be added to both buildings and contents policies. Insurers do not list the types of accidental damage they do cover, and look at claims on an individual basis, but, taking the above as an example, a hot pan accidentally burning the counter top in a fitted kitchen might be the subject of a potential claim under the accidental damage option of a buildings policy. This is because fitted kitchens are normally classed as part of the permanent structure of the building. The same accident to a kitchen table would, however, form part of a potential claim under the accidental damage option of the contents policy. Hence, it is important to understand where one policy ends and the other begins.
Damaged caused by pets or vermin is often excluded from both types of policy, so pet owners’ need to be very clear about how their policies work.
Reading the policy documents and accompanying schedules is key to understanding what is insured and what is excluded. Whilst getting competitively priced policies is always important, knowing what you are buying is crucial. Taking the time to compare home insurance policies as well as prices, to make sure possessions are adequately covered, and that exclusions are understood, can save a lot of heartache in the event of a claim.