Claims could be rejected if you ignore small print
Homeowners must check their insurance policy to ensure they don’t install the wrong locks or alarms
Anna Mikhailova Published: 21 July 2013
HOMEOWNERS should check the small print of their contents insurance to avoid getting caught out by specific demands that could invalidate claims.
Installing an alarm, a safe or window locks may lead to the impression that homeowners are better protected. But choose the wrong type of alarm or other security measure and insurers may turn down a claim, moneysupermarket.com, the comparison site, has warned.
Policy requirements vary from insurer to insurer and, with specialist providers, can alter on a case-by-case basis.
Understanding the details of your policy, and keeping your insurer up to date about any new possessions and changes to your home, are key to ensuring you are covered.
The Financial Ombudsman Service received about 2,000 complaints on home and contents insurance over the past year, more than 40% of which were upheld in homeowners’ favour.
Choose the right alarm — and set it
If you have a lot of valuable personal items or live in an area with a high risk of theft, an insurer will require you to have an alarm of a certain specification.
For example, insurers make a distinction between a “bells-only” alarm, which could deter intruders by making a noise but will not automatically trigger an emergency response, and a monitored system, which is connected through your telephone to a security service or the police.
Usually when an insurer requests an alarm is installed, it will refuse cover if the homeowner does not comply.
Installing an alarm when one has not been demanded is unlikely to reduce the price of your contents policy and could be a substantial waste of money.
A bell-only alarm system can cost £300, while an alarm connected to a monitoring company could cost about £500.
Andrew Boldt, managing director of Insurance Tailors, the broker, said: “There is something of a myth around the fact that installing a burglar alarm will automatically mean a reduction in your insurance premium.”
However, Mark Greening, head of home insurance at gocompare.com, said some insurers offer discounts for customers with particular burglar alarms. These include Legal & General and LV.
If you tell your insurer that you have a burglar alarm, you will be expected to use it. So if you regularly do not set the alarm when away from home, even if it is just to pop to the shops, it may not be worth declaring that you have one.
Similarly, if you have a safe but do not use it, some insurers may refuse to pay out for the theft of valuables.
Paul Lawler of Moneysupermarket said: “If you have expensive jewellery and you have declared that you can lock it away, but then it is stolen after not being locked away, an insurer could decline the claim.”
Your cover could also be invalidated by the alarm not being in working condition or not being maintained on a regular basis.
Know your locks
Often insurers insist that locks are to be placed on all accessible windows. Most people take this to mean only ground-floor or basement windows, but it is any window that could be vulnerable, such as one that could be accessed by climbing on a shed roof, a flat roof or a balcony.
Windows that are painted shut are not considered an acceptable alternative. Only approved locks will ensure your policy is valid.
Lawler said: “People have problems understanding the different types of locks required. They risk being refused a claim because they don’t know what a five-lever mortice deadlock is, for example.”
The comparison site has a guide to the locks required by different insurers to help customers when buying policies. As well as doing your own research, speak directly to your insurer to clarify what exactly you are covered for.
Greening from Gocompare said: “If you are seriously stuck on what locks you have or you are puzzled by your policy documents, it is always worth giving your insurer a call to clear things up.”
Lawler added: “The things people need to watch out for is saying you have window locks on accessible windows but then not locking them and having to make a claim as a result — an insurer could decline a claim on this basis.
Leaving an empty house
If you leave your home unoccupied for more than 28 days without informing your insurer, your policy could be invalidated.
Some providers will pay out for theft only if a customer can prove there has been forcible or violent entry to their property. Check your policy to see if this restriction applies.
Keen Tweeters should be careful about posting details about their beach-side antics on the microblogging site. Brokers have warned that insurers could regard this as broadcasting the fact that your home is empty.
If you were burgled while away, your claim could be rejected as a result.
Finally, any upgrade to a television or other technology should be declared to your insurer as it could refuse to replace the newer, costlier model if there is a break-in or an accident.