Home insurance an ill wind blows off both a roof and a policy claim Money The Observer

When is a storm not a storm? Your insurance company will explain. Photograph: David Jones/PA Archive

When Carol Milward’s garage roof blew off she assumed that her insurers would pay for the damage – so it came as a shock when the claim was rejected on the grounds the wind that did the damage was 2mph too slow to be classified as a "storm".

The total claim value with RIAS was around £650. "But they said they only paid out for storm damage for winds of 47mph or above," says Naomi Milward, 42, who challenged the insurer on behalf of her mother, 69, from the village of Bacton, Suffolk.

She got in touch following news in The Observer that of 4,800 members of consumer group Which. more than one in 10 who made a home insurance claim had it fully, or partly, rejected.

"This reason for rejection seemed ridiculous, so we contacted the Met Office, which confirmed the speed in the area at the time was 45mph," she says.

Naomi asked RIAS to highlight where in the policy documents wind speed was mentioned. "They couldn’t find this, and after several letters and calls disputing the unfairness of the rejection, my mother’s claim was eventually paid out," she says. "It was time-consuming to have to go to these lengths, and pull the excuses to pieces and do the research – but I didn’t want to sit back and let them wriggle out of money that my mother was due."

This case highlights the all-too common situation that many policyholders are finding themselves in when their claim is turned down unexpectedly. In the year to the end of March the Financial Ombudsman Service saw a 20% increase in complaints about insurers, the majority of which related to disagreements over claims.

"We hear from many consumers who have claims turned down for very similar reasons, and the number is rising," says a spokesman for the FOS. "In fact, the lack of a definition of ‘storm’ in many policies often leads to disagreements between the insurer and the consumer."

The ombudsman currently rules in the consumers’ favour in around half (46%) of complaints relating to buildings insurance. he added, so it is worth doing battle if you believe a claim is justified.

A spokesman for RIAS says: "The insurance market tends to consider a ‘storm’ as involving violent winds, usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow. A wind speed of 47mph is a standard approach to measuring the wind speed included as part of storm conditions, along with other adverse weather conditions."

If your property is damaged by extreme weather but your insurer refuses to pay out, you may want to provide proof of conditions at the time. You can call the Met Office, as it will provide detailed information on weather conditions to anyone who requests it, including insurers and claimants.

But a spokesman adds: "We supply data relating to insurance claims without added expert opinion, and it will depend on the insurer’s policy as to whether they pay a claim."

Graeme Trudgill from the British Insurers Brokers’ Association (Biba) adds, however, that policyholders should also check how far away from their home any meteorological reports are that the insurer uses to query a claim. "Weather conditions can be localised, so it could be that they’re not considering what they were around your exact location," he says.

To help your case, you could get an independent expert opinion from a builder or a structural engineer confirming that the damage could only have been caused by a storm, says Which?


Before making a claim on any insurance policy, make sure you’ve read the documents and fine print so you’re aware of any points that may be used to invalidate it. Also act quickly so that the details are fresh in your mind. Policies vary between insurers, but most providers will have in their wording something about deadlines and when you have to make a claim, which are typically around 30 days.

If you’ve suffered a break-in, flood, fire or storm damage to your home, photos can also prove useful to back up your claim. Also, keep receipts of any goods you’ve bought recently. If an item’s pretty new, the insurer might ask for proof of purchase if it is damaged or stolen. Insurers are wary of customers putting in pricey claims that don’t seem to fit with the rest of their possessions, so some form of proof will improve your claim’s credibility.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably need to follow up with phone calls. To make the process less stressful, make copies of any paperwork you receive or send, and note times and dates of any calls, and who you’ve spoken to.

If, after your efforts, a claim has not been settled after eight weeks, you can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service on 0300 1239123, which deals with the unfair treatment of customers by insurance companies, poor service and poor administration.

Have you had an insurance claim refused? What tips would you offer to ensure that a claim pays out?

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