Storm damage: why insurers won’t clear away a fallen tree
Just as insurers and home owners were coping with unprecedented floods, last weekend s gales inflicted different damage to thousands of properties. Many readers have written, phoned or emailed our offices with questions relating to trickier aspects of storm-related claims. We asked leading independent brokers and surveyors as well as underwriters and claims handlers employed at major household insurers for some of the answers.
What happens when you make a storm-related claim?
In the first instance an insurer is likely to check that there were indeed storm conditions in your area. Then, depending on the likely cost, an assessor may be sent out either an employee of the insurer or an independent surveyor engaged by them.
Martyn Foulds, senior claims manager for Halifax Home Insurance, explained: Part of their job will be to see whether the damage was the result of the storm or due to a lack of general upkeep which became apparent because of the storm. The insurance is there to cover against sudden and unforeseen events it s not a maintenance contract.
Roof damage and broken tiles
Roof damage is one area where assessors will be looking for signs of poor maintenance, as claims can be very large. If, for example, ridge tiles blew off in a high wind, surveyors would be looking for signs that the mortar had perished, said Russell Byrne, underwriting director at Legal General.
In that case we might conclude the damage was not caused by the storm itself.
Mr Foulds said: It is the cause of damage that is the issue. We would be looking for evidence of violent damage not just something having reached the end of its life.
But would your insurer give you the benefit of the doubt? Leonard Ormonde, a broker with M N Insurance, said: Most quality insurers look sympathetically at claims, and some will go out of their way to help policyholders including even sending flowers. But each is different. One insurer might look at a roof and say: There are signs of storm debris there, we will settle. Others might want to see invoices showing the roof has been regularly inspected.
Ridge tiles which bridge the peak of sloping roofs and flat roof surfaces are especially vulnerable areas, where lack of upkeep shows first, insurers say. Every building component has a limited lifespan, said Mr Foulds. As a rule of thumb, flat roofs need replacing every 10 years.
What if your tiles or chimney pots damage someone else s property?
It is not uncommon for slates to tear off buildings in high winds and damage other properties or vehicles. In the latter case, the car owner s insurer is likely to pay initially, and then pursue the insurer of the person who owned the roof from which the tiles came. Here, the roof owner s insurer should pay out without quibble under the third-party liability element of the buildings cover.
These claims are relatively rare, however.
Will damaged fences or boundary walls be covered?
The broad answer is that boundary walls will be covered, as long as the damage is not the result of poor maintenance, while panelled fencing won t. Mr Foulds said: There is an understanding that flimsier structures, such as panelled fencing, aren t covered.
The exception is where fencing is damaged by falling trees or masonry (see below). Or, said Mr Ormonde, in some bigger claims when the main property was damaged along with fencing, all the work might be undertaken together.
If a tree on your property falls without causing damage to another structure, don t call your insurer. Even when damage is caused, the insurer is likely only to cut away and remove whatever is necessary to undertake the repair. The argument is that the tree belongs to the property owner, and is therefore theirs to dispose of, said Mr Byrne.
The same applies to neighbours trees: your insurer will cover damage to your property, but won t necessarily pay for the removal of debris beyond what is necessary for the repair work.
Panelled fencing is usually covered when it is damaged by fallen trees.