Flooded? Hints about making an effective insurance claim

A flooded home is a horrible experience. But you have been paying your insurer to cover you against just such a possibility. So you should receive financial and other assistance in putting your property back in order. At least that’s the theory. In the majority of cases, it will also be the outcome. However, a significant number of people encounter difficulties when making an insurance claim, at worst having their claim rejected. What follows are some hints about maximising your chances of your insurance claim being accepted and without undue delay.

1. Take all steps as soon as possible. Delay could cause difficulty with your insurer.

2. Take photos or video clips, if you can, of the flood and of the damage it leaves. Ensure that digital photos have time and date details on or linked to them.

3. Try to find your most recent insurance documents. These are likely to include an annual notification (often called an “insurance schedule”) which sets out the period of insurance and a summary of what is covered. The detailed terms of the insurance policy may be contained in a separate printed booklet, perhaps sent in a previous year and updated by a document explaining amendments to it. It is possible that the documents will have been sent to you by email.

4. The documentation should contain instructions as to how to notify the insurer that you have suffered loss and wish to make a claim. Often you will be required to phone a specified number. Act on those instructions at once. Check for any further steps to be taken or conditions to be fulfilled and, again, action them as soon as possible.

5. It is possible that your insurance documents will have been lost or damaged in the flood. The same may apply to your laptop or other devices, making your electronic records inaccessible. If so, there are various options:

(i) If you took out insurance via a broker, contact the broker and request copies of the documents. You can also ask the broker to assist you in making your claim.

(ii) If you purchased insurance direct from the insurer, find the insurer’s website and check any instructions given for how to give notification of a claim. Act on those instructions at once.

(iii) If you cannot get on-line, find a phone number for the insurer and call it. Once you talk to someone, explain the position and ask how to report the flood and to make a claim. Again, act at once on any instructions given.

6. Make a written or electronic note, as soon as possible, setting out when and how you notified the insurer of the flood and of your claim. Include the name of the person you spoke to (if that is how it was done) and the details of what you said and what was said to you.

7. Continue to makes notes of all communications you have with the insurer and anyone representing the insurer and of all relevant facts and actions taken in relation to the flood and your claim, for instance when the flood occurred, the height of the water and which parts of your property it affected, the damage it caused and the immediate actions taken by you or others, such as moving upstairs or being moved by the police or other authorities. It is a good idea to keep all such notes in one place, such as a diary, “exercise book” or electronic document. Take photos of written notes in case they get lost and back up electronic documentation.

8. Once you have notified your insurer that you have suffered loss and wish to make a claim, the insurer will probably ask you to provide evidence of the “insured event” (i.e. the flood) and of the damage it has caused. Provide such evidence as quickly and fully as you can.

9. The insurer may appoint a “loss adjuster” to handle your claim. The insurer should tell you whether the loss adjuster has full authority to handle your claim from start to finish or whether, following the loss adjuster’s report to the insurer, you will need to have further contact with the insurer.

10. Problems can arise when an insured person takes some step, such as making initial repairs or disposing of damaged property, before the insurer has been notified of the claim or has given approval for the repairs etc. The answer may be found in the wording of the insurance policy or related document, but, if in doubt, discuss the matter with your insurer or broker before doing anything. If time or circumstances do not allow for that, you will probably not go far wrong if:

(i) you take action to prevent immediate harm to persons or animals or further damage to property; but

(ii) otherwise, do not take any action without your insurer’s approval.

11. If you run into a problem with your insurer:

(i) Insurers are required to have an internal complaints procedure, which should usually be used.

(ii) If your complaint is rejected, you should be informed of your right to take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (“FOS”) within 6 months of the insurer’s final decision upon your complaint. If the insurer has not responded to your complaint within 8 weeks, you can complain to the FOS without waiting longer. There is no charge for making a complaint to the FOS, which can award compensation of up to £150,000 and make a non-binding recommendation that the insurer pays more. The complainant has the option to accept or reject the FOS’s decision. If the decision is accepted, the complainant cannot then bring a claim in court for further compensation. The FOS does not have power to order an insurer to pay the complainant’s legal costs (except for quite small amounts in limited circumstances).

(iii) Many solicitors (this firm included) will offer an initial free consultation to establish whether yours is a case they can take on and on what terms. If we consider that your case has a 60% or better chance of success in court, we may offer to take it forward for you on a “no win, no fee” or “no win, lower fee” basis. If the case went to court (many claims are settled before that stage) and were lost, you would have no, or lower, liability (as the case may be) for this firm’s fees, but you would be likely to be ordered to pay a substantial part of the insurer’s legal costs. It is possible to obtain specific insurance to cover such potential liability.

(iv) Insurance law is a complex subject and, in the event of a problem, it is important to obtain specialist legal advice.

This guide is for general information and interest only and should not be relied upon as providing specific legal advice.  If you require any further information about the issues raised in this article please contact the author or call 0207 404 0606 and ask to speak to your usual Goodman Derrick contact.