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online technical resource

household insurance: repairs

This section of our website sets out our approach where a consumer complains to us about how an insurer has handled the repair of something insured under a household insurance policy.

This could involve something insured under a contents policy - such as a carpet or dishwasher - or under a buildings policy - such as repairs to a property following a flood.

overview

When a consumer's home or contents are damaged, the insurer will decide - if it accepts the claim - whether to:

  • replace the damaged item - if the contents policy offers "new for old";
  • repair or re-instate the damaged item; or
  • offer the consumer a cash settlement.

We often see complaints about the quality or the timeliness of repairs carried out. Consumers complain to us that:

  • the repairs took too long;
  • the repairs did not fix the damage;
  • the repairs caused additional damage; or
  • the damaged item should have been replaced instead of being repaired.

In most cases, we can reach a conclusion about the repairs by looking at the evidence that is already available. But we might ask for additional expert evidence if required - or we might encourage the two sides to agree a settlement between themselves.

The following sections give more detailed information about our general approach - when we investigate complaints about repairs under buildings and contents insurance policies:

who is responsible when something goes wrong with the repairs?

This depends on whether the repairs were carried out by:

  • approved repairers appointed by the insurers (or by the insurer's agent, such as the loss adjuster); or
  • repairers appointed by the consumer.

If the consumer appoints a repairer, we will consider whether the insurer explained to them that they, the consumer, would generally be liable if something went wrong.

if the repairers were appointed by the insurer

If the repairers were chosen by the insurer (or its agents) then, generally, the insurer will be responsible if something goes wrong with the repairs.

if the repairers were appointed by the consumer

If the repairers were chosen by the consumer then, generally, the consumer will be responsible if something goes wrong with the repairs.

But there are situations where the insurer may still be responsible, even though the consumer chose the repairer. For example:

  • if the insurer told the consumer to obtain estimates and the consumer received help from the loss adjuster to do this;
  • if the repairer was "controlled" by the insurer or its agents - for example, if it asked the repairer to cut its costs or to use certain materials or parts; or
  • if the insurer or its agents inspected the repairs and certified them as satisfactory.

But if the insurer had simply agreed to pay the repairer's bill, we would probably consider that it had not assumed control or responsibility for the repairs.

time taken to complete the repairs

If the repairs were not carried out within a reasonable time, we may tell the insurer to pay compensation for any distress and/or inconvenience incurred by the consumer as a result of the delay.

There is more information about non-financial loss - compensation for trouble and upset as part of our online technical resource.

what is "a reasonable time"?

This will depend on the particular circumstances of the claim, including:

  • the nature of the item needing repair;
  • how complicated the repairs were; and 
  • who was responsible for the delay.

For example - if the delay was caused by a spare part being unavailable, but the repairer made reasonable efforts to get it, we are unlikely to uphold a complaint that the repairs took too long.

But if the scope of the repairs was established and the insurer then simply failed to arrange the repairs - or its chosen contractor failed to attend - we would be likely to say this was not acceptable and that the insurer had failed its obligation to its policyholder.

alternative accommodation

In some cases involving extensive repairs to a building (such as a flood claim), the consumer may need to live somewhere else while the required repairs are carried out.

We generally take the view that the alternative accommodation should be comparable to the insured property - and should enable the consumer and their family to continue their normal work and leisure pursuits as easily and comfortably as possible.

Some repairs can take a long time to complete, which may cause the consumer some inconvenience. If the repairs were still completed within a reasonable length of time, we may decide that the insurer does not have to pay any additional compensation for distress and inconvenience.

But if the repairs took longer than they should have done - or the consumer was placed in inappropriate accommodation - we will consider whether it is appropriate to tell the insurer to pay any additional compensation for distress and inconvenience.

case study 1

Mr and Mrs A and their children had to move out of their home while it was being repaired following a subsidence claim. They were told the repairs could take between six and twelve months to complete. They rented a property on a six month lease. The repairs took nine months to complete and Mr and Mrs A had to renew the lease on the rented property.

We did not tell the insurer to pay additional compensation for inconvenience - as Mr and Mrs A had been made aware that the repairs might take longer than six months and there was no evidence of delays caused by the insurer's representatives.

case study 2

Mr and Mrs B and their children had to move out of their home while it was being repaired following a subsidence claim. They were told the repairs would take about twelve months to complete. They rented a property on a twelve month lease.

After twelve months, the repairs were nowhere near completion - following a dispute between the loss adjuster and the building contractors. Mr and Mrs B were not able to renew the lease on their property and could not find another rental property in the local area.

The only suitable accommodation they could find was a property twenty miles away, which meant that they had to drive their children to school and that they could not take part in their usual after-school and leisure activities. The repairs took another six months to complete.

Following our investigation - after the unresolved dispute was referred to the ombudsman service - we told the insurer to reimburse the expenses that Mr and Mrs B had incurred and pay compensation for the inconvenience caused by the delays in repairing the property.

the quality of repairs

Consumers sometimes say that repairs were faulty or not complete. This might happen when:

  • the insurer refuses to pay for damage it says occurred before the event that gave rise to the claim;
  • the consumer says the repairer caused additional damage; or
  • the consumer says the repairs carried out were simply not satisfactory or fit for purpose.

When we look at this type of complaint, we consider all the available evidence, including anything provided by the consumer, the insurer and the repairer. But we normally give greatest weight to reports from an independent expert.

The consumer is entitled to have their item or property returned to the same condition it was in before the insured event that gave rise to the claim. If we decide that the repairer has not done this, we usually say it should put things right.

If the repairer is unwilling or unable to do this, we may say the insurer should pay for the consumer's own repairer to do the work.

case study 3

Mr C's dishwasher was damaged after a water leak in his kitchen. Following inspection, it was decided that it was worth repairing the appliance. It was sent to a repairer appointed by the insurer. But when the dishwasher was re-installed, Mr C found it didn't work. It was sent back to the repairer who worked on it again, before re-installing it in Mr C's kitchen.

The dishwasher still did not work, and so Mr C complained to his insurer. He wanted his own repairer to carry out the work needed to fix the appliance. The insurer would not agree to this and so the dispute was referred to us.

On investigation, we were satisfied that the repairs carried out by the insurer's approved repairer were not carried out properly - and that Mr C had given them ample opportunity to put things right. We said that the insurer should pay for Mr C's repairer to carry out the work.

Where fixtures and fittings (such as kitchen units or bathroom fittings) need to be replaced as part of the repairs on a buildings claim, we generally take the view that the consumer is entitled to replacement products of the same quality as those that were damaged.

But where the product design was selected for a specific reason - for example, a particular bath required for a medical condition - and an equivalent is no longer available in the same quality range, we expect the insurer to act fairly and reasonably in settling the claim.

matching sets

Most insurance policies specifically limit the insurer's liability to repair the damaged item only. This can lead to complaints where the damaged item is part of a matching set - and cannot be repaired or replaced with something identical.

In these circumstances, insurers may decide to replace the damaged item with the nearest equivalent. But it can sometimes be difficult to obtain a match that is acceptable to the consumer.

In this situation, consumers usually say the insurer should pay for the entire set to be replaced. Generally, our approach is that the insurer should pay for the damaged item plus 50% of the rest of the matching set.

case study 4

Some tiles in Mrs D's bathroom were damaged. The insurer agreed to replace the damaged tiles. But as the policy specifically excluded the cost of replacing undamaged items that formed part of a set, it refused to pay for re-tiling the entire bathroom. However, after Mrs D complained to the insurer about this, it subsequently agreed to pay for 50% of the cost of re-tiling the bathroom.

Mrs D remained unhappy and referred her complaint to the ombudsman service. We were satisfied that the insurer's offer was in line with our general approach and was reasonable in the circumstances of her particular case.

subsidence repairs

There is more information about our approach to disputes involving building insurance and subsidence as part of our online technical resource.

underpinning and other repairs

When houses subside, the subsidence needs to be stopped before the property is damaged further. In the past, it was standard practice for underpinning to be carried out. Nowadays underpinning is used only in the most serious of cases.

It is more normal now for the insurer to identify the cause of the subsidence and stop its effect on the property by - for example - removing or "pollarding" vegetation, or repairing leaking drains.

Some consumers feel that anything less than underpinning is an inadequate repair. But most buildings insurance policies will only cover the cost of repairing the damage caused by subsidence, not proactively preventing any future subsidence.

In practice, so that the repairs are effective, the insurer needs to ensure that the property is stable. To do this, insurers will usually pay for any works needed straightaway to stabilise the property. But they will normally only pay for works needed to solve the immediate problem - and not to prevent the possibility of any future subsidence.

In the majority of cases we see, underpinning is not needed to stabilise the property - and would be considered preventative action, which is not covered under the insurance policy.

If an insurer uses a method other than underpinning, we will consider whether that method is adequate to stop the movement - or whether expert evidence indicates that underpinning would be more appropriate, taking into account all the circumstances of the case.

alternative accommodation

There is more information above about our approach to alternative accommodation.

In disputes involving subsidence, we will consider whether the situation actually made the home uninhabitable - from a health and safety perspective - rather than simply making the situation uncomfortable or inconvenient.

For example, we are likely to take the view that a home is uninhabitable if there is no electricity or running water. Simple redecoration is unlikely, however, to make a home uninhabitable.

help for businesses and consumer advisers

contact our technical advice desk on 020 7964 1400

This is part of our online technical resource which sets out our general approach to complaints about a wide range of financial products and issues. We would like your feedback on how helpful you found it. Please also use the feedback form below to tell us about anything you think we could clarify or explain better.

image: household repair
  • The law requires us to decide each case on the basis of our existing powers and what is fair in the circumstances of that particular case.
    We take into account the law, regulators' rules and guidance, relevant codes and good industry practice at the relevant time.
    We do not have power to make rules for financial businesses.
    Our current approach may develop in the light of circumstances disclosed by further cases we receive.
    We may decide that fairness requires a different approach in a particular case.