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buildings insurance: storm damage

This section of our website sets out how we approach complaints involving buildings insurance disputes about storm damage.

overview

Buildings insurance policies generally cover financial loss caused by storm damage.

Complaints we see about claims for storm damage sometimes involve disputes between the consumer and the insurer about what actually constitutes a “storm”.

We also see complaints where the insurer does not consider damage to a building was caused by a storm - or where it does not consider damage that occurred during a storm was predominantly caused by that storm.

defining a storm?

Buildings insurance policies do not necessarily define what a storm is. But we say that a storm generally involves violent winds, usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow.

However, there can be circumstances where storm damage is caused to property without high winds occurring. This damage could be caused by extremes of other forms of bad weather.

Insurers will sometimes rely on the Beaufort Scale to justify whether or not they should meet a claim. The Beaufort Scale categorises wind speed on a scale of 0 to 12. Insurers sometimes say that only winds above a certain point on this scale represent "storm force" winds that are capable of damaging a building.

When we assess complaints, we do not rely solely on the wind speed measured on the Beaufort Scale. We may obtain local weather reports – but we will take into account that these may come from weather stations some distance away from the property that is the subject of the claim.

We will carefully consider all the evidence in each individual case to determine whether the loss claimed by the consumer was caused by a storm – or by another type of event.

what we take into account

When we investigate a complaint about an insurance claim for storm damage, there are three main issues we consider:

  • On the balance of the evidence, do we agree that storm conditions occurred on or around the date the damage is said to have happened?
  • Is the damage claimed for consistent with what we generally see as storm damage?
  • Were storm conditions the main cause of the damage? It could be that other factors were involved – and the damage might have occurred without the storm.

To answer these questions, we take into account weather reports, the condition of the property, and information about the storm conditions in question. We are likely to uphold the complaint if if the answer to all three is "yes".

accidental damage

Sometimes, we decide that there was no storm damage, or that the buildings were so poorly maintained it was reasonable for the insurer to decline a claim for storm damage. But the consumer may still be able to claim for some of their losses under the accidental damage section of their policy (if there is one).

There is more information about our approach to these types of cases in our note on accidental damage.

weather reports

We often obtain weather reports covering the period the storm is said to have occurred - so that we can assess the weather conditions at that time.

Although the weather station where the readings were taken may not be the exact location of the damaged property, they can still provide useful evidence of weather conditions at that time.

the condition of the property

We also take into account the condition of the property at the time the storm damage is said to have occurred.

For example, we may be asked to investigate a complaint involving a claim for a flat roof said to have been damaged by a storm. If we decide that the flat roof was already in a poor state of repair at the time of the storm – and we think that this would (or should) have been clear to the consumer – we are unlikely to uphold a complaint against the insurer for declining a claim for storm damage.

Many insurance policies exclude damage caused by wear and tear. Some also exclude damage caused by gradual deterioration or "gradually operating causes".

If an insurer has rejected a claim for damage that occurred during a storm for either of these reasons, we will assess what the dominant or effective cause of the damage actually was.

Where an insurance claim has been rejected - because the insurer says damage to a property that occurred during a storm resulted from wear and tear or gradual deterioration - we will assess what the dominant or effective cause of the damage actually was.

An example would be where a consumer claimed for damage to their roof following a storm – but the roof tiles already appeared to be in a poor condition before the storm. We would carefully consider whether the roof tiles would have been displaced regardless of the storm – or whether they were in a good enough condition to have remained in place for some time, had it not been for the storm.

If we decided that the roof tiles would have been displaced regardless of the storm, we are unlikely to uphold the complaint. But if we think it is likely that the tiles were in a good enough condition to have remained in place if the storm had not happened, we may uphold the complaint.

identifying when the storm that caused damage actually happened

To agree that the damage to a property being claimed for resulted from a storm, we generally have to be able to identify the particular storm that caused the damage. It is less likely that we will uphold a complaint if the claim relates to an unidentified storm. But we might uphold it if we see evidence that there were a number of storms over a certain period – and we decide that the damage was caused by one of these..

our approach to the complaints we see

damage to retaining walls

We see cases where the consumer complains that a retaining wall has collapsed following stormy weather. When we investigate complaints like this, we consider what the primary cause for the wall collapsing could have been.

Sometimes we decide that it is likely the collapse was caused by a gradual build-up of pressure behind the wall. This can be aggravated by "weep-holes" becoming blocked over time, by an absence of any "weep-holes" at all, or by incorrect mortar repairs in older walls.

"Weep-holes" and lime mortar allow moisture building up behind the wall to escape, easing pressure and reducing the chance of the wall collapsing. Most modern walls have weep-holes – but many older walls do not. We would not say a consumer was at fault for not adding weep-holes to a wall that had originally been built without them.

However, if we think that a wall has collapsed because of earth behind it becoming saturated over time, we would not regard this as storm damage (although this type of damage might be covered by other parts of a buildings insurance policy).

replacing parts of a property damaged by storm

We see cases where the insurer has agreed to a claim for storm damage, but, the consumer is unhappy with the material used in the repairs.

For example, where part of a roof has been damaged, replacement new tiles may initially look out of place compared with the existing weathered ones. Dissatisfied with the match of new and old tiles, the consumer may complain that the insurer has not replaced the entire roof.

In these cases, we look for evidence that the insurer has provided a reasonable match to the existing building structure when arranging repairs. We are unlikely to uphold a complaint just because the building materials the insurer has used look slightly different to existing materials which have weathered.

We take into account that external structures can weather quickly – which means that differences can soon disappear. We also consider whether there are any features that help to disguise the mismatch or draw attention to it – for example, posts, a sharp corner, or vegetation. If we decide that the insurer has used materials that do not provide a reasonable match, we may tell it to find a better match or to pay compensation to the consumer.

damage to contents as a result of storm damage

We sometimes receive complaints about claims relating to storm damage made under a contents insurance policy.

In some cases, we might uphold a complaint about a claim for damage to contents caused by a storm – but reject a claim for damage caused by the same storm that the consumer has made under a buildings insurance policy.

For example, following a storm, water might enter a property through gaps in the roof tiles and cause damage to house contents. A consumer might make a claim on their buildings cover for the damage to the roof, and on their contents cover for storm damage to their contents.

In this situation, we will consider whether the consumer was aware that there was damage to their roof. If we think that they were not aware, we might uphold the complaint relating to the contents insurance claim.

But we might still reject the buildings insurance complaint if we think that the primary cause of the damage to the roof tiles was wear and tear – rather than the identified storm.

damage as a result of snow

We sometimes receive complaints about insurance claims for damage caused as a result of a snow storm. Snowfall may sometimes constitute a storm where high volumes fall over a relatively short period of time – and the snowfall is extreme.

However, damage is often caused where snow falls gradually over a number of days. It is the weight of this snow which may cause roofs to collapse and other forms of damage.

In cases like this, we look at whether the damage was consistent with a snow storm - or related to maintenance issues. Case study C shows our approach in cases like this.

how we award redress on upheld storm-damage cases

Where we uphold a complaint, we are likely to tell the insurer to reconsider the storm damage claim – and deal with it in line with the policy terms and conditions.

If any payment is then due,we generally add simple interest at 8% per annum from the date of the loss to the date the claim is settled.

compensation for distress and/or inconvenience

We will tell the insurer to pay compensation where we decide it has caused the consumer distress or inconvenience in its handling of the claim.

case studies

case study A

Mr and Mrs A’s roof became damaged. But although their insurer agreed that the damage had occurred following a storm, it refused to cover the full costs of repair. It said that that nails securing the roof slates had been worn out – and that this “wear and tear” was excluded under the policy.

The insurer provided a note of a phone conversation from its representative. According to this note, a contractor had visited Mr and Mrs A's house and had noted that the nails securing the roof slates had rusted. However, the insurer could not provide a recording of this phone conversation or written confirmation from the contractor in question.

With the insurer's agreement, Mr and Mrs A instructed a second contractor to inspect the damage to the roof. This contractor's report indicated that the damage to the roof had occurred because of the storm. The report did not mention any wear and tear contributing to the damage.

We decided that the balance of evidence suggested that the cause of the damage was the storm. We told the insurer to reconsider the claim and to pay any settlement due to Mr and Mrs A.  

case study B

Following storm-force winds, a mosque’s minarets were damaged. The mosque claimed for storm damage under its buildings insurance and the insurer commissioned a report from a structural engineer..This report suggested that cracks in the minarets might have been caused by problems with the original design and construction of the mosque.

The insurer subsequently declined the claim for storm damage. Following an unsuccessful complaint, the mosque referred the complaint to us.

In our investigation of the case, we noted that the engineer had described his report as being “based on a limited assessment” of the evidence – and that he had asked for further structural plans to make a more detailed assessment. The insurer had declined to commission further reports, as it considered the cost of the insurance claim did not merit this.

We decided that if the insurer wanted to reject the claim - on the basis of the unsound construction and structure of the building - it would need to rely on more compelling evidence than a "limited" engineer's report.

We also took the view that the engineer’s comments that the winds prevailing prior to the damage were “strong rather than extreme” were countered by weather reports we saw showing wind speeds of 73mph – Force 12 (hurricane) on the Beaufort scale.

Based on the evidence we had been provided with, we concluded that storm was more likely the cause of the damage to the mosque than any structural defect. We told the insurer to treat the mosque’s insurance claim as one for storm damage under the policy’s terms and conditions.

case study C

Mr F’s conservatory became damaged. He said that the damage was caused by heavy snowfall over a period of days – which he believed constituted a snow storm. Mr F’s insurer rejected his claim, saying that the damage was not covered as an insured event such as storm damage. It pointed out that Mr F could have claimed under accidental damage –  if he had taken out this type of cover.

The complaint was referred to us. We decided that there had been a significant amount of snow on the roof of the conservatory before the damage had occurred. In our view, a one-off event of extreme snowfall would constitute a storm. But this was snow that had built up gradually over a period of days. We did not uphold Mr F’s complaint.

ombudsman news features

what caused the damage – poor maintenance or “insured risk”?

 storm damage case studies:

additional resources

The following information may also be useful:

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: storm damage
  • 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.