Buildings insurance policies usually cover financial loss caused by storm damage.
We say that a storm generally involves violent winds, usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow. But in some cases we may find there’s a storm without there being high winds. There are occasions where rain, hail, or snowfall by itself can constitute storm. Any extreme form of bad weather has the potential to cause damage to a property.
Types of complaints we see
The complaints we get are usually where a claim has been declined because there’s a dispute about:
- what actually constitutes a 'storm'
- whether the damage was caused by a storm
We also get complaints where the storm claim has been accepted but there’s a dispute about the repairs carried out to put the damage right.
What we look at
When an insurance claim for damage caused during bad weather has been declined, there are three questions we ask:
- 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 or were there other factors that meant the damage might have happened anyway?
To answer these questions, we’ll need to take into account:
- weather reports (official reports from a recognised weather database)
- the condition of the property
- information about the storm conditions in question, for example, what the customer tells us about the conditions they experienced
We’ll look at the policy wording too, bearing in mind that policies don’t always define what a storm is. In these cases, we’ll apply our own definition, which is that a storm generally involves violent winds, usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow.
Information about the weather
We’ll need to be satisfied that there were storm conditions at the customer’s location at or around the time the damage happened. And we’re unlikely to be persuaded where a customer says the damage was caused by a storm ‘some time in the past’ or by general bad weather over time.
But we might uphold the complaint if we see evidence that there were a number of storms over a period and we decide that the damage was caused by one of these.
One way to measure wind speed, for example, is by using the Beaufort Scale, which uses a scale of 0 to 12. Some insurers say that only winds above a certain point on this scale are storm-force winds that could damage a building.
When we assess complaints, we take into account the Beaufort Scale measurements, particularly if that’s how the insurer defined ‘storm’ in the policy. But that’s not the only factor we’ll think about. We’ll carefully consider all the evidence to decide whether there was a storm around the time the damage occurred.
We’ll get local weather reports covering the period the storm is said to have occurred in so that we can assess the weather conditions at that time.
The Met Office names storms, which serves as a good indication that the weather conditions at the time were indeed classed as a storm. But we’ll still check the weather records from the time, to find out:
- if it was a storm
- how intense the storm was
- where the storm was in relation to the insured property
Although weather stations could be a few miles from the customer’s property, they can provide useful evidence of weather conditions in the area at that time. The actual weather experienced by the customer could be a bit different from that recorded at the weather station.
Sometimes we’ll look at reports from more than one weather station to understand what sort of conditions the customer’s property is likely to have experienced.
So it’s about getting the fullest picture.
If the customer doesn’t know when the damage happened, because they were away or the damage wasn’t noticeable straightaway, it’s reasonable to look further back in the records.
We sometimes receive complaints about insurance claims for damage caused by snow, rain or hail. We consider a storm in the these circumstances to be when:
- high volumes of snow, rain or hail falls over a relatively short period of time
- the snow, rain or hail is extreme
The impact of snow falling rarely leads to a problem. Damage to property is usually caused because of the weight of the snow once it’s settled, such as a collapsed roof.
In these cases, we’ll look at whether the damage was consistent with a snowstorm or related to maintenance issues.
Read a case study about snowstorms.
The condition of the property
We take into account the condition of the property at the time the storm damage is said to have occurred.
There’s rarely evidence to show the exact condition prior to the storm. So we’re usually guided by what experts have said about the type of damage and its likely cause. Clear and detailed reports to explain the expert’s thinking – supported by photos of the damage – tend to be the most persuasive evidence.
Insurers usually have a report from a surveyor and sometimes customers will have received their own report.
We’ll consider all the evidence and think carefully about what the likely cause of damage was.
In some cases we see it’s clear the property wasn’t in a perfect condition before the storm. But that won’t necessarily mean the damage was a result of wear and tear. We’ll weigh up the information we have to see whether the condition of the property or the storm was the primary cause of the damage.
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. We’re unlikely to uphold a complaint if we decide that:
- the flat roof was already in a poor state of repair at the time of the storm and this would (or should) have been clear to the customer
- the storm merely highlighted this existing problem
Many insurance policies contain exclusions for damage caused in certain ways, particularly when it was a result of:
- wear and tear
- gradual deterioration (sometimes called gradually operating causes)
If you’ve rejected a claim for damage that occurred during a storm for these reasons, we’ll assess what the main cause of the damage actually was. We’ll bear in mind that the onus is on the insurer to show that an exclusion applies in order to rely on it to decline a claim.
Weather damage to roof tiles already in a poor condition
Mary claimed for storm damage to her roof following a storm, but the roof tiles were in a poor condition before the storm took place. We carefully weighed up:
- would the roof tiles have been displaced if the storm hadn’t have happened?
- were the roof tiles in good enough condition to have remained in place for some time?
We thought it likely that the tiles were in good enough condition to have remained in place if the storm hadn’t happened, so we upheld the complaint.
When we investigate complaints about retaining walls that have collapsed after stormy weather, we consider what the main cause could have been.
Weep-holes and lime mortar allow moisture that builds up behind a wall to escape, easing pressure and reducing the chance of collapse. Most modern walls have weep-holes but many older walls don’t. We wouldn’t say a customer was at fault for not adding weep-holes to a wall that had originally been built without them.
If we think that a wall has collapsed because of earth behind it becoming saturated over time, we wouldn’t see this as storm damage. But this type of damage might be covered by other parts of a buildings insurance policy.
We may decide that the collapse was probably caused by a gradual build-up of pressure behind the wall, aggravated by:
- weep-holes becoming blocked over time
- an absence of any weep-holes
- incorrect mortar repairs in older walls
Sometimes insurers agree to a claim for storm damage, but the customer isn’t happy with the material used in the repairs. They might say the new materials don’t match the old ones. We’ll consider all of the evidence to create a fair outcome.
Customer unhappy with replacement tiles following successful claim
Part of Tim’s roof was damaged after gale-force winds. Following a claim, his insurer agreed to replace some roof tiles which didn’t quite match the naturally weathered, original tiles. Dissatisfied with the ‘mismatch’, Tim complained that the insurer hadn’t replaced all the tiles across the entire roof.
We looked for evidence that the insurer provided a reasonable match to the existing materials when arranging repairs.
We also took into account that external structures can weather quickly, meaning that differences can soon disappear.
Although in some cases we find an insurer didn’t provide a reasonable match, based on the evidence of this case, we didn’t uphold the complaint.
Claiming under other cover
We’ve investigated cases where we’ve found it was reasonable for the insurer to decline a claim for storm damage.
In these cases, the customer may still be able to claim for some or all of the damage under the accidental damage section of their policy, if there is one.
We sometimes receive complaints about storm damage claims made under both contents and buildings insurance policies.
We expect insurers to check whether any parts of the policy – not just the storm damage part – could provide cover for the damage. That includes any external or internal buildings damage, as well as any damage to contents.
Handling a complaint like this
You’re under a duty to handle claims promptly and fairly and so it’s really important that you carry out a reasonable and timely investigation.
Remember, if you’re relying on an exclusion then you must show that the exclusion applies.
For example, if you think a flat roof has deteriorated, then you need to provide evidence to support this. Sometimes we see reports where the roof hasn’t been inspected properly and the insurer has relied on an aerial photo. Unless the photo clearly shows deterioration, and this is explained in the report, then we may not be persuaded that you’ve shown the exclusion fairly applies.
Putting things right
If we uphold a complaint, we can direct you to do something to resolve the issue or tell you what we think you should pay.
For example, for complaints about declined claims, we could tell you to reconsider the storm damage claim and deal with it in line with the policy terms and conditions. If any payment is due, we’ll usually add simple interest at 8% annually from the date of the loss to the date the claim is settled.
If the complaint is about the repairs carried out to fix storm damage, we could tell you to pay for further work to be done.
We’ll tell you to pay compensation if we decide that the claim has caused the customer distress or inconvenience because of the way you handled it.
The Met Office storm centre: Find out the latest information about storms in the UK as part of The Met Office’s Name our Storms project.
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