Most home insurance policies say that if customers leave their home unoccupied for a period of time, usually 30 or 60 days, then they won’t be covered for certain insured events, such as theft, attempted theft, malicious damage or escape of water.
Types of complaints we see
Policies rarely define the term ‘unoccupied’, although it’s potentially ambiguous. For example, it could mean that the property is uninhabitable or that nobody was actually living in the property at the relevant time. And sometimes, where ‘unoccupied’ is defined, it might not be very specific. For example, it could say that someone needs to stay overnight regularly but doesn’t clarify the frequency of regularity.
Many of the disputes about unoccupied property that are referred to us involve properties that are undergoing refurbishment or renovation. These properties are usually visited frequently for work to be carried out. But they also tend to be uninhabitable, according to acceptable standards.
What we look at
A person can occupy premises, sometimes for many years, without physically being in them.
In the disputes referred to us, we’ll look at whether you’ve been clear, fair and not misleading. If you haven’t provided clear definitions of terms such as ‘left unoccupied’, then we’ll interpret these using the natural and ordinary meaning, taking into account the overall purpose of the contract and clause/term in question and usually adopt the meaning that’s most favourable to the customer.
In some cases, that may result in our deciding that, as long as the insured property was visited on a reasonably frequent basis, then it was occupied, even if the policyholder wasn’t sleeping there every night.
We’ll always look at the facts of each case individually.
Insurers must not unreasonably reject a claim. We don’t consider it good industry practice for insurers to reject a claim where the policyholder's breach of a policy condition was only technical and not connected to the circumstances of the claim.
So, for example, if we find the event that caused the damage occurred within the first 30 days of the property being unoccupied, then you should normally meet the claim, even if the property wasn’t visited for a longer period.
In these cases, the fact that no one lived in, or visited, the property was probably irrelevant in terms of the loss or damage.
However we’re unlikely to support a policyholder who misrepresents the true situation when taking out or renewing their insurance. Nor are we likely to support a policyholder whose property has simply been abandoned, or has been so neglected that it could invite unwelcome attention.
Handling a complaint like this
We only look at complaints that you've had a chance to look at first, unless you’ve given us early consent to do so. If you haven’t given us early consent and a customer complains and you don't respond within the time limits – or they disagree with your response – then they can come to us.
Find out more about resolving a compliant.
Insurer rejects claim because the house was left unoccupied
Property left empty due to owner’s illness but claim still rejected
A customer claims for damage to a property he was only visiting periodically