It’s stressful to experience damage to your home and then have trouble claiming on your insurance. If you complain about how an insurer has handled your claim, it’s our job to look at the facts impartially and make sure there’s a fair outcome.
Home insurance (sometimes called household insurance) is usually made up of 2 main parts: cover for the building itself and cover for the contents within.
What is home and buildings insurance?
Home insurance can protect you against damage to your property. Policies are usually split into buildings and contents cover, which can be bought separately or together. This kind of cover protects you against problems caused by:
- accidental damage
- weather, such as storms
- ground movement, such as subsidence
- underground pipes made from pitch fibre
Buildings insurance covers the structure of the building, as well as permanent fixtures and fittings, for example, baths or fitted kitchens.
If the item can be reasonably removed and taken to another home, then it’s usually part of the contents and won’t generally be covered by a buildings policy.
Buildings policies also usually include outbuildings, for example, garages or sheds, but it’s important to check with your insurer exactly what’s covered under your policy.
Contents insurance covers your possessions, for example, your TV, jewellery, furniture or clothes. In other words, items you’d take with you if you moved house.
We treat carpets as contents, even though they’re often fitted. Although most people would probably leave their fitted carpets behind when moving home, fitted carpets can be taken up relatively easily and re-laid. It’s the fact they’re transportable that means they’re covered under contents.
Sometimes people will try to claim for motorised vehicles, such as e-scooters, under their home insurance policy. This isn’t usually the right type of insurance policy for such an item or claim. It is likely that a more specific specialist policy would be more appropriate.
Every policy is different and the policy wording will make it clear what you are covered for. You can read examples of cases we resolved about this:
- Consumer complains after her insurer declined a claim for her stolen e-scooter
- Consumer complains about his insurer rejecting a claim for his stolen quad bike
- Consumer unhappy her insurer declined a claim to replace lost drone
- Consumer unhappy his insurance claim for his damaged drone wasn’t covered by his policy
It’s possible to buy a contents-only or buildings-only policy. Some people choose to buy only one type of insurance. For example, people who rent a property will only need to buy contents insurance. This is because the landlord will be responsible for arranging buildings insurance.
In some cases, policyholders buy contents insurance from one insurer and buildings insurance from another.
Even if you have contents and buildings insurance, the level of cover may vary. For example, an accidental damage claim might succeed under one section but not under the other.
It’s not always obvious whether an item should be classed as buildings or contents. We’ll look carefully and fairly at each case, considering the facts and your personal circumstances.
Laminate flooring – contents or buildings?
If laminate wooden flooring is accidentally damaged, and you only have contents cover, we sometimes see cases where the insurance company refuses to meet the claim. They may insist that laminate flooring is part of the building.
We take the view that most laminate wooden flooring, where individual planks are glued together and fixed under a skirting board or beading, is a fixture and fitting, not contents.
Unlike a carpet, it’s difficult to remove intact. The flooring has, essentially, become part of the building.
But sometimes, we may regard reusable click-together laminate wooden flooring as contents because this type of flooring is no more fixed to a room than a carpet.
TVs – contents or buildings?
A TV is clearly part of the household contents, but what about the TV aerial that is fixed permanently to the roof of the house? Very few householders would ever think of climbing on to the roof and dismantling the aerial to take it with them when they move house.
Claims for these aerials are most likely to be made when the roof has been damaged by an external insured event (such as a storm or lightning) covered by buildings insurance.
We usually regard items that are fixed and have become part of the fabric of the property as buildings, while the rest are contents. Examples of items we’d usually consider to be covered under a buildings policy include:
- fitted wardrobes
- fitted kitchens
- built-in appliances
The contents policy would cover items of furniture and appliances that are free-standing or easy to remove if they’re screwed to a wall.
Read a case study about this type of complaint.
Types of complaint we see
Some complaints we see involve disputes over which items should be classed as contents or buildings for insurance cover. We also hear from consumers who tell us:
- The insurer has done the repairs but they haven’t fixed the problem.
- The insurer says it can repair the damage but you think the item should be replaced.
- The insurer has decided the value of the buildings or contents that the customer has insured isn’t enough to cover the claim (also called underinsurance).
- The insurer says you carelessly, or deliberately didn’t tell them the true replacement cost of your home contents or the rebuild cost of your home, and has cancelled the policy.
- You’ve been offered a replacement by the insurer but it’s not the same as what you lost.
- You’ve been offered money by the insurer, but it’s not enough to have the repairs done or replace what was damaged.
Read more about the different types of home and buildings insurance complaints we see, and our approach to putting them right:
What we look at
One of the first things we’ll look at:
- if the complaint involves contents or buildings insurance
- whether your insurer suitably advised you, and
- the policy definitions and exclusions.
We’ll also look at what caused the damage, and if it’s covered by the policy. If an insurer has relied on an exclusion to refuse or reduce payment, then we’ll look to see whether it has applied this fairly.
If we consider that an insurance policy’s definition of an item as contents or buildings was unreasonable, and led to an unfair result, we may ask the company to pay the claim.
If an insurer agrees that some or all of the loss or damage you claimed for is covered, it will have to decide how to settle the claim. Usually that’s done by:
- repairing the damage
- replacing something lost or damaged
- paying cash to cover the cost of repair or replacement
If an insurer is willing to repair damage or replace an item, or both, but you insist on having cash, the insurer will only pay the amount it would cost them. And as insurers get discounts from the suppliers and contractors they use, the amount it will pay will usually be less than it would cost at market rates – in other words, the amount you would probably need to spend.
How to complain
Talk to your insurance company first. They need to have the chance to put things right. They have to give you their final response within 8 weeks for most types of complaint.
If you’re unhappy with their response, or if they don’t respond, let us know.
We’ll check your complaint is something we can deal with, and if it is, we’ll investigate to understand what happened and what went wrong.
Find out more about making a complaint.
Putting things right
If we decide the insurer has treated you unfairly, or have made a mistake, we’ll ask them to put things right. Our general approach is that you should be put back in the position you would have been in if the problem hadn’t happened. We may also ask the insurer to compensate for any distress or inconvenience you’ve experienced as a result of the problem.
The exact details of how we’ll ask the insurer to put things right will depend on the nature of the complaint, and how you lost out.
Pipe wasn’t damaged according to insurer – but we decided otherwise
Unassembled conservatory damaged in storm – is it contents or a building?
Buildings insurance Insurance
Finding a solution when neighbour refuses to discuss structural damage
Buildings insurance Insurance
Burglary victim complains after insurer voids policy for under insurance
Information for financial businesses
You can read more information about home and buildings insurance in the business section of our website. This includes technical details and information to help you resolve complaints