How we can help if you have a complaint about an insurance claim relating to underground pipe damage.
What kind of damage does buildings insurance usually cover?
Most buildings insurance policies cover damage to underground pipes, drains, cables and tanks. These are often called ‘underground services’.
Policies generally only cover pipes you’re responsible for. This means they won’t cover problems with pipes owned by water companies or neighbours.
Many policies don’t cover damage to pitch fibre pipes. Pitch fibre is wood cellulose impregnated with tar and was popular between the 1950s and 1970s.
Cover tends to be for the pipes themselves, not for any damage beyond the pipe – for example, a leak that has damaged part of your house. However, other parts of your policy might cover this if you have cover for escape of water or flooding.
As pipes are underground, you might only discover damage when you notice something isn’t working normally.
Types of complaint we see
Most of the complaints we see are about damage to water pipes. Sometimes we see complaints about damage to gas or oil pipes, so we’ll check the policy to see exactly what’s covered.
Damage can be:
- physical – for example, a pipe is cracked or deformed
- functional – for example, a pipe is blocked
We often see complaints about insurers rejecting claims. Your insurer might reject your claim and say that:
- the pipe isn’t damaged at all
- the pipe is damaged, but not accidentally
- the pipe is damaged but they don’t have to pay – for example, it’s gradual damage or wear and tear
- the pipe isn’t covered because it’s made of pitch fibre
- you’re not responsible for the pipe
- you had the pipe repaired before the insurer could inspect it
- the damage is to a part of the system that’s not covered
- your policy doesn’t cover underground pipes
How to complain
Talk to your insurer first so they have the chance to put things right. They have to respond within eight weeks. If they don’t respond, or you’re not happy with their response, let us know.
Bringing a complaint to us is straightforward and won’t cost you anything. We’ll check if your complaint is something we can deal with, and if it is, we’ll investigate.
What we look at
We’ll look at expert evidence to help us consider your complaint fairly. This often includes a drainage report. When you report a problem to your insurer, they need to appoint a drainage company to investigate the problem and make recommendations for repair. The drainage company will put a video camera in the pipework to investigate. Usually we just need to look at the report, not the video footage.
We’ll check that the report has:
- enough detail for us to understand the condition of the pipe
- a diagram of the pipework
- a list of problems in the pipework, showing where the problems are
- information about what the pipe is made of
If there’s no easy way to get to the pipe, the drainage company might need to dig to access it. For example, they might need to dig up your driveway or patio. We’d normally expect the insurer to put right any damage even if they reject your claim.
If you’ve already had the pipes checked by a drainage company, we’d expect your insurer to consider any report when assessing your claim.
If the insurer agrees to a repair, we expect the repair to be effective and lasting. For example:
Most policies say that:
- you should let your insurer know about a problem as soon as possible
- you shouldn’t do any repairs until they’ve inspected the problem
If you’ve already fixed the pipe, the insurer can’t see the problem first hand. But this doesn’t automatically mean they should reject your claim.
In cases like this, you should give the insurer information from your drainage company that includes:
- a detailed report
- an itemised invoice
They might ask another drainage company to check what work has been done. Or they might talk to the company that did the repair.
If you can’t give your insurer enough information to show there was damage covered by the policy, they might reject your claim. We’d probably agree that this was fair.
However, if you’ve given the insurer enough information that would have replicated any report they’d commissioned, they cannot unfairly reject your claim.
Your insurer might say there’s no damage at all because the drainage company reported that the pipe was ‘serviceable’. This means it still transports water. However, a pipe can be serviceable and still damaged, for example, if:
- there’s a minor obstruction
- there’s a small crack
- the pipe has an open joint but water flows past it
In cases like this we’ll look at evidence about the pipe’s condition. This usually includes:
- the drainage report from the insurer
- the report from your drainage company if you have one
- talking to the drainage company
- asking you about the problem, for example, when it started and what has happened
Then we’ll look at what the policy says and decide if we think there’s any damage that should be covered.
We’ll check who is responsible for the pipe in cases like this. We’re unlikely to ask the insurer to accept your claim if the pipe:
- runs through your property but you’re not responsible for it
- is outside the boundary of your property
If you share responsibility for the pipe with a neighbour, we might say that your insurer should pay 50% of the cost.
Your insurer might agree that the pipe is damaged but say they don’t have to pay for it because of an exclusion. The most common exclusions are:
- gradual damage
- wear and tear
- poor design, construction or workmanship
We’ll look at evidence like drainage reports to see if we agree with the insurer. It’s their responsibility to show that the damage was most likely caused in one of these ways.
Some policies don’t provide cover for underground pipes, but this is unusual. We’d expect this to be appropriately highlighted to you when you buy the policy. If this doesn’t happen, we’ll consider what you would have done if it had been properly highlighted. We think most people want this cover. So if you would have been able to find another policy that did provide cover for underground pipes, we might ask the insurer to consider your claim.
Putting things right
If we think your insurer has treated you unfairly or made a mistake, we’ll ask them to put things right. We’d expect them to put you in the position you would have been in if the problem hadn’t happened. How we ask them to do this will depend on the case. For example, we might ask your insurer to:
- deal with a claim they’ve rejected
- add interest to any claim you should have been paid
- pay for more work to be done if you’ve complained about repairs
We may also ask the insurer to pay you compensation for any distress or inconvenience you’ve experienced as a result of the problem.
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Information for financial businesses
You can read more information about damage to underground pipes in the business section of our website. This includes technical details and information to help you resolve complaints.