It’s something that may have happened to you already. Or, at the bare minimum, it’s happened to one of your friends or family. You wake up on a damp and frosty morning expecting your house to be nice and warm. But, instead, you can see your breath, you can’t feel your toes and your bedroom resembles something of an igloo – because, alas, your boiler is broken.

But surely, you cry out, a broken boiler can be sorted out quickly and slickly through my home insurance. After all, is this not precisely the kind of situation that makes filling out all those boring forms and paying those interminable monthly premiums worthwhile?

Would life – and insurance – were this simple. Unfortunately, it’s not. Because boiler claims are a common exclusion on many home insurance policies. Which means you may be stuck showering at the gym for longer than you originally thought, as well as having to pay for it all out of your own pocket.

Sadly, this nightmare situation is a common occurrence in the UK. Last year, nearly one in five homes suffered boiler breakdowns, costing on average £245 to repair. So, before letting this happen to you, check what is and isn’t included on your home insurance policy – and consider getting home emergency cover for the rest.

The Limits of Your Standard Home Policy

It’s a sobering thought: home insurance does not cover everything that can go wrong in your house. It’s like that moment in the Emerald City where they lift the curtain and find that the great Wizard of Oz is nothing more than an aging industrialist.

To boil it down: conventional home insurance is primarily there for household “perils”. These include the likes of fires, storms, flooding, earthquakes, theft, burst pipes, fallen trees and subsidence. What home emergency insurance covers on the other hand could more accurately be termed “inconveniences” — which is not at all to downplay their severity.

If standard home insurance is about the peace of mind that, in the grand scheme of things, your home is safe, then home emergency cover is about getting you the assistance you need on the day. Or, if you think of your house as a car, getting home emergency cover is a bit like adding breakdown cover to your standard auto insurance. So what sorts of things are we talking about? Well, here are a few things which you can typically cover on a home emergency policy:

  • boiler breakdown
  • central heating failure
  • loss of hot water
  • electrical failure
  • blocked drains
  • burst pipes and plumbing failures
  • new locks when you lose your keys
  • compromised doors and windows

Some home insurance policies do already include emergency cover as part of the insurance policy but, if they do, the cover they provide may still be quite limited. So make sure you do your research — you neither want to leave yourself open nor, by the same token, pay more than you need to.

Your Options for Getting Home Emergency Cover

If you’ve decided that home emergency cover is for you — that a week of cold-showering uncertainty is a risk you’re just not willing to run — then there are multiple avenues to get cover that works for you.

Home emergency cover can usually be bolted on to your existing home insurance policy, or you can take it out separately as a stand-alone policy. According to figures published by financial researcher Defaqto on 16 January 2018, just 18% of content insurance policies included home emergency cover as standard, while 49% offered it as an optional bolt-on extra.

Bolting emergency cover onto your existing home insurance is a popular choice, as it keeps all your cover in one place, make it easier to manage. It’s also usually the cheaper route to go down. Your existing insurance provider should be able to give you a range of options and prices, with the cheapest add-ons starting at around £35 and some going up into the hundreds of pounds.

Some bolt-on home emergency policies have a clause that says claims won’t impact the no-claims bonus on your home insurance, but others don’t. In the latter case, claiming for an emergency may invalidate all the good work you’ve put in keeping your home safe and claim-free in regard to your primary home insurance policy. It may potentially push up your home insurance premium as well

Another thing to bear in mind with add-on home emergency cover is that the protection it offers may not be as comprehensive as that afforded by standalone policies. A case in point is boiler cover.

The Biggie: Boiler Insurance

We opened this post with an anecdote about a broken boiler, and we described your consternation at learning this isn’t covered on your home insurance. If you thought that was bad, then imagine how you’d feel if you learnt … that the broken boiler still isn’t fully covered on your home emergency cover?

Well, unfortunately, this is often the case — at least if you’ve got a standard bolt-on home emergency policy. While these will generally offer more cover than your primary home insurance, they still may not cover the full cost of repairing or replacing a broken boiler. And there may be significant exclusions (more on these below). For instance, boilers over 7 or 10 years old may be excluded from cover, as well as boilers that are not being serviced annually.

The reason for this is simple: an aging boiler is quite literally an accident waiting to happen. Like auto insurance for joyriders and life insurance for the elderly, it fundamentally requires you to contribute more money in your premium payments.

This is where standalone home emergency policies come in. These are generally more expensive but they do give you more options in terms of what you can cover. So, while bolting on home emergency cover will likely improve your situation, the most surefire way to drive the spectre of boiler failure from your mind is to get a standalone policy that definitely, definitely includes boiler failure.

Boilers breakdowns, last year, cost UK families more than £787m in unexpected repair bills. And the energy companies are getting in on the game too, many of them now offering boiler insurance as part of their service. While this won’t cover you for other home emergencies, energy providers will often have quick turnaround times for repairs, with annual servicing included as part of one single cost.

So, if you don’t fancy getting a standalone home emergency policy with all the bells and whistles, an alternative is to get a bolt-on policy (which covers most emergencies) plus dedicated boiler insurance from your energy company (covering off those pesky boiler exclusions).

What to Look Out for in Your Home Emergency Policy

Whether you’re going down the bolt-on or the standalone route, there are a few questions you always need to ask yourself.

What is Your Insurer’s Definition of an Emergency?

This is naturally a subjective question. But your insurer will have a hard-and-fast definition. To give you a few examples:

If you have one toilet in your property, and it gets blocked, then your insurer may consider this an emergency. But, if you have more than one toilet, then your insurer may well not consider a blockage an emergency. After all, you do have a handy alternative!

Similarly, an insurer may regard a central-heating failure in winter in a totally different light from a central-heating failure in summer. After all, many people survive the summer in its entirety with the central heating switched firmly off.

What Level of Service Does Your Insurer Provide?

There are two key components here: reaction time and level of work.

Or, to put it simply: some policies may guarantee resolution of an emergency within 24 hours with champagne treatment, others may give you a week’s wait in economy class.

The reason you’re interested in home emergency cover in the first place is probably because you’ve got a particular situation in mind:

  • huddled on your sofa in a blanket unable to shower
  • watching powerlessly as a burst pipe turns your plaster and wallpaper to mush
  • losing your handbag and wondering who now has your keys
  • the sudden, all-enveloping bee infestation

Put yourself in this situation and ask what you’d ideally want. If you’re paying for extra insurance because you hate cold showers, do you really want to have to wait a week (taking cold showers)? If you suffer from apiphobia (yes, a fear of bees), wouldn’t you really prefer an infestation professional to take care of things? If you’re paying extra for that extra peace of mind, you may as well pay for the kind of treatment that’s going to give you it.

Cheaper policies may leave you high and dry for several days, so always check exactly what they’re offering. You may also want to ask how the insurer plans to connect you with a relevant repairs professional. Many insurers have so-called “preferred networks” of tradespeople that they’ve already vetted.

Common Exclusions

Finding a home emergency policy that will resolve what you consider an emergency with the desired level of speed and professionalism is one thing. But you also need to check that there aren’t any exclusions that might trip you up. An exclusion is a situation where you aren’t covered or where your cover is limited. For more info on “exclusions” and other pesky bits of insurance jargon, check out the buzzvault insurance jargon buster here.

Exclusions can be annoying and even outright confusing. But, as with so many things in insurance, the idea behind them is 100% sane. Insurers put a lot on the line when they say they will pick up the pieces (and homes can be expensive things). Exclusions let them protect themselves against money-gobbling claims from people in tumbledown houses, as well as against fraud.

Here are some common exclusions applying to home emergency cover:

Claim limits for individual items

This is the maximum you can claim on any single item. So for things which are more expensive to replace, like boilers and washing machines, be sure to check the limit. A cheaper policy may limit you to a few hundred pounds per claim. And what good is 10% of a new boiler?

Repair claim limits

Sorting out an emergency typically involves replacement parts of some kind, like carpets, white goods and locks. But there are also call-out and labour charges for the tradespeople who need to assess the damage and carry out the repairs (and sometimes these will need several people working over several days). Check how much of this cost will be picked up by your insurer.

Old central heating and boiler

As a general rule of thumb: the older your central heating and boiler, the harder it is to get cover for them. As an absolute minimum, you will need to keep them in a good state. Many policies will insist you have your heating system serviced once a year by a CORGI-registered engineer, and some policies even include an annual servicing as part of the offer.

Poor home maintenance

What is true in particular for your central heating and boiler is true in general for your whole house. If you let your home fall into disrepair, it will almost certainly make it harder for you to get cover and may come back to bite you if you need to make a claim.

A home is not just an asset, a home is your castle, which is why you should at least consider getting home emergency protection. There are options aplenty for every kind of homeowner and every kind of home. So, even though insurance can be a frustrating field, if you do your research we’re sure you’ll find the right kind of cover for you.

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