Reinventing Insurance > Where on Earth is all the Contents Insurance

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New for 2019, buzzvault brings you your first ever truly personalised home insurance policy. Instead of the blanket cover that is the industry norm, our coverage reflects what people actually own and how they actually live. At the core of this is your vault, a secure and lasting digital record of your possessions and their value.

For more on what makes us interesting, check out our home insurance manifesto. Or become one of the first buzzvault customers! For a limited time only, we are rewarding early adopters of our product with a £40 Amazon Voucher. Protect your home with buzzvault, and then go and buy something nice for it. Read more below.


Quantifying UK Home Contents

I’m sure that at some point in life you’ve faced the too much stuff moment. For me it was earlier this year, in January, as I sought to escape the post-Christmas blues with a mini-break abroad.

Except – the drawer that once contained my passport now appeared to be home to a multitude of still-wrapped DVDs, a large hardback book, some errant Christmas socks and a pack of comedy coasters.

I located the passport in the end, several layers down. But I had to think: as a nation we sure have a lot of household contents.

I began trying to quantify the volume of stuff in people’s homes, starting with my own overloaded passport drawer. Then the drawers in the living room, drawers in the kitchen, drawers in my flatmates’ rooms (the mind boggles). Beyond that, the drawers in all the houses along my street. And that’s just drawers. What of the cupboards, floors and lofts? The garden sheds, shelves and trunks? In every city, town and village in the realm.

To stave off insanity – at least temporarily – I decided to do a bit of research. It turns out there are 27.2 million households in the UK, which means that, for starters, we’re looking at:

  • at least 27,000,000 TVs
  • 26,384,000 washing machines
  • 12,512,000 dishwashers
  • 4,297,600,000 books

And what about that class of possession wherein modern man delights the most: consumer electronics? The UK is apparently home to 41,000,000 smartphone users, 37,600,000 laptops users and 32,800,000 tablet users. Now that’s a lot of expensive silicon knocking about!

Today’s contents explosion has not been fuelled exclusively by our couch-potato tendencies, let me add. We are a nation of 25 million bike owners, 1.5 million golf players and 825,000 tennis players (weekly), so we’ve got a fair bit of sporting equipment too.

These two recent trends – gadgetry and fitness – have helped to make our “contents footprint” larger than any previous generation’s.

In fact, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), in its recent Britain Uncovered study, put the value of contents stashed in UK homes at £950,000,000,000 (that’s almost £1 trillion!). That’s £35,000 per home on average, comfortably outstripping the average UK salary of £27,000.

The UK Contents Protection Gap

So, we’ve established that our small island conceals a scarcely imaginable volume of household contents, which brings us to our principal concern in today’s post: where on Earth is all the contents insurance?

The same Britain Uncovered study found that 28% of UK households had no contents insurance whatsoever. That leaves 16 million people and £266 billion worth of household possessions unprotected.

This figure could be higher still. The ABI estimate was based on the number of uninsured households only, excluding those that are merely under-insured. Indeed, the Telegraph reckons this may apply to 6.8 million homes (25% of total households), meaning only a minority of UK homes have appropriate levels of cover.

This contents protection gap has different causes – and solutions – for different people. At buzzvault, we’re pioneering a new approach that matches contents cover to customers’ individual needs, whatever they own.

However: tech wizardry on its own never solved anyone’s problems. So it’s more important than ever that insurers truly understand their customers. To help with this, we’ve provisionally identified three demographics whose varying needs aren’t met by today’s providers. Let’s take a look.

Generation Rent: No Home Ownership, No Contents Insurance

As if only getting one shelf in the fridge weren’t bad enough already, “generation rent” miss out in more ways still.

You see, that elusive house purchase isn’t just significant as a first step on the property ladder. It’s shown to be a major trigger for purchasing insurance as well. Most home contents insurance is currently sold as a bundle with buildings insurance, which is generally mandated by mortgage providers. So, while homeowners are practically forced to take out contents insurance, little impels renters to even think about it.

81% of “generation rent” lack contents insurance, at least according to the Improving the Financial Health of the Nation report by the Financial Inclusion Commission (FIC). That means we’re looking at a staggering 10.5 million uninsured renters. That’s more than the entire population of Sweden!

No assessment of the travails of renterdom would be complete without a cursory look at our nation’s students. Negative attitudes towards insurance are rife among this demographic. This explains why, despite the average student lugging over £2000 worth of possessions along with them to start their studies, nearly half of them aren’t covered. And this, even though students are possibly God’s gift to burglars.

Many renters could afford contents insurance, and would buy it, if only the thought of it crossed their mind for more than a second. So this is less a product failing for insurers than a failure to package and market their product in a relevant, customer-friendly way. Indeed, it’s that old adage again: insurance is never bought, it’s always sold.

For all that this represents a “soft” failing, its effects can nevertheless by felt pretty hard. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) classifies two thirds of renters as potentially vulnerable to harm due to low levels of financial capability & resilience, health issues or risk of life events creating difficulties. Contents insurance could provide a significant umbrella.

The Protection Gap and Poorer Households

Only 40% of those earning £15,000 or less each year have contents cover, compared to more than 75% for the highest incomes (according to the FIC’s Improving the Financial Health of the Nation). And, in an unfortunate co-occurrence, it is precisely these individuals who are most exposed to household risks — be that house fires, floods or burglaries.

Lower-income households live with 30 times the risk of arson as more affluent households. They’re also 8 times more likely to be on tidal floodplains. To cap it all, socially rented housing is twice as likely to be burgled as owner-occupied properties.

These are damning stats. They tell the story of unacceptable numbers of at-risk households having to bear the cost of personal disaster on their own.

Covering total loss from savings is bad enough – worse still is the fact that many poorer households aren’t even in a position to do this. Over 7 million UK adults have under £1000 in savings. And less than a quarter of those in social housing could replace a washing machine from savings and income alone (Citizens Advice ‘Quids in’ survey).

The financial inclusion debate has so far centered on banking, payments services and affordable credit – but accessible insurance has a part to play here too. Tackling the protection gap won’t eliminate the savings gap, but it will de-risk it.

To do this, insurers need to find ways to make lower-premium products economically viable. This will almost certainly require new distribution mechanisms to achieve scale, reduce cost and reach people regardless of their level of financial education. Tenants Insurance schemes (sometimes called “Insurance with Rent”) are welcome in this regard but have had limited adoption so far.

Contents Coverage for Average Homeowners

Some better news: over 80% of those owning their home outright or with a mortgage have some form of contents cover in place (FIC: Improving the Financial Health of the Nation). However, these customers aren’t home and dry. More often than not they have inadequate cover for the value of their contents.

What we have here is endemic under-insurance, where coverage isn’t absent but is still patchy – leaving few people with optimal protection.

When taking out insurance, people typically underestimate the value of their belongings by 40%. In the event of a total loss, this means they can recover max 60% of the value of their stuff. And many insurers operate an averages clause, whereby this percentage (representing the degree of under-insurance) is applied to all claims.

To give you a flavour: over the past three years, 6% of people have missed a typical pay-out of £1000 from their home insurance providers because they haven’t bought the right level of cover, according to a poll of 2,000 Britons by insurance broker Swinton Group.

The main reason for under-insurance is the steady creep in home contents value. This, we estimate, grows by an average of 24% over a three-year period. While the rhythm for updating insurance policies is generally annual, we update our possessions daily, weekly and monthly.

A one-size-fits-all approach to contents insurance doesn’t just lead to poorer households tending to pay over the odds. It can also lead to wealthier households paying too little – and then being hit with the consequences, without warning, when it’s time to claim.

Topping up homeowners’ insurance isn’t as great a social good as providing a financial umbrella for the nation’s neediest households. However, much work for the insurance industry remains to be done here that could justifiably be called low-hanging fruit. These households are, after all, already receptive to insurance and tend to own the most stuff.

buzzvault early-adopter bonus

The very fact that you’re reading this to begin with makes you special you’re someone who’s taken an interest in the state of UK home insurance. And we’d love to make you part of our mission to fix it.

For a limited time only, we’re offering a £40 Amazon Voucher to early adopters of buzzvault. Get yourself quoted in under two minutes and, once you’ve activated your policy, you’ll receive your voucher (promotion Ts & Cs apply).

For more info on home and contents insurance, check out the buzzvault guide to contents insurance.