A long-winded tale of storm damage

Mark Stammers's picture

As the warm days of summer finally arrive in the UK most of us have forgotten the harsh winter that brought high winds and flooding to many parts of the country.

While some of the worst affected are still in the process of rebuilding and refurnishing their properties, I have just had my very minor home damage fixed after a rather epic and drawn-out process with my insurer.

Back in February, high winds tore away the metal flashing at the base of my chimney. No brickwork was damaged so the metal merely needed to be uncurled and repointed back into the bricks, sealing the gap between the chimney and the roof tiles. Not a big job, I thought. A very quick and easy fix for a good roofer equals low cost surely? Certainly it had to be less than the £150 excess on my buildings insurance policy? No it wasn’t. Two quick quotes from local roofing firms confirmed that the going rate was closer to double that. Time to call my insurers.

The initial claim was quick to file online, and I received a call from a claims handler the next day. All seemed straightforward. My insurer’s only concern seemed to be establishing the speed of the wind on that stormy night. For it to pay out for storm damage, the wind needed to have been in excess of 70mph and it struggled to find a close-by wind measurement from that night. This is the kind of nit-picking that insurance companies are rightly criticised for. A gale of 69mph is as likely to cause damage as one of 70. Rigid cut-offs such as this measurement send frustrated customers to search their policy small print for these get-out-of-paying caveats.

Despite the lack of empirical data, my insurer decided to uphold my claim – after a visual inspection by a loss adjuster confirmed the damage was unlikely to have been caused by anything other than high winds. This, however, meant by the time it agreed to payout we were well into March.

I paid up my excess promptly, hoping it would spur my insurer into appointing a roofing firm to complete the work. After a couple of weeks, a copy of the quote for the work popped through my letterbox. Unlike the earlier quotes I had gathered, the cost of the repair was massively increased by the stipulation of erecting scaffolding rather than merely a ladder. Fair enough I thought, health and safety clearly required it.

Weeks rolled past with little news of a start date. I would call my insurers on a Monday. They would be apologetic and promise to call me back and then I would have to call them again a few days later to find out there was another delay. The roofing company had not supplied photos to support its quote and my insurer had rejected it. It took another week and a half of phone calls and nagging to get the roofers to come and take the photos and to send in a revised quote.

Whether the roofers had failed to read the insurer’s requirements for a submitted quote, or whether my insurer had forgotten to request images, I will never know. But either way it suggests a lack of attention to detail on my insurer’s part – an odd accusation to level against a company which spent several weeks worrying about whether a gale blew at 69 or 70mph.

The requirement for scaffolding itself was an additional delay because the roofing firm claimed it couldn’t secure any from its sub-contractor until some time in June, nearly five months on from the initial claim. May rolled around and by now I’d pretty much had enough. While still remaining polite, I left my insurer in no doubt that I was less than happy with its handling of the claim and was insistent that repairs better start soon even if that meant finding a new roofer. Action was promised and the roofer given one last chance to get the work sorted.

That very same evening, I had a call from the roofing firm to arrange a date to do the work. Was June acceptable? Absolutely not! I had told my insurer repeatedly that it would be no good allowing the work to slip into June, as we would be away on holiday. There was no way I would let any firm erect scaffolding on my house while it was empty, as it is an open invite to burglars to gain easy access. The roofer again bemoaned the lack of available scaffolding but I wouldn’t budge on accepting the June date. I told him I would call my insurer and discuss it – again.

A mere matter of minutes after hanging up the phone, the roofer came back to me, having managed to “rejig” his schedule to allow the repair work to happen at the start of the very next week. The workmen duly arrived at around 11am on the Monday morning, stuck up a ladder and completed the repair in under an hour.

So finally, I am left with a fixed roof, £150 lighter in my pocket and a whole lot of frustration that such a simple job should have taken so very long to sort out. I wonder how those who were forced out of their homes by flooding and storm damage have fared over the same period of time? Did their insurers drag their heels over large claims as they did over my small one?

The often expensive premiums we pay for our building insurance are meant to give us peace of mind that when disaster strikes we can hope to get our homes (and lives) quickly back on track. Insurers have profited in the many years of mild winters in the previous 20 years, surely they must accept their responsibility to handle claims quickly and fairly even when extreme weather claims are draining their coffers?