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Thursday 22nd February 2024

My flat flood was a disaster, but a £12 a month insurance policy saved us thousands

Mouthy Money co-editor Edmund Greaves recounts the day his rental flat flooded, and how a modest insurance policy saved his financial bacon.

You genuinely don’t think it’ll ever happen to you. But it did happen to me, and my partner, in 2022.

All was going well in the world. I had popped out of our rental flat at lunchtime one Thursday in May 2022 to go to the gym, when I got a phone call from our rental agent.

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“Hi Edmund, your neighbours have called us and say there’s water coming out of your windows. Can you check what’s going on?”

“Uh, ok that sounds very strange and worrying, I’ll head straight home now,” I replied, slightly mystified, owing to the fact I had only left the building about 15 minutes prior.

I jumped back into my car and headed home. On arriving at the apartment block, I was confronted with the horrific sight of water cascading out of the windows of our first-floor flat. Now in a panic, I scurried up the stairs to be confronted by this:

It was truly all my worst nightmares coming to fruition. If you’ve ever had that conversation in the pub “what would you save from your house if it was on fire,” well I got to live it (only it was a flood, not a fire).

The very first thing I grabbed was my laptop. I work from home, I surmised in my head, I can’t earn a living if I don’t have that. Then I grabbed hard drives with all my files, and a shoebox filled with treasured childhood and family photos.

Next I ran back in and began saving other expensive items, including my camera, photo frames and other treasured possessions particularly susceptible to water damage.  

By this point, my partner had shown up (I had called her as soon as I realised how bad it was) and she began grabbing things too.

At one absurdly comical moment she shouted at me asking what she should save, to which I replied: “whatever your most treasured item is.” She then tried to grab our (admittedly quite expensive) coffee machine.

We stuffed as many of our treasured possessions as possible into anything we could find bags, pillowcases, binbags etc. We were literally on the street with our stuff strewn all around us.

Fortunately, we were able to spend the night at Ellyn’s parent’s house but this wasn’t a long-term solution as they live over an hour away and she needed to go to work still.

At this point in the ordeal, our landlord decided to hide behind their contract and said they had no obligation to find us alternative accommodation, leaving us effectively homeless. This is where our insurer really came through for us.

Why you should get home insurance

Unfortunately, lots of our possessions were ruined by water damage, including rugs, an armchair, bedding, shoes, a laptop and various pieces of luggage.

Thankfully, though, a simple £12 a month insurance policy helped us replace everything we lost to the flood, saving us thousands of pounds.

However, lots of people aren’t so lucky. Recent research from comparison site GoCompare shows less than one in 10 (7%) of home insurance quotes come from renters. This leaves a considerable portion of people at risk of serious losses should something like this happen to them.

Ryan Fulthorpe, from GoCompare home insurance, comments: “A lot of those in private rental accommodation are leaving themselves open to being majorly out of pocket should they be burgled or have an accident with one of their high value items. Landlords take out insurance to cover the contents of a property, but not a tenant’s property, that is their responsibility.

“It’s worrying to think that so many families living in rented accommodation in the UK are leaving themselves open to losing possibly thousands of pounds if the worst happened, as well as to cover those high value items away from home – as many contents insurance policies offer some form of cover if an item is lost away from the property.

If you’re a homeowner, buildings insurance is typically compulsory if you have a mortgage. Contents insurance is in fact not. But I urge you – be you a renter or homeowner – to go and buy a policy today if you don’t have one. They can be ludicrously cheap.

Our own policy cost around £12 a month courtesy of Churchill Home Insurance, and it was breathtakingly brilliant.

As a financial journalist I have often felt obliged to expect the worst from financial firms, but this could not have been further from my experience. Churchill were great at every step.

  • They assessed all the damage to our property and paid out for our ruined possessions (totalling in the thousands) without any issues.
  • They paid for us to have a hotel room for over six weeks while we waited to get into a new place.
  • They paid for removal, storage, then moving into a new house for all our possessions left behind that hadn’t been ruined.

I don’t have a precise figure, but it must have been running above £10,000 worth of damages when all said and done.

Top tips for home insurance

  1. Use comparison sites to get an idea of prices. Don’t necessarily just pick the cheapest as this may leave you with insufficient cover.

  2. Make sure you have at least a vague idea of the value of your possessions as this will set how much cover you need. If you have items of particularly high value such as bicycles or electronics such as cameras then these usually need to be itemised on the policy to be covered.

  3. Look for quality marks such as Defaqto ratings when buying insurance. Read up on the company and check review sites such as Trustpilot to gain an idea of customer service levels and how consistent they are about paying out for claims.

  4. Document everything relentlessly if you have to claim. We took photos and videos, took names of witnesses and others involved in case we had to provide extra proof. In the end the insurer sent an assessor who was great but having this evidence helped a lot down the line.

  5. Be persistent. I spent a lot time on the phone with the insurer going over all the details and kept on top of communication with them. They were great overall but did need pushing occasionally.

  6. Don’t be afraid to ask. Policy documents often don’t actually have a lot of specific detail in them so if you feel like you’re owed something don’t think twice about asking. For instance, we had no specific stipulation in our policy about alternative accommodation but since our landlord refused to help and we were otherwise homeless they agreed to fund a hotel room for as long as we needed.

  7. Don’t show unnecessary loyalty. Churchill were brilliant with us, but months down the line when it came to renewal their quote went up somewhat. This might have been down to our claim history, but I got a much better renewal quote elsewhere, so moved away.

  8. Not every insurer is going to be as forgiving. I count myself lucky that Churchill were great throughout. I’ve certainly heard much worse anecdotes of experiences with insurers, so always be prepared to fight your corner.

Whose fault was it?

In the end we found out that the leak had emanated from a washing machine in the flat above ours. The inlet pipe had burst while the owner was out at work and had filled their flat with two feet of water which proceeded to cascade down into ours.

The entire sorry episode could have been avoided had our neighbour not left the washing machine running while out at work.

In the end, we were lucky that most of the water came down into the living room, where mostly banal things got ruined. Had it happened elsewhere in the flat, it could have been much more devastating.

Insurance can pay for what you’ve lost, but it will never replace those things that you love for their sentimental value. We were lucky to escape with nearly all of ours.

Photo Credits: Unsplash

Edmund Greaves

Editor

Edmund Greaves is editor of Mouthy Money. Formerly deputy editor of Moneywise magazine, he has worked in journalism for over a decade in politics, travel and now money.

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