By Kate Saines
Severe winds and storms which caused destruction and chaos in many parts of Scotland this week will serve as a harsh reminder – to everyone in the UK – of the consequences of the British weather.
No doubt many of those people affected by the storms will need to make claims on their insurance this weekend.
But it will be something the insurers will have been bracing themselves for because, apparently, weather is the single most common cause of insurance claims, according to Barclays.
In fact 22 per cent of claims are made as a direct result of damage to properties through floods, storms or fallen trees or through broken or leaking pipes.
And it’s not just the weather – seasonal traits such as the shortening days led to an 18 per cent increase in claims for burglaries and thefts because of the darker evenings said Barclays.
With this in mind we’ve compiled a list of insurance-related ‘top tips’ to help you not only get the most out of your insurance during winter but limit the potential for claims and perhaps even save a bob or two.
Fit winter tyres
If you were stranded indoors or – worse still – had an accident in one of the previous harsh winter snowfalls you’ll probably be keen to avoid similar scenarios this year.
Fitting winter tyres to your car could be an ideal solution as it means your car will be better prepared for the icy or snow-filled roads.
And the good news is, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the addition of these safety tyres to your car will not necessarily cost you extra in motor insurance premiums.
The organisation’s members, which represent 90 per cent of the motor insurance market, have confirmed they will not charge any additional premium if winter tyres are fitted and have signed a commitment to seal this promise.
However, the tyres must meet and be fitted in accordance with the car manufacturer’s specifications, and also be in a roadworthy condition.
Nick Starling, the ABI’s director of general insurance, said: “Last year cold weather came early and there was some uncertainty for customers about the insurance implications of fitting winter tyres.
“This commitment clarifies the position for motorists.”
There are a couple of points to watch out for, if you are considering winter tyres. Some insurers, even though they won’t raise the premium, may wish to be notified if you are fitting tyres.
And the commitment does not cover fitting new wheels, so anyone fitting winter tyres to new wheels must contact their insurer for advice.
Insurers are also keen to point out that while winter tyres improve drivers’ chances of having a safer journey in bad conditions, they do not prevent all accidents. If the roads are particularly treacherous the advice is to avoid them completely.
‘Winter-proof’ the rest of your car
Winter tyres can reduce the risk of accidents but there are other measures you should take to make yourself safer on the roads this winter.
It’s illegal to drive with poor visibility so make sure you get up a little earlier to remove ice from your windscreen. Scrapers and de-icers are the ideal tools for this job.
Insurer Aviva also advises motorists to ensure levels of anti-freeze and de-icing agent in the screenwash are high.
If bad weather is forecast and you have an essential journey to undertake make sure the car is equipped with a shovel, jump leads, a tow rope plus a first aid kit, torch, a spare fuel can and a warning triangle would also be handy.
Meanwhile Aviva advises you pack warm clothing, sensible footwear, food and drink, ensure you have enough fuel and take a fully-charged mobile phone.
Use major routes on the journey, use fog lights if necessary and leave plenty of room between you and the car in front.
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Insulate your home
Getting some good quality insulation in your home will reduce the chances of frozen and burst pipes and will probably have the added bonus of make your home more energy efficient – which is always a bonus when it comes to fuel bills too.
Pipes, particularly those in the loft, should have decent lagging. And water tanks and cisterns – particularly those in cold areas such as lofts or outbuildings – should also have insulation said specialist insurer Hiscox.
According to another insurer, Churchill, loft insulation should be at least ten inches deep – so it’s worth checking yours is suitable before any chills set in.
Meanwhile ensuring wall cavities are insulated and there are no draughts will also prevent too much cold air circulating and keep that all important warm air indoors.
Learn how to deal with frozen pipes
Don’t panic if you do suffer a frozen pipe. Before the worst happens make sure you know the location of your main stopcock so you can turn water off if a pipe does freeze over.
Insurers advise that if this happens, you must also drain all taps and leave them open.
The advice for thawing out frozen pipes from Churchill Insurance is to carefully use a hairdryer (if it’s safe to do so) or to use a hot water bottle tied to the pipes with a towel. You should never use a naked flame.
Obviously if pipes do burst you’ll need to call a plumber. But being prepared can at least prevent the pipe bursting and reduce your chances of making a claim.
Getting your boiler checked over and serviced by a Gas Safe registered professional is a good idea. You can also purchase specialist insurance policies which provide cover in case your boiler fails or there is another emergency in the home. There are pros and cons to these policies but they are certainly worth considering if you want extra reassurance.
Martin Scott of Churchill Home Insurance said: “Having home insurance in place will ensure you’re covered for damage caused by escape of water, but also consider taking out Home Emergency Insurance to cover the cost of emergencies such as boiler repairs.”
Going away? ‘Freeze-proof’ your home
If you are planning to leave your home during the winter for a holiday or festive break, make sure you don’t neglect your property during this time.
Andrew Cheney, senior risk adviser at Hiscox, said: “Last year freeze claims coincided with the holidays when people were away. When planning holidays remember to keep the heating on low and ask someone local to check your property regularly.
“Being vigilant and finding a leak early can prevent larger scale damage.”
Hiscox also suggests you prevent pipes from freezing by turning off the water supply and draining taps completely to avoid burst pipes.
Another tip is to open your attic or hatch door slightly to let heat into the loft to stop those pipes freezing.
Increasing possessions cover at Christmas
With all those gifts – often including expensive items such as jewellery or gadgets – not to mention other goodies like expensive bottles of booze – it’s not unusual for the value of our contents to increase over Christmas.
If you are concerned you might not be covered, give your insurer a quick call to check. Independent financial research company Defaqto said 66 per cent of insurers automatically apply a seasonal increase to cover the value of gifts being stored in homes.
Its research found, however, that the level of increase varies from £1,000 to £7,500 or from five per cent to 20 per cent of the sum insured. So it’s certainly worth contacting your insurer to find out if you are covered.
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Winter sports cover
If you are planning a winter sports break, make sure you buy an insurance policy to cover your pursuits whilst away.
A basic travel insurance policy will simply not provide the level of cover you might need if you had an accident or suffered loss or damage to your equipment.
Specialist policies covering winter sports are ideal and while they might cost a little more, it could be more beneficial in the long run.
Mike Powell, insight analyst for general insurance at Defaqto, said: “Although important, price should not be the primary basis for comparison – after all buying the cheapest cover available could end up being the most expensive option if it doesn’t provide adequate cover for someone’s holiday or their possessions.”
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Protect your pets
More Than went as far this year as to warn pet owners of the dangers of winter after the insurer saw 56 per cent more claims involving dogs and cats in road accidents from November 2010 to January 2011.
It urged pet owners to take extra care of their pets during these months. John Ellenger, head of pet insurance at More Than, said: “It’s an unfortunate fact that during the dark winter days our dogs and cats are not as visible as motorists.
“However a simple reflective collar or vest can help make all the difference. Having the right insurance policy for your pet will also give financial peace of mind.”
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