Jessica investigates: why won't Tesco Insurance pay my house fire claim?

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When financial firms fall short, Jessica Gorst-Williams is here to intervene on your behalf.

I am hoping you can help me with the problem I am experiencing with Tesco Home Insurance (Euronext: SIN.NX - news) .

I had a house fire at my mortgaged property. The fire destroyed the living room and every room has major smoke damage, and none of the contents could be rescued. Luckily, myself and the two eldest children (aged six and three at the time) escaped with slight smoke inhalation. The youngest child (10 months) was staying the night with my sister. The fire service extinguished the fire and the house was boarded up for security the same night.

The morning after the fire, my father was approached at the property by a loss assessor. The decision was taken to allow this company to deal with the claim on my behalf. After inspection by loss assessors and people on behalf of Tesco Insurance, it was thought that the fire was caused by the television.

I have been advised that the property is classed as a total loss and will require major works involving rewiring, plastering, a new kitchen and bathroom, new windows and doors, complete redecoration and complete replacement of all the contents. The loss adjuster working on behalf of Tesco Insurance failed to return any calls. AW Lincs

You had chosen to furnish the four-bedroom house Tesco Insurance was renting for you. To pay for the furniture, which would later be moved into your own property, Tesco Insurance had advised that an interim contents payment would be made as a priority. By the time you wrote to me, though, three months after the fire, it had not been.

Meanwhile, you were using your credit card to meet the cost of replacing clothes, toys, school uniforms etc. Interest was being charged on this. Also, to avoid embarrassment, the cost of the locksmith who had boarded up the property, but whom Tesco Insurance had failed to pay, had also gone on the card.

Your numerous calls to the loss assessor, who in turn said he was getting very little response from Tesco Insurance's loss adjuster, were achieving nothing. The insurer claimed that the fire had only been reported a month after it occurred. Now the insurer acknowledges that it had, in fact, been told about it within a matter of hours. Its (Euronext: ALITS.NX - news) claims team had got this wrong.

Tesco Insurance told me that the issues had arisen due to a breakdown in communication and human error by its appointed loss adjusters. Crucially, they had failed to appoint a forensic scientist at the time when the property was assessed. After my involvement, forensic experts at last examined the house.

The supposition about the television, which apparently had been on all day, proved inconclusive. An interim payment of £5,000 was sent and £200 worth of Tesco (LSE: TSCO.L - news) gift cards from Tesco Bank were despatched. The £350 promised from the loss adjusters and supposed to arrive within three to five working days actually took more than eight weeks to come.

Later, Tesco Insurance sent you a further £50 gift card in respect of this delay. You and I had been told that, once the forensics had been sorted out, the building work could start. Two weeks later, authorisation for repairs to begin still had not been given. The work eventually started and, three months after that, another £5,000 contribution towards the contents was released.

You were still struggling to buy further items before you could move back into the property. You felt you had reached another stalemate with Tesco Insurance. The building work was paid for and, in recognition of the unacceptable lapses in service which had led to a delay in you and your family returning home, Tesco Insurance covered the contents claim in full.

This came to £20,938, rather than the policy limit of £15,500. I wondered now about the interest you had paid on your credit card for items the insurer should have paid for near the beginning. Tesco Insurance now agreed to pay £344 in respect of this. A further loose end cropped up in the form of gas and electricity used during the building work.

Tesco Insurance has reimbursed £278 for this too. It said it had taken the lessons from this on board and was doing all it could to make sure the situation doesn't happen again. Tesco Bank points out that your Tesco Home Insurance policy was underwritten by UK Insurance, a subsidiary of RBS (LSE: RBS.L - news) .

However, new customers and those who renewed their policies after October 16 2010 have their policies underwritten under a different arrangement. This move, it said, gives it greater control over its customers' claims management and settlement. You say you hope so.

Please address letters to: Jessica, Your Money, The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT. A full postal address, a signature and daytime telephone number are needed.

• Because of the volume of mail received, it is not possible to respond to every letter and correspondence cannot be entered into. Please do not send original documents or stamped and addressed envelopes. Responsibility, legal or otherwise, for answers given cannot be accepted. Cases currently with an ombudsman, going through a court of law or sent to other columns will not be considered. In addition I cannot take up issues when the writer is a third party, other than in exceptional circumstances. I cannot respond to emails.