Floods: how to make your insurance claim watertight

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Home owners across the country are grappling with flooded properties. Even if you are fully insured, there are steps you need to take to ensure that your claim is successful.

If you have little choice but to make a claim the first move is to call your insurer's help line number to log your claim and seek advice. Damage to the fabric of the building is covered under building policies while you need to claim against contents contracts for your possessions.

It can help if you have already assessed the situation yourself, can give an accurate report of the damage you have suffered and have an idea of what work needs doing immediately.

If you have a clear idea of the required repairs, most insurers will give you the option of arranging tradesmen on your behalf, or allowing you to choose a local plumber, electrician or builder that you value. Do not commission them until you have received a green light from the insurer.

Where a property is substantially damaged and the claim likely to be significant, the insurer may wish to send around a loss adjuster. Most companies pledge to carry out an inspection within 24 hours, but where there has been major devastation, this time table can slip.

Floods can flush out cowboys so beware builders touting door-to-door, and never pay cash in advance. Get signed receipts for all work done. If you cannot return to your home, insurance policies will provide alternative accommodation up to 20 per cent of the value of the sum assured, ie the rebuilding costs. But do not book into a hotel without first receiving the green light from your insurance company.

Many companies can get discounts from hotels and boarding houses with which they have special links. Similarly, families want to stay close to their homes in a caravan, should seek their insurers advice.

Pet kennels is not covered by your household insurance, but may be paid under a pet insurance policy.

= How to flood proof your home =

• Move (NasdaqGS: MOVE - news) electrical sockets above the likely water line. Axa (Paris: FR0000120628 - news) claims director David Williams says: "We see homes which are flooded each year, and every time the down stairs has to be completely rewired. This can be avoided by positioning all electrics and power-point etc above the floodline.

• Fit non-returnable valves on your drains. These can cost between a few hundred and a few thousand pounds. Association of British Insurers spokesman Malcolm Tarling says: "Drains can be a major problem, with much flooding caused by sewage surging back up. This can be the most distressing form of water infiltration. If it is possible to fit any kind of valve to prevent sewage surges, it is money well spent."

• Airbrick covers and door guards can be bought at DIY stores, and easily fitted in an emergency. These will keep water out of your home. Make sure you know where electricity and water mains are located so you can switch them off in an emergency

= What to do when water is heading your way =

It is important to collect key documentation in a safe place upstairs. This includes insurance documents and helpline numbers, plus personal telephone book for relatives and friends, and a local directory for contacting tradesmen and the emergency services. You may also like to ensure passports and driving documents are safeguarded as well as bank, mortgage and credit card details.

Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies at the mains. Unplug all electrical items and store upstairs. If possible cover doors, windows and airbricks with plywood, metal sheeting or sandbags, which may be available from your local council. Take as many items of furniture and precious possessions as possible upstairs.

Where possible take photographs of your rooms. This will not only provide evidence to support any claim, but will remind you of what you have lost.

It is vital to keep abreast of the latest flood warnings and weather forecasts either via the Met Office website www.metoffice.gov.uk or television and radio broadcasts. The Environment Agency also operates a Floodline on 0845 988 1188 for up-to-date flood warnings.

= How to make a claim =

• Take photographs or videos of damaged property as evidence.

• File claims without delay as a large volume of claims may cause administrative backlog.

• Keep samples of damaged carpets, skirting boards and architraves to show quality.

• Keep receipts for replaced property in case you need to claim again.

• Ensure property is rid of damp before redecorating.

• Telephone your home insurance company to advise them you are about to make a claim it may be possible to avoid filling in forms and posting them.

• Losses caused as a result of criminal action should be reported to the police so that you can obtain a crime reference number.