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RSA won’t repair the damage Storm Arwen did last November

<span>Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA</span>
Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

My house suffered substantial damage in Storm Arwen last November and it has been an ongoing battle with my insurer, RSA, to get it repaired. The programme of repairs has still not been approved and damage from water leaks is worsening.
LG, Hexham, Northumberland

You first contacted me in May. By then, you’d spent six months with masonry dropping from a damaged gable, an unstable rear wall, destroyed guttering, damaged window frames and water leaking through electric light fittings from a hole in the roof. A telecoms cable wrenched adrift couldn’t be reattached because of the unsafe brickwork, cutting off the broadband and landline. You, meanwhile, paid for broken windows to be reglazed and waited in vain for a promised refund.

The problem appears to be a familiar one: miscommunication between the companies involved – in this case, the claims management firm appointed by RSA, and the subcontracted surveyors and builders. The claims management firm objected to the builder’s requirement of scaffolding and a skip, without which the works couldn’t proceed. Over the ensuing months you were forced to chase each company, spending hours waiting for calls to be answered or returned.

I contacted RSA on 23 May. Within a day you were told the works had been approved. Scaffolding went up three weeks later, and the £664 you’d spent on replacing the glazing refunded. Repairs were finally completed this month, 10 months after your claim, and you have agreed a compensation payment with RSA.

RSA says: “Our handling of this claim has fallen below the standards our customers expect and those we set ourselves. We are taking steps to learn from the mistakes.”

Another RSA customer, RE of Newmarket, Suffolk and her family, have spent two months without proper running water because of delays replacing a leaking mains pipe under the kitchen. “RSA was alerted in mid July and, since then, we have been turning off our supply at the meter in the street to prevent damage to our house,” she writes. “We only put the water on for brief periods to shower or fill up jugs of drinking water.”

As in LG’s case, it seems that communication failures are to blame. Action spurted forth once a headline loomed, of course. RE was called the same day I made contact, a date for remedial works was offered, and the family was promised a daily disturbance allowance for the time the water supply was compromised.

RSA reached again for its stock response: “The handling of this claim by ourselves and our suppliers has fallen below the high standards we set ourselves and what our customers rightly expect of us. We will be taking steps to learn from the mistakes made.”

Reviews online suggest that this will be a steep learning curve. A new law come into effect in 2017 requiring insurers to settle claims within a “reasonable time”, or the policyholder can sue for damages. However, the Financial Ombudsman is the obvious first step, provided you’ve allowed the insurer eight weeks to respond to a complaint, or received a letter of deadlock from it.

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