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Storm clouds gather over roof leak insurance claim

Miles Brignall
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

After a night of storms in mid-January my mother woke up to a wet ceiling, and it soon emerged that the small flat roof that covers part of her home was leaking.

She phoned her insurance company, RIAS, to report it, and contacted an emergency roofer with a good reputation. He confirmed the roof was at fault and patched it up to make it watertight until she could discuss the matter with her home insurer.

RIAS quickly stated that she was not covered and that she would need to prove that more than 25mm of rain had fallen within one hour to be able to claim.

As far as I can see, this figure was plucked out of the air. We checked the policy to validate what the customer service representative had said, and were unable to find any references to rainfall or roof leakages. It is ambiguous and vague, so we raised a complaint.

At the time, there were various storms sweeping across the north-east, where my mother lives.

We were told to attach the newspaper clippings to our reply and complaint, showing the rain and wind from Storm Christoph, which we did, but again we were ignored.

My mother has requested that the company fit a completely new roof as she cannot wait for more damage to occur. She hasn’t claimed in her four years as a RIAS customer, and now feels very badly treated.

We want to cancel the policy and buy cover that will actually pay out, but RIAS wants an extra £35 to release her.

CH, north-east England

The Financial Ombudsman Service, which gets a lot of complaints each year from people in your shoes, says, in its guidance on the issue, that most insurers define a storm as when the wind is more than 54mph, or when the Beaufort scale hits 10.

In your case, RIAS appears to have decided that 25mm of rain has to have fallen within an hour for such a claim to succeed, although there doesn’t appear to be any reference to this in the policy wording.

I’m not a meteorologist, but that seems like a very high bar to meet as a claimant, given that rainfall figures generally report for 24-hour periods.

The average annual rainfall for nearby Newcastle upon Tyne is only 650mm.

I asked the company to take a second look at your claim and it has now agreed to pay £3,299 towards the £7,600 it cost your mother to replace the roof. It will also pay the bill for redecorating, giving a total settlement of £5,452.

Has anyone else made a storm damage claim to RIAS, and what was the outcome? Email the usual address.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email us at consumer.champions@theguardian.com. Please include a daytime phone number. Submission and publication of all letters is subject to our terms and conditions