Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Insurance FAQ's

What is an Insured Peril?

Insured perils are the things you are insured against. Your insurance policy will list them, normally under a heading of something like “what is covered”. The typical standard perils in a domestic buildings policy will be:

  • Fire
  • Escape of water
  • Escape of oil
  • Theft
  • Storm
  • Flood
  • Subsidence
  • Impact
  • Vandalism
  • Damage to services

Why do I pay for Insurance if it doesn’t pay out?

This is a very common and typical question if a claim is not accepted. In insurance terms, a claim is “repudiated” if the damage is not covered or there are other exclusions that mean your Insurers are not liable. You should check your policy for the exclusions that apply. Buildings insurance is not “fully comprehensive” but in defence of Insurance companies, if there is a valid claim, they will pay what they are liable to pay.

What is a Loss Adjuster?

A loss adjuster is a person engaged by an Insurance Company to investigate the circumstances surrounding a claim advised to them. The loss adjuster advises on matters relating to the policy conditions such as extent of liability, policy excesses, adequacy of sums insured and also makes “adjustments” for such things as betterment and wear and tear where applicable. The loss adjuster also advises the policyholder of the Insurers position and explains the implications of the insurance contract

What is a Loss Assessor?

A loss assessor is engaged by a policyholder where the policyholder seeks independent advice regarding Insurance Company decisions, usually where there is a dispute over the extent of liability. A loss assessor charges a fee which is not covered by the insurance policy.

Should I have my own surveyor or engineer?

If you want to. Using your own surveyor or engineer will involve you in some additional expense. You should remember that your Insurer is not responsible for the costs of preparing a claim and will only pay engineers or surveyors fees in relation to repairing or reinstating your home. Before engaging a surveyor or engineer you should check what fees they will charge and whether or not such fees may be accepted by your Insurer.

How long does an insurance claim take?

Largely the time needed to conclude a claim depends upon its nature and complexity. Subsidence claims generally take the longest to resolve, a normal claim of this type could be expected to take between 12 and 18 months from start to finish but the time does vary according to the specific circumstances.

Other types of claim can take anything from a few days to several months to resolve. The Loss Adjuster should at the outset advise how long the claim is likely to take and provide updates throughout the life of a claim.

Sometimes claims takes longer where loss assessors or engineers/surveyors are employed by a policyholder.

What is the Policy Excess?

A policy excess is an amount of money that is not covered by an insurance policy. It is sometimes called the deductible. The policy documentation will show what the excess amounts are. Typically, for most types of claim, the standard excess will be £50.00, £100.00 or £200.00 depending on the Insurer and the policy wording but for subsidence, heave and landslip, the standard excess is £1,000.00

The policy excess has to be paid by the policyholder. The excess can be deducted from any cash payment or requested as a payment to the Insurance Company or a contractor.

Can I avoid paying the policy excess?

No. However, in some instances and subject to negotiation, certain aspects of repair can be omitted and off-set against the excess. For example, redecoration of areas of repair can be left for a policyholder to deal with where the cost is equitable with the policy excess.

What are “further investigations”?

Typically this relates to subsidence claims where following the very first visit by a loss adjuster, it is necessary to establish the nature and cause of building movement. This may require trial holes to expose the foundations and then to obtain soil samples. The soil samples are tested and then a report is written to confirm or refute damage as being the result of foundation movement. Other activities that could be described as further investigation might include a drainage survey, a tree survey and also monitoring.

Who pays for further investigations?

Where further investigations (which includes ground investigations, surveyors or engineers inspection etc) are necessary to assist in the determination of the cause of damage reported to an insurance company, the cost involved is absorbed by the insurer. This will normally include the costs incurred in undertaking drainage surveys and tree surveys.

Who pays to remove trees?

In many instances, the cost of felling trees falls to the home owner. However, Insurance companies may fund tree removal/reduction if such work will avoid the cost of foundation underpinning.

Who pays to repair leaking drains?

If a leaking drainage system needs repairing, the cause of the leaks needs to be established. In some cases, the damage can be considered to be accidental in which case, an Insurance company may fund the repair (subject to a policy excess). If damage to drains is clearly the result of wear, tear and deterioration through age then such costs fall for the home owner.

Sometimes, if a drain is shared, the costs of repair are shared between those owners who have the benefit of the drain.

Why won’t my Insurance Company pay for all the repairs I want?

This is a common problem. An insurance policy does not provide cover for anything and everything that is wrong with a house. Inherent or “latent” defects are not covered, nor are problems associated with poor maintenance, structural alterations etc. For an insurance company to pay for work, there has to be the influence of an insured event or peril. If the investigations show damage is not due to any of the specified perils, the insurance company is not liable to pay for repairs.

What happens if I disagree with the diagnosis or recommended repairs?

Generally speaking, if you consider the technical assessment is wrong then you should write to the person handling your claim stating why. If your disagreement cannot be resolved by correspondence then a further assessment may be made. If this does not resolve your problem, you can, at your own cost engage your own engineer or surveyor and submit their report for further consideration.

Can I use my own builder?

For most work the answer is yes, subject to agreement by the loss adjuster. If you choose to use your own contractor, you should satisfy yourself that they are able to competently undertake the work and that they have adequate insurance. If underpinning is involved, check the contractor is covered for undertaking that type of work. Many contractors’ policies DO NOT cover underpinning.

What happens if the damage comes back?

This is quite rare but not unknown. Sometimes, crack repairs are undertaken following tree removal or drain repairs and then the monitoring shows stability so crack repairs are undertaken. It can happen that a change of normal weather patterns or nearby site conditions can bring about further movement. In these instances, you should advise your insurance company who will normally ask the original engineers/surveyors to re-assess the problem. If the damage returns normally within a 5 year period, the original claim will be re-opened without the application of a further policy excess provided there is not a clearly defined “new and intervening cause”

What happens if my house is underpinned and I then want to sell it?

A common question but the answer is quite long.

In the general case, you are required to disclose if you have had subsidence. This is a legal requirement and should be explained by your solicitor.

If your house was underpinned, you will need to show what was done, who did it and when it was undertaken. This information should be provided to you in reports, specifications and the final letter and completion certificate. If you have lost any of this documentation, you will have to pay for copies.

Solicitors want various pieces of paper. Guarantees, certificates and the like. The reason for this is that the purchasers solicitor wants to protect his/her client(s) and looks to have a paper trail to follow so that if there is something wrong, somebody is accountable.

In most instances, provided the current insurance company confirms subsidence cover will be maintained at normal market rates many of the issues do not arise.

The other sticking point is the prospective purchasers mortgage lender. Again they will want to see all the paperwork and would require confirmation that the current insurer would continue cover for the full range of specified perils at normal market rates.

Provided all the paperwork is available there should be little problem in completing a sale.

What happens if I want to sell my house during an insurance claim for subsidence?

In this case, there are options. You could agree a sale and transfer the right of the claim to the new owner.

Depending on the extent of the damage, it may be possible to agree to sell the house in its’ damaged condition but accept a lower price, the difference being made up by the Insurance Company. This is called a Diminution in Market Value Settlement (DMV).

Another option may be for the repairs to be priced and then accept a cash settlement, then give that money to the new owner for them to complete repairs.

Why do I have to pay a £1,000.00 subsidence policy excess when the problem was caused by a leaking drain?

Simple! The leaking drain is covered by insurance subject to a £50.00 excess or possibly £100.00 excess depending on your policy wording. This relates to the damage to the underground pipework only. If the leaking drain caused the house foundation to move, the resulting cracks and distortion are technically subsidence and therefore, the subsidence excess applies.

This was not always the case but the insurance industry identified a loophole in policy conditions and therefore, policy wording and conditions were changed.

The good news is that in most cases, insurance companies waive the excess for the drain repair and only seek to recover the subsidence excess.

Will my house be devalued because of subsidence damage?

Provided any subsidence damage is properly repaired there should be no significant reduction in value but people are often cautious if a property has suffered from subsidence. As long as the cause of any movement was identified and addressed and the long term stability and integrity of the building is returned there is no technical reason why full market value would not be achieved at sale, however, it is not unusual for a subsidence affected house to be reduced in value because of a perceived increase in risk of reocurrence.

What happens if I have a complaint?

Hopefully you will not have cause to complain. However, if you feel there are serious issues relating to any aspect of our service to you, you should first speak with the person dealing with your particular project. If this does not resolve the issues then you should write to us as set out in our complaints handling procedure.

If you are still unhappy, you should contact your Insurer setting out the reason(s) for your dissatisfaction.

Engineering FAQ's

What is monitoring and how long does it take?

Monitoring refers to the measurement of cracks and distortions in a property to determine if structural movements are taking place. Typically, such monitoring is restricted to using tell-tales fixed across certain cracks in the walls. The monitoring usually starts at the time of a site investigation (but not always) and is usually left in place for not less than 6 – 12 months. Sometimes, the monitoring can take longer depending upon the circumstances and whether or not trees and vegetation have been removed and/or drains repaired.

Tell-tale crack monitoring uses small stainless steel discs and vernier calipers. The measurements are generally accurate to 0.01mm but a building is generally considered to be stable where variations in measurements are within a tolerance of about 1.00mm but again, this is not applicable to all cases. Crack monitoring tell tales are usually read on a bi-monthly interval.

Level Monitoring is another method for determining if a property is stable or continuing to move. This technique in most cases can be done by simply taking relative levels around the damp proof course or other suitable feature that would normally be level all around the building (within acceptable tolerances). This type of monitoring is suited to measuring tilt and for preparing general distortion plans. Level measurements are not undertaken at the same frequency as tell-tale readings, often, 6 monthly intervals are sufficient but can be increased as circumstances dictate.

Why do my trees have to be cut down?

The removal of trees in relation to cases of subsidence damage generally relate to areas with CLAY soils. Clays shrink and swell depending on how much moisture they have in them. Trees extract moisture and can cause shrinkage, foundations move down and cracks appear. Very often, BUT NOT ALWAYS, removing trees or other vegetation is an appropriate remedy. Taking a tree out enables the clay to take up moisture and swell literally lifting the house back to its stating position (or at least close to it). Once this has taken place, the house should remain stable and foundation underpinning is not likely to be needed.

The other reason for removing a tree is that you may own a tree that is causing damage to a neighbours house. Irrespective of whether you would agree or not, you have a legal liability in respect of damage caused by trees in your ownership. Often you will be notified by an engineer/surveyor or loss adjuster that a tree or trees in your garden are causing damage. If you do not remove them or reduce them, the costs of repairing a neighbours house could be recovered from you and/or your liability insurers.

Will my house have to be underpinned?

Many people appear to believe subsidence means your house HAS TO BE underpinned and that this will mean having to move out. This is rarely the case.

Underpinning is a last resort; it is normal to explore other options before considering underpinning unless the damage is severe or there is clear evidence stability could not be achieved without it.

What is foundation underpinning?

Foundation underpinning is broadly defined as the downward extension of a foundation. Its’ purpose is to transfer the building loads to more stable soils that exist at greater depth. Depending on the depth required, and the extent of superstructure damage, foundation underpinning may be undertaken in the “traditional” form which is with mass concrete – typically, this method is used for smaller projects and normally for depths of upto 2.75m, 3.0m+ is unusual but does sometimes need to be done.

Where the extended foundation needs to reach beyond 3.0m, piling is the preferred method.

What is the difference between mass concrete and piled underpinning?

In essence, mass concrete underpinning involves men digging under the house foundation and then filling up the hole with concrete. As the depth increases so do the difficulties and the risks. Mass concrete is not suitable in some ground conditions where it is only safe to use piling options.

Piling is a much more economical and safe method of providing deep foundations. In very basic terms piling is like banging a big nail into the ground and then attaching the house foundation to it. The methods for piling structures does vary and can be quite complicated.

What is soil grouting? (Ground improvement)

Where movements take place in sandy soils, the ground can be improved by grouting. This essentially involves pumping in a material (cement grout or special expanding polymer grouts) that bind the granular soil together and makes the ground stronger so it can support a building. The polymer grouts can also expand and are used to lift buildings back to level. Grouting is a specialist operation but it is very quick with minimal disruption but is only suited to a limited range of site conditions.

What guarantees do I get when my house is repaired?

In most cases, where the repairs are restricted to superstructure crack repairs and redecorations there are no guarantees as such, however, Insurance cover is unaffected and if damage returns then your Insurance Company will reopen the claim depending on the elapsed time.

If the repair involves underpinning there should be a materials and workmanship guarantee from the contractor. Some contractors offer a limited insurance backed guarantee but this is not an absolute requirement.

Upon completion of repairs, it is normal to issue a letter outlining the nature of the problem , the investigations undertaken and the work that was done.

How do I know if my house has subsidence?

This is not an easy question to answer but typically, subsidence manifests itself as cracking in the external walls of the house. Subsidence tends to generate diagonal cracks (but not always) and such cracks are visible inside and out. It is unlikely there will be cracks only at first floor level. Subsidence cracks can often be followed down to ground level. It is rare for subsidence to generate just one crack in isolation, there will be other cracks and/or distortions.

Subsidence can also cause distortion of windows and doors but be careful because there are other factors that can cause distortions that look like subsidence but are completely unrelated.

Another problem is whether or not a crack in a wall is recent. All buildings move and crack. It is quite common for cracks to be identified when they have in fact been present for many years. Fresh cracks are characterised by having sharp edges and are not full of debris and cobwebs. Old cracks look dull and often have paint and old filler in them.

Be aware that there are many causes of cracking in buildings and only one of them is subsidence.

What is BRE Digest 251?

The BRE is the Building Research Establishment. The BRE is a scientific organisation that focuses on all aspects of the built environment. The research that is undertaken is published in a variety of documents of which, the Digests form a principal source of information for surveyors, engineers, architects and contractors. Digest 251 “Assessment of damage in low-rise buildings” is essentially the yard stick by which the seriousness of cracking and distortion in houses is measured.

What are latent or inherent construction defects?

These are problems in houses that result from their design and/or construction. Typical examples of such defects include roof spread, wall tie failure, poor lateral restraint, calcium silicate brickwork, shrinkage of plaster, compaction of fill under solid floors. These types of problem are not generally covered by insurance.

I have cracks in my walls but I have been told it is my windows. Is this right?

Absolutely. Where replacement windows are installed, the installers very often do not consider the consequences. Timber windows in many instances are actually load bearing, especially bay windows.

Replacement windows are not load bearing and if the installation is not correctly executed, structural damage can result. In extreme cases, it is not unknown for partial structural failure to result from a defective window installation.

Yes plastics window frames should be reinforced but this is to provide rigidity against wind loads not to carry structural loads. Also, replacement windows should have a gap all round to account for expansion and contraction, this often causes a problem that is simply “covered up”.

When replacing windows, there should always be a check carried out to ensure there is an adequate lintel support across the opening. In the case of bay windows, there should be properly considered bay poles that MUST bear onto the brickwork (not the plastic cill!!) and then onto the structure above the head of the window (this could be brick or timber).

What is crack stitching?

Crack stitching is a method for repairing cracks in masonry. In the “old days” crack stitching was done by removing cracked bricks or blocks and putting in new ones and then repointing.

To make sure the bond and integrity of masonry is properly reinstated, cracks are raked out and short lengths of stainless steel are embedded into the mortar to transfer load and stresses across the broken joints. The repair is simple and is well within the capabilities of a competent general builder.

What is resin bonding?

Resin bonding is another method of repairing cracks in masonry. In very simple terms a special resin is injected into a crack and “glues” the wall together. This is a good method of repair where the circumstances are appropriate but should not really be considered in older properties that have old lime based mortars.

What is EML?

EML stands for expanded metal lath. EML is used under plaster and render where it provides a good key for the applied surface finish, helps to control cracks and also provides additional strength across a repaired crack.

What is thermal cracking?

Thermal cracking affects most masonry structures. All building materials move as a function of expansion and contraction caused by variations in temperature. These movements generate stresses within the materials. When the stresses reach a certain magnitude, the material cracks and effectively forms a movement joint to allow the expansion and contraction to continue.

Why do my doors and windows sometimes stick?

It is true that building movement can be identified by sticking doors and windows as the openings distort as a function of structural movement but more commonly, doors and windows (timber) will stick due to changes in the weather. This might sound strange but timber is a remarkable material, it is sensitive to relative humidity and temperature and responds to its’ environmental conditions. Timber is anisotropic and has a high hygroscopicity (scary science!)

Anisotropic means the strength of the material is different depending on where it is measured (across the grain, parallel to the grain). Hygroscopicity relates to the ability to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. As a function of these properties, timber “breathes”, it shrinks and swells and warps and twists in varying degrees and it is this natural behaviour that often causes doors and windows to stick.

My house is going to be repaired, why do I have to be “the employer” under the contract?

In very simple terms, as the home owner you want the repairs undertaken. For a contract to exist you have to have an offer from a contractor to do the work and acceptance of the price and the terms and conditions from you.

Essentially, you have to remember that although the Insurance Company provides the funding for work, you are the person asking for it to be undertaken. If you engaged a contractor yourself, you would be the employer, you might also have a surveyor or engineer to advise you. The situation is almost the same as part of an Insurance claim but you seek payment or at least reimbursement for the work undertaken from your Insurer.

What is roof spread?

Roof spread is a problem where a cut timber roof becomes distorted because there are inadequacies in its design. Sometimes, roof spread happens because the roof covering has been changed from slates to heavier concrete tiles.

The simplest way to describe what happens is to consider an old style step ladder that has a chord to hold the ladder up. If the chord is cut the legs of the ladder move outward and it collapses. Roof spread is not a sudden event and collapse is very unlikely unless it is left for a long time.

What are wall ties?

In a cavity wall, there are two thin skins of masonry. Older houses have two skins of brickwork, more modern houses a skin of brickwork and a skin of blockwork.

The two skins need to be tied together to give the wall structural integrity. The ties should be positioned at 900mm centres horizontally and 450mm centres vertically. The ties themselves were made from iron in early times and then out of galvanised steel. Corrosion of the ties has become apparent as have problems with an inadequate number of ties.

If there are insufficient ties or the ties have corroded, the wall becomes unstable and often cracks and bulges. The damage can look like foundation movement but is unrelated to the foundation.

What is the Party Wall etc Act 1996?

The Party Wall Act is a piece of legislation that requires building owners to advise their neighbours of certain works that could affect a party or boundary wall or any building within certain distances of certain types of work. The Act confers rights to building owners and adjoining owners but fundamentally it seeks co-operation between parties.

Where works to a property fall within the Act, party wall notices are served. Provided there is agreement between parties for works to be carried out, the requirements of the Act are fulfilled, if there is disagreement, then the Act sets out the procedure to be followed to resolve any dispute. Accordingly, if there is a dispute, repairs to a property may be delayed.

The Party Wall etc Act 1996 also applies to such things as extensions and conservatories.

What is CDM?

CDM is the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and is more widely known as Health and Safety. The CDM regulations require designers and contractors to properly consider hazards and risks and then remove or reduce them as far as practicable.

CDM regulations place duties on clients, designers and contractors. For all projects, there should be an audit trail showing due diligence in the consideration of health and safety issues. Sometimes, a project may have to be stopped due to issues relating to health and safety where unforeseen circumstances arise. For a householder, this may cause frustrating delays but a short delay cannot outweigh the possibility of a serious injury or even death.

What is “historic movement”?

Historic movement or more generally, historic damage is the term used to describe evidence of movement or distortion that happened some years ago. Historic damage will be things like old filled in cracks, distorted windows/doors, areas of repointed masonry. Such damage indicates a building has moved but is now stable and no further action is needed provided there is nothing to indicate otherwise.

Is there a difference between subsidence and settlement?

Yes. Unfortunately, the two terms are often misused and interchanged. Settlement in simple terms means something being squashed. In relation to buildings this could mean the ground compressing under the weight of the building, or loose material being compacted over time by its own weight. In most cases, damage caused by settlement is not covered by insurance.

Subsidence on the other hand is normally associated with an outside influence, tree roots sucking out moisture to cause clay shrinkage. Mining activity, water leaking from pipes or drains causing erosion of granular soils.

What is a certificate of structural adequacy?

This is a reference to the Institution of Structural Engineers publication “Subsidence of low-rise buildings” Second Edition, published August 2000. In relation to insurance claims for subsidence, this is a suggested form to be used at the completion of underpinning work. The form confirms what structural foundation work was undertaken and/or any significant superstructure work completed. There is no contractual or legal requirement for one to be provided, it is not a guarantee.

Some Insurers ask for this type of certificate to be issued if foundation work is undertaken but some do not.

The context of the form is not up to date and does not reflect common industry practice where procurement methods have changed dramatically.