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GUIDE TO MAKING AN INSURANCE CLAIM

A fire in your home

If you've experienced a fire in your home, you face a long process before you can get your life back to normal. Here is a guide to what you can expect to happen, in what order, and the options you face.

Steps To TakeYour Options
Step 1. Safety is paramount. Once the water has subsided, it is your responsibility to mitigate any damage or loss and ensure your house is safe. There are two key steps you must take:
  • Firstly, remember that you are legally responsible for ensuring there is no danger to the public or anyone entering the house. Has the fire compromised the structure of your house? You need to bring in a qualified (chartered) surveyor* to check.
  • Secondly, has the fire compromised the electrical safety of your home? You must have your house checked by a qualified electrician.
As it's your legal responsibility to do this, and if there's immediate danger, you need to act immediately. You can therefore go ahead and instruct electricians and contractors to make your building safe as necessary as long as the costs are appropriate. If there is no immediate danger, you can wait for the insurance company to do it.
Step 2. Find somewhere to stay. Your next priority will be to find somewhere for your family to move in to temporarily in the immediate aftermath of the incident. If you have pets, they may have to be housed elsewhere.You can choose to stay either in a hotel or with friends and family until you find somewhere long-term (see Step 11).
Step 3. Decide if you want to use a loss assessor. A loss assessor works on your behalf, handling the entire claim process including buildings, contents and emergency accommodation. The sooner you decide to engage one, the more of the burden they can take away.Consider carefully the advantages of using a loss assessor and the potential pitfalls if you don't.
Step 4. Notify the insurance company. You need to tell them immediately. Many will have a special emergency number that you can call 24 hours every day throughout the year.

All the steps above should be completed immediately following the fire.

Step 5. Meet with the loss adjuster. The insurance company will appoint a loss adjuster: they work on behalf of the insurer and will handle all the investigations and negotiations. An initial fact-finding meeting will take place immediately, probably at your damaged home. The loss adjuster will assess the damage as well as asking you pertinent and searching questions about your loss: for example, was the property occupied; who was living there; your claims history. Depending on the size and circumstances of your claim, the loss adjuster may instruct a forensic scientist to investigate the cause of the fire.
Step 6. Loss adjuster's initial report. Following this meeting, the loss adjuster will submit a detailed report to the insurance company on the circumstances surrounding the fire. He or she will also make a recommendation on whether the insurer should accept liability and agree to pay your claim - or not. They will also decide whether the limits of your insurance policy are sufficient; if not, you face a problem with under-insurance.
Step 7. Appointment of emergency contractors. These should now be appointed to carry out any immediate emergency works. This may include:
  • Salvaging and safely storing anything that isn't too badly damaged.
  • Securing and weather-proofing the property: for example covering the roof; boarding up windows and doors; scaffolding.
  • Checking for the presence of asbestos.
  • Making the property safe.
  • But remember: your insurers may not agree to pay for this work until they are happy with your claim. In the meantime, it is still your responsibility to mitigate your loss and prevent injury to anyone.
You are entitled to appoint the contractors you want provided they are suitably qualified and their costs are reasonable. You do not have to use your insurer's contractors.
Step 8. Appointment of qualified (chartered) surveyor*. He or she will assess the damage to your property and put together a detailed scope of works and specification for the re-instatement of your home.We would recommend you do not use a surveyor appointed by the insurance company or their loss adjuster. You need to ensure they are truly independent and will work in your best interests**
Step 9. Contents claim. You (or your loss assessor) will now start to prepare a claim for lost or damaged contents. It is your responsibility to make this as detailed as possible, with accurate replacement values. Your policy will probably state that certain items, such as clothes and bedding, will be replaced on an ‘indemnity' basis: in other words, there will be a reduction for wear-and-tear on their value. And if you claim for high-specification items, such as designer clothes or sophisticated electronic equipment, you will need to provide proof of make, model, design etc if they are to accept the claim.Contents claims can be settled by accepting replacement goods, cash, or a combination of the two.
Step 10. Emergency accommodation/costs claim. You or your loss assessor will now compile a claim for your initial costs: for example those incurred for emergency accommodation in the wake of the fire, plus any additional immediate costs you incurred as a direct result of the incident.
Step 11. Find long-term temporary accommodation. You will now need to find appropriate long-term temporary accommodation for your family while your property is being restored. If you have pets, you may also have to find different long-term accommodation for them.You can choose to stay in either rented property, with friends or family, or in some instances if there is sufficient land available in a mobile home near your property.
Step 12. Negotiations with loss adjuster. There should now be another meeting with the insurer's loss adjuster (probably on site) to discuss the entire claim, including:
  • building specification/scope of works.
  • contents claim: typically this carries on for a considerable period while you gather proof of value or quotes for replacement of items such as carpets, furniture and curtains; there may also be disputes over what the insurer deems non-claimable items. There will almost certainly be two aspects to your claim: cash and replacement items.
  • emergency accommodation costs: you will need to agree a budget with the loss adjuster - what he or she regards as suitable for your family may not align with your wishes.
Step 13. Move into long-term alternative accommodation. Once it's been approved by the insurer, you are free to move your family in to your new temporary home.
Step 14. Tender process. The surveyor will now put the rebuilding works out to tender.
Step 15. Contents claim. You may now be able to agree certain elements of your contents claim, and it's likely that the cash element can then be paid. You may also be able to agree any replacement items you will need in your emergency accommodation; alternatively these may have to wait until you move back into your home. However, negotiations may still continue.
Step 16. Tender process. Tenders will now be submitted by contractors bidding for the work: these will be analysed by the surveyor.
Step 17. Contractors appointed. The successful tender will now be accepted and the contractors who will do the work on your home will be appointed.If the contractor you would prefer to carry out the work has not submitted the lowest-priced tender, your options are as follows:
  • your contractor can reduce their quote
  • you can fund the difference
  • you can agree a combination of the two.
Step 18. Pre-contract meeting. The surveyor will meet with the contractors on site to agree the final scope of works.
Step 19. Building works. These now progress until completion.You don't have to have your home reinstated exactly as it was before the escape of water, and this offers a good opportunity to make long-awaited alterations.
Step 20. Contents claim. This should now be fully agreed and all payments made or replacement items secured.
Step 21. You can return home. You can now move your family back into your newly-restored home.
Step 22. Final claim. You now submit the final part of your claim which covers all your expenses for temporary accommodation.

We hope that your life can return to normal as soon as possible.

*Not all “surveyors” are qualified. You need to ensure that you use a firm of Chartered Surveyors, who are regulated by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. This will guarantee their credentials and give you the re-assurance that they are fully trained and qualified.

** Appointing independent chartered surveyors for substantial building works is critical for a policyholder. If you decide not to use the services of a loss assessor such as Morgan Clark, we can introduce you to an experienced chartered surveyor.

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