This section of our website sets out how we approach complaints involving buildings insurance disputes about storm damage.
Buildings insurance policies generally cover financial loss caused by storm damage.
Complaints we see about claims for storm damage sometimes involve disputes between the consumer and the insurer about what actually constitutes a “storm”.
We also see complaints where the insurer does not consider damage to a building was caused by a storm – or where it does not consider damage that occurred during a storm was predominantly caused by that storm.
Buildings insurance policies do not necessarily define what a storm is. We consider that a storm generally involves violent winds, and is usually accompanied by rain, hail or snow.
But we accept that there can be circumstances where storm damage is caused to property without high winds occurring. This damage could be caused by extremes of other forms of bad weather.
Insurers will sometimes rely on the Beaufort Scale to justify whether or not they should meet a claim. The Beaufort Scale categorises wind speed on a scale of 0 to 12. Insurers sometimes say that only winds above a certain point on this scale represent “storm force” winds that are capable of damaging a building.
When we assess complaints, we do not rely solely on the wind speed measured on the Beaufort Scale. We may obtain local weather reports – but we will take into account that these may come from weather stations at some distance from the property that is the subject of the claim.We consider carefully all the evidence in each individual case, to determine whether the loss claimed by the consumer was caused by a storm, or by another type of event.
When we investigate a complaint about an insurance claim for storm damage, there are three key issues we consider:
In considering these issues, we take into account weather reports, the condition of the property, and information about the storm conditions in question. Having done so, if the answer to all of the three questions above is “yes” then we are likely to uphold the complaint.
Even if we decide that there was no storm damage, or that the buildings were so poorly maintained it was reasonable for the insurer to decline a claim for storm damage, the consumer may still be able to claim for some of their losses under the accidental damage section of their policy – if there is one. There is more information about our approach to these types of cases in our note on household insurance: accidental damage.
We often obtain weather reports covering the period the storm is said to have occurred – so that we can assess the weather conditions at that time.
Although the weather station where the readings were taken may not be the exact location of the damaged property, they can still provide useful evidence of weather conditions at that time.
We also take into account the condition of the property at the time the storm damage is said to have occurred.
For example, we may be asked to investigate a complaint involving a claim for a flat roof said to have been damaged by a storm. If we decide that the flat roof was already in a poor state of repair at the time of the storm – and this would, or should, have been clear to the consumer – we are unlikely to uphold a complaint against the insurer for refusing to make a payment for storm damage.
Many insurance policies exclude damage caused by wear and tear. Some also exclude damage caused by gradual deterioration or “gradually operating causes”.
Where an insurance claim has been rejected – because the insurer says damage to a property that occurred during a storm resulted from wear and tear or gradual deterioration – we will assess what the dominant or effective cause of the damage actually was.
An example would be where a consumer claimed for damage to their roof following a storm – but the roof tiles already appeared to be in a poor condition before the storm. We would carefully consider whether the roof tiles would have been displaced regardless of the storm – or whether they were in a good enough condition to have remained in place for some time, had it not been for the storm.
If we decided that the roof tiles would have been displaced regardless of the storm, we are unlikely to uphold the complaint. But if we took the view that the tiles were in a good enough condition to have remained in place if the storm had not happened, we are likely to uphold the complaint.
For a complaint to be successful, we normally have to be able to identify which particular storm actually caused the damage being claimed for. We are unlikely to uphold a complaint, if the claim relates to an unidentified storm. But if it is clear that there were a number of storms and the damage must have been caused by one of these, we would usually uphold the complaint.
We see cases where the consumer complains that a retaining wall has collapsed following stormy weather. When we investigate complaints like this, we consider what the primary cause for the wall collapsing could have been.
Sometimes we decide that the collapse was caused by a gradual build up of pressure behind the wall. This can be aggravated by “weep-holes” becoming blocked over time, by an absence of any “weep-holes” at all, or by incorrect mortar repairs in older walls.
“Weep-holes” and lime mortar allow moisture building up behind the wall to escape, easing pressure and reducing the chance of the wall collapsing.
Most modern walls have “weep-holes” to prevent this problem. But many older walls do not. We would not consider a consumer to be at fault for failing to add “weep-holes” to a wall that had not originally been built with them.
However, if we consider that a wall has collapsed because of earth behind it becoming saturated over time, we would not regard this as storm damage (although this type of damage might be covered by other parts of a buildings insurance policy).
Disputes are referred to us where the insurer has agreed to a claim for storm damage – but the consumer is unhappy with the material used in the repairs.
For example, where part of a roof has been damaged, replacement new tiles may initially look out of place, compared with the existing weathered ones. Dissatisfied with the match of new and old tiles, the consumer may complain that the insurer has not replaced the entire roof.
In general, in the cases we deal with, we look for evidence that the insurer – when arranging repairs – has provided a reasonable match to the existing building structure. We are unlikely to uphold a complaint just because the building materials the insurer has used look slightly different to existing materials which have weathered.
We take into account that external structures can weather quickly – which means that differences can soon disappear. We also consider whether there are any features that help to disguise the mismatch or draw attention to it – eg posts, a sharp corner, vegetation etc. Where the insurer uses materials that do not provide a reasonable match, we may tell it to obtain a better match or to pay compensation to the consumer.
We sometimes receive complaints about claims relating to storm damage made under a contents insurance policy.
It is possible that we may uphold a complaint about a claim for damage to contents due to a storm – but reject a claim for damage under a buildings insurance policy due to the same storm.
For example, following a storm, water might enter a property through gaps in the roof tiles – and cause damage to house contents. A consumer might make a claim on both their buildings and contents cover for storm damage to the roof and to their contents.
In these circumstances, we consider whether the consumer was aware that there was damage to their roof. If we decide that they were not aware, we might uphold the complaint relating to the contents insurance claim.
But we might reject the buildings insurance claim, if we consider that the primary cause of the damage to the roof tiles was wear and tear, rather than the identified storm.
We sometimes receive complaints about insurance claims for damage caused as a result of a snow storm. Snow fall may sometimes constitute a storm, where high volumes fall over a relatively short period of time – and the snow fall is extreme.
However, damage is often caused where snow falls gradually over the course of a number of days. It is the weight of this snow which may cause roofs to collapse and other forms of damage.
In cases like this, we look at whether the damage was consistent with a snow storm – or related to maintenance issues. Case study C shows our approach in cases like this.
Where we uphold a complaint, we are likely to require the insurer to reconsider the storm damage claim – and deal with it in line with the policy terms and conditions.
If any payment is then due, we normally add simple interest at 8% per annum (less tax if appropriate) from the date of the loss to the date the claim is settled.
We will tell the insurer to pay compensation where we consider it has caused the consumer distress or inconvenience in its handling of the claim.
Mr and Mrs A suffered damage to their roof. The insurer agreed with them that the damage had occurred following a storm. But it refused to cover the full costs of repair. It said that that nails securing the roof slates had been fatigued – and that this “wear and tear” was excluded under the policy.
The insurer provided a note of a phone conversation from its representative. According to this note, a contractor had visited Mr and Mrs A’s house and had noted that the nails securing the roof slates had rusted. However, the insurer could not provide a recording of this phone conversation or written confirmation from the contractor in question.
With the insurer’s agreement, Mr and Mrs A instructed a second contractor to inspect the damage to the roof. This contractor’s report indicated that the damage to the roof had occurred because of the storm. The report did not mention any wear and tear contributing to the damage.
We decided that the balance of evidence showed that the cause of the damage was the storm. We told the insurer to reconsider the claim and to pay any settlement due to Mr and Mrs A.
Following storm-force winds, a mosque suffered damage to its minarets. The mosque claimed for storm damage under its buildings insurance and the insurer commissioned a report from a structural engineer. This report suggested that cracks in the minarets might have been caused by problems with the original design and construction of the mosque.
The insurer subsequently declined the claim for storm damage. Following an unsuccessful complaint about this, the matter was referred to us.
In our investigation of the case, we noted that the engineer had described his report as being “based on a limited assessment” of the evidence – and that he had asked for further structural plans to make a more detailed assessment. The insurer had declined to commission further reports, as it considered the cost of the insurance claim did not merit this.
We decided that if the insurer wanted to reject the claim – on the basis of the unsound construction and structure of the building – it would need to rely on more compelling evidence than a “limited” engineer’s report.
We also took the view that the engineer’s comments that the winds prevailing prior to the damage were “strong rather than extreme” lacked credibility, as weather reports had recorded wind speeds of 73mph, which is Force 12 (hurricane) on the Beaufort scale.
Based on the evidence we had been provided with, we concluded that storm was more likely the cause of the damage to the mosque than structural defect. We told the insurer to treat the mosque’s insurance claim as one for storm damage under the policy’s terms and conditions.
Mr F suffered damage to his conservatory. He said it was caused by heavy snowfall over a period of days – which he believed constituted a snow storm. Mr F’s insurer rejected his claim. It said that the damage was not covered as an insured event, such as storm damage. It pointed out that Mr F could have claimed under accidental damage, if he had taken out this type of cover.
The matter was referred to us as an unresolved dispute. We decided that there had been a significant amount of snow on the roof of the conservatory before the damage had occurred. However, in our view this snow had built up gradually over a period of days – rather than as a one-off event of extreme snowfall, which we agreed would constitute a “storm”. We did not uphold Mr F’s complaint.
what caused the damage – poor maintenance or “insured risk”?
storm damage case studies:
The following information may also be useful:
contact our technical advice desk on 020 7964 1400
This is part of our online technical resource which sets out our general approach to complaints about a wide range of financial products and issues. We would like your feedback on how helpful you found it. Please also use the feedback form below to tell us about anything you think we could clarify or explain better.