When buying a property, it is usually a given that you will be taking out a home insurance policy of some kind.

But not many people are aware that not living in your home full-time can invalidate your insurance, and that most household insurance policies say that if you leave your home “unoccupied” for a period of time, normally 30 or 60 days, then you will not be covered for certain “insured perils.

It is unclear exactly what an insurer means when it talks of a property being “unoccupied“.  Does it mean that the property is uninhabitable or incapable of being inhabited to a reasonable degree of comfort, health and safety?  Or maybe it is simply that nobody was actually living in the property at the relevant time.

Many of the disputes about “unoccupied” property involve properties that are undergoing refurbishment or renovation, and one couple in particular found out the hard way.

In 2010, aGlastonburycouple purchased a bungalow for £138,000.  It needed modernisation and for 12 months they spent all their free time working on it.  But, two weeks before they were due to move in, a neighbour’s home caught fire which quickly spread to their home.

Despite their devastating loss, the couple were comforted that they had taken out home protection and buildings insurance in addition to their mortgage.

The couple claimed on their policy, which was organised by Countrywide and underwritten by global insurance giant Axa Insurance.  However, the insurance company rejected the claim on the grounds that the house was not occupied during the renovation.

The couple insisted that when they bought the policy at Countrywide – who had also arranged the mortgage, they had explained in detail exactly what they would be doing at the house and how often they would be there.

After a long and stressful fight, in July 2012, the Financial Ombudsman Service reviewed the case and upheld the couple’s complaint against Countrywide concluding the policy was mis-sold.  Despite this, Countrywide said they would review the case and that there was no guarantee they would accept the new ruling.

At this point the couple still faced losing the entire value of their home.

It was only when the couple got someone to help them fight their case that Axa had a change of heart and said they would pay the claim in full and provide compensation.

If you are thinking of moving house, it is important to appoint a solicitor you can trust to act in your best interests at all times.  Equally, if you are having problems with an insurer in situations like this, it is important to get proper help to ensure that you get the right result.

At Abacus Solicitors we have a team of professionals with wealth of experience and a passion for the detail in dealing with matters of this nature

For advice or assistance with moving house, call Dan Harrison on 0161 833 0044 or David Simpsonon 01925 210999. Alternatively, you can email property@abacus-law.co.uk.

If you need help with a claim against an insurer, please call our Litigation team on 0161 833 0044 or email litigation@abacus-law.co.uk

House Insurance Complaints Facts:

  • Complaints about buildings and contents insurance have risen steeply in recent years with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) upholding about half of the 6,645 complaints last year in favour of the consumer.
  • A significant proportion of the complaints are related to claims.  In some cases, poor investigations were carried out by insurers or claims were rejected on “gut instinct” rather than as a result of evidence
  • Poor weather has also been a significant factor in complaints about home insurance following a few particularly bad winters.

Source: Financial Ombudsman Service annual review 2011-12