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How to choose your home insurance

Owning a house or flat brings with it lots of responsibilities: you’ve got to maintain the decor, pay the Council Tax, keep the lawn trimmed and consider what you’re going to do about that worn patch on the living room carpet.

Choosing home insurance can seem like just another little item to add to your ‘to-do’ list, one that’s maybe fairly quick to organise – after all, it’s just about price isn’t it? Actually there’s quite a bit more to it if you want to get the best possible protection for your home and possessions. In some cases an insurance policy that looks like a bit of bargain may turn out to have a sting in its tail when you need to make a claim.

Dave Simms is the head of home insurance for Ecclesiastical, so understands all the factors that make a good buildings and contents insurance policy. “The big problem for buyers,” he says, “is that until you make a claim, all home insurance policies look fairly similar. It’s only when you contact your insurance company and tell them about the damaged brickwork or the fire that you find out how good their claims service really is.”

So with thousands of home insurers out there, some offering cheap policies, others offering service and claims expertise - how do you choose a home insurance policy that’s right for you?

Here are our tips and advice:

  • Step 1: Check insurance company ratings


    A good starting point is to see how independent research organisations rate insurers based on the quality of their policies and feedback from customers. Consumer champion Which? has a list of recommended home insurers while independent research company Defaqto awards star ratings to home insurers.

  • Step 2: Price isn't everything


    The amount you pay for buildings and contents insurance can vary by several hundred pounds. There’s a reason for that: all insurance policies and insurers are not the same. Like most things in life, the quality of the product is reflected in the price, so it’s important to have a look at some of the details of what you’re being offered.

  • Step 3. Handling your claim


    Ultimately insurance is all about claims, so the manner in which an insurer handles your claim and treats you during that process is the proof of the pudding. Take a good look at whether the insurer says they will replace your possessions on a like-for-like basis or whether they’ll just give you an estimated value based on its condition. Find out how long the claims paying process might take. Check if you’ll have a named member of staff assigned to deal with you or whether you’re going to be talking to a call centre.

  • Step 4. Think about what excess you're prepared to pay


    All insurance policies have an excess – this is the amount you pay towards any claim before the insurer starts paying. An average excess would be £100-£250 per claim. The more you are prepared to pay as an excess, the lower your premium will usually be.

  • Step 5: Does the policy give you enough protection


    A standard buildings and contents insurance policy works out how much it would cost to rebuild your home using a formula, and then calculates the value of your possessions based on the number of rooms in your property. That might turn out to be fairly accurate, but it could miss the mark by a long way. If your home is a listed building or of unusual construction, an average policy may not pay out enough to cover your costs. Similarly, if you collect rare paintings or have a lot of computer equipment, a standard policy may undervalue what you own so not pay out enough in the event of a claim.

  • Step 6: Check the limits of individual covers


    The part of the policy protecting your possessions will list how much it will pay on different types of items such as computer equipment, digital files, spectacles, jewellery. It means reading the small print but have a look through the policy wording to check you’ve enough protection for each of these items.

  • Step 7: How easy is it to contact your insurer


    There may well come a time when you need to speak to your insurance company to discuss a claim or some other issue. Will you be speaking to someone in the UK or will your call be routed to an overseas call centre? How qualified will the people helping you be? The Which? and Defaqto ratings mentioned in point 1 give you a good guide to the quality of a home insurer’s customer service.

  • Step 8: What additional covers does the policy give you?


    Some home insurance policies offer additional covers at no extra charge or for a small increase in your premium. Insuring your garden is one to keep an eye out for; covering credit cards, caravans and boats while at your property are another. Some insurers will cover bicycles for free; others will charge. Again, it means a bit of a rummage through the small print, but as the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail.

“Ultimately, it’s a very competitive market,” concludes Ecclesiastical’s Dave Simms, “so price cutting is one way that a lot of home insurers try to get business.

But when it comes to protecting your property and possessions you and your family may have taken years to acquire, it’s worth taking that extra time and looking at just what type and quality of protection you’re being offering for your money.

Ecclesiastical Insurance Group plc (EIG) Reg No 1718196. Ecclesiastical Insurance Office plc (EIO) Reg No 24869. Ecclesiastical Life Ltd (ELL) Reg No 243111. Ecclesiastical Financial Advisory Services Ltd (EFAS) Reg No 2046087. Ecclesiastical Underwriting Management Ltd (EUML) Reg No 2368571. E.I.O. Trustees Ltd Reg No 941199. EdenTree Investment Management Ltd (EIM) Reg No 2519319. All companies are registered in England at Beaufort House, Brunswick Road, Gloucester GL1 1JZ. EIO and ELL are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 113848 (EIO) and 110318 (ELL). EFAS and EIM are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Firm Reference Number 126123 (EFAS) and 527473 (EIM). EUML is an appointed representative of EIO who is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Firm Reference Number 402228.