With storm Ciarán predicted to batter southern Britain with 80mph winds this week, the risk to life and property is real.
The Met Office has warned that flying debris could pose a “danger to life” in some areas and damage buildings, with the storm expected to bring down power lines and trees.
The costs of strong winds and lashing rain can be steep. The average claim for storm damage is £3,334 for contents insurance and £3,108 for buildings insurance, according to Confused.com data.
As Britain hunkers down, Telegraph Money explains how to minimise the risk of storm damage to your home – and what to do if you need to make a claim.
Does my home insurance cover storm damage?
Buildings and contents insurance policies usually cover against storm damage. And if your home is left uninhabitable, your insurer should pay for alternative accommodation until repairs have been made.
However, your insurer might dispute whether a weather event counts as a storm.
Many insurance firms define what counts as a storm in their terms by referring to wind speed, with level ten on the Beaufort scale, the equivalent of 55mph to 63mph, often used as the threshold.
The Met Office also uses the Beaufort Scale which uses a ranking of 0 to 12 to describe wind speed:
The Financial Ombudsman Service has said disputes over what counts as a storm are among the most common complaints it receives relating to refusals to pay out for damage claims.
Trade body The Association of British Insurers defines a storm as a period of violent weather that includes any of the following:
Wind speeds with gusts of at least 55mph
Torrential rainfall at a rate of at least 25mm an hour
Snow to a depth of at least 30cm in 24 hours
Hail of such intensity that it causes damage to hard surfaces or breaks glass
As an insurer may adopt this definition or use its own, it is worth checking the exact wording in your insurance policy.
It is also worth noting that not all damage that occurs as an indirect result of a storm will be covered automatically.
For instance, water damage from rain coming through a storm-damaged roof might be classed as accidental damage by your insurer.
As accidental damage cover is often sold as an optional extra on home insurance, you might not be covered if you did not take this out as well.
What should I do before a storm hits?
Insurance policies will usually state that your property must be maintained to a good standard for a claim to be valid.
Trade directory MyBuilder.com offers the following advice on how to best prepare your home before a storm to avoid damage in the first place – and make sure your insurer doesn’t have an easy get-out if you do have to make a claim.
Take down loose fence panels and posts
It is better to take down unsecure panels and posts than leave them to be battered by the wind, where they could be blown down and cause damage to your property.
Ideally, take down panels and posts and secure them in a safe place where they can be reinstated (properly) later. Rotten wood is likely to fall victim to strong winds, and can cause serious accidents if left unsecured.
Secure your guttering
Damage caused by blocked gutters is often not covered under home insurance policies. Guttering and downpipes do the vital job of keeping the bulk of wet weather away from walls, where persistent moisture can lead to damp.
Blocked gutters can cause flooding and leaks in your home, while loose guttering is a hazard in high winds. Make sure all sections of your guttering are firmly secured and attached to the next piece to allow it to do its job properly.
Check your chimney
Do not do this if winds are already high, but if you get a chance to check your chimney pre-storm it could save you hassle further down the line.
Chimney cowls, pots, and guards are all at risk during high winds and can cause damage to your roof, garden or car should they fly away.
If you notice any issues, it is worth calling in an expert, but a quick fix can be to remove any loose parts for the duration of the storm.
Look for loose tiles
Loose tiles are probably the first things to go when the gusts and gales arrive, and can be a particular problem for older roofs which have not been checked or inspected for years.
Even a single missing tile – or just one that has shifted out of place – can leave a gap big enough for water to enter your roof space, which can cause considerable damage if not fixed quickly.
If you can re-secure a tile then do, but a really wonky one might be best removed and reinstated after the storm.
Remove any risky tree branches – or the whole tree
Large branches can damage windows, cars, fences – or people. If any of the trees on your property have obviously fractured branches, it is best to remove them before the storm.
If the entire tree is looking risky, it would be wise to get it removed entirely before it does serious damage.
For an idea of the risk trees pose to properties, home insurance costs £229 on average for homeowners who have trees more than 10 metres tall within five metres of their property, but just £142 on average for those who do not, according to Confused.com data.
What can I claim for after a storm?
A typical home insurance policy will cover the following issues resulting from hail, wind, rain, snow or ice:
Damage caused by falling trees
Loss of power
Many insurers exclude anything outdoors from policies, like fences, gates, hedges, outbuildings and garden furniture.
If you keep valuable items outside, you can also get garden cover as a policy extra. But if bad weather is on the way, you should consider bringing any valuable items indoors.
What should I do if my property is damaged?
If you have suffered storm damage, you should contact your insurer as soon as possible.
Most insurers have a 24-hour emergency number you can call for advice and help arranging rapid repairs.
If your home is uninhabitable, insurers should arrange and pay for temporary accommodation while repairs are carried out.
It is common for insurers to give you up to 180 days to make a claim on your home insurance, but any delay could mean the damage gets worse.
If you have to make a DIY fix to your home, let your insurer know what you have done and keep the receipts for anything you buy as these can factor into your claim.
Keith Pearlman, an expert in property-related disputes at law firm DMH Stallard, said: “It’s recommended to take photos of all property damage, collate evidence of costs for individual items and keep detailed records of ongoing expenditure.
“You should liaise with your mortgage lender, but don’t stop paying the mortgage without their agreement.
“And keep a diary of events, it will prove helpful in the weeks to come.”
What about flooding?
The typical flood repair bill runs to £4,500, according to comparison website Compare the Market, so doing the right thing is essential if the worst does happen.
Citizens Advice lists the steps you should take to help with your claim for flood damage:
Take photos of any damage to the structure of your property and its contents
Write a detailed inventory – make a list of your home contents if you haven’t already
Take a note of the reading on your electricity meter so you can claim back the running costs of commercial dryers
Phone your insurer to start your claim as soon as possible – there are usually time limits
Keep copies of any documents or pictures that you send to your insurer or get from them
Ask for records of any calls made about your claim
Tell your insurer if you are a vulnerable customer, for example because you are disabled or older – they might prioritise your claim
Ask how long it will take to settle your claim
Mr Pearlman said: “For those badly affected by storm Ciarán over the coming days, immediate contact should be made with their insurers to check if, in the most serious incidents of flooding and damage to residential properties, they can be rehoused and that their furniture and belongings are covered by their policy.
“In the case of business tenants, they should contact their landlords who are generally obliged under a lease to insure against flooding.
“In the first instance, the landlord will need to either submit a claim or, more likely, put their tenant in direct contact with the insurers.”
What are my rights if my power gets cut off?
If you have been without electricity as a result of severe weather, you could be entitled to compensation of up to £2,000.
Ofgem, the energy regulator, states on its website that the level of compensation depends on the category of the storm, and how long you were without a power supply.
A storm’s category is categorised by the impact it has on the electricity network, with a category one storm causing between eight and 12 times the daily average number of faults in a 24-hour period, and a category two storm causing more than 12 times the daily average number of faults.
Storm category one
You can get £80 if your power has been cut-off for 24 hours.
You will get an extra £40 for every six hours afterwards. The maximum amount you can claim is £2,000.
Storm category two
You can get £80 if your power has been cut-off for 48 hours.
You will get an extra £40 for every six hours afterwards. The maximum amount you can claim is £2,000.
If the power cut is because of disruption to the national energy supply, you will not be entitled to compensation. This is because it is not due to a fault on the network.
Compensation if your gas supply goes off
For unplanned interruptions to your gas supply you are entitled to at least £60 for every 24 hours the gas is off. Additional payments and provisions are available for vulnerable households, such as alternative heating.
You can claim more if you are off supply for more than 24 hours. The amount increases depending on how long you are off supply.
If your gas goes off because of disruption to the national energy supply, you will not be entitled to compensation. This is because it is not due to a fault on the network.
How to claim
You must claim within three months for unplanned supply cuts, or within a month for planned supply cuts where you were not given notice.
You can make a claim through your local network company, which differs depending on region:
East England – Eastern Power Networks plc
East Midlands – National Grid Electricity Distribution (East Midlands) plc
London – London Power Networks plc
North Wales, Merseyside and Cheshire – SP Manweb plc
West Midlands – National Grid Electricity Distribution (West Midlands) plc
North East England – Northern Powergrid (Northeast) plc
North West England – Electricity North West Limited
North Scotland – Scottish Hydro-Electric Power Distribution plc
South and Central Scotland – SP Distribution plc
South East England – South Eastern Power Networks plc
Southern England – Southern Electric Power Distribution plc
South Wales – National Grid Electricity Distribution (South Wales) plc
South West England – National Grid Electricity Distribution (South West) plc
Yorkshire – Northern Powergrid (Yorkshire) plc
How to cut the cost of home insurance – without putting your prized possessions at risk