Nation's wallets to feel chill from 'Beast from the East'

Households could quickly see their bills rack up as snow blankets the country.

Damage caused to homes and vehicles will be taking its toll as insurers report an influx of claims.

There are also concerns that, as people crank up their heating, not everyone is claiming the help with bills that is available.

According to home insurer Policy Expert, one in 10 UK adults has had to make a claim on their insurance policy due to storm damage in the past, including damage to the roof, fences and outbuildings, as well as burst or damaged water pipes. The average claim was put at £905.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that many people are missing out on the financial help they could get to cope with the winter weather.

Analysis by mutual insurer Royal London suggests more than a million pensioners - or one in three of those entitled - are missing out on access to two schemes designed to help with fuel bills.

Pensioners on low incomes can get help via cold weather payments of £25 per week during cold spells, and can also get a discount on their energy bills via the warm home discount scheme.

Sir Steve Webb, director of policy at Royal London, said: "Up to 1.4 million pensioners could be missing out because they fail to claim pension credit which triggers entitlement to these other forms of help."

The Government has been urging people to claim winter support.

Guy Opperman, Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, said this week: "We urge pensioners across the UK to check that they and their relatives, friends and neighbours are keeping warm and receiving the support they are entitled to."

Those who have not ditched and switched their energy provider for a while could also be paying more than they need to.

Shona Eyre, an energy expert at uSwitch.com, said changing tariff or provider could save hundreds of pounds.

She added: "This is especially important for customers whose fixed energy deals are due to end in February and March.

"If they do nothing and are rolled on to their supplier's standard tariff, they could see their annual bill shoot up by nearly £400 in some cases."

  1. Check your boiler and heating system
  2. Look for any cracked, missing or loose roof tiles which could be hazardous
  3. Look for cracks around chimney pots and at the roof join
  4. Lag any pipes and water tanks in exposed areas
  5. Clear guttering and drains of any debris which can block easily and freeze up
  6. Check the pointing in brickwork and look for any areas in need of repair

Meanwhile, the AA, which said its insurance team has been dealing with a sudden influx of claims for collisions, estimates around £3 million of damage was done to private cars as a whole nationally on Tuesday - the first day of widespread snow.

It said around a third of car insurance claims being made are snow and ice-related.

By 8.30am on Thursday, the AA had already taken more than 100 calls from drivers stuck in snow, with East Anglia and the North East the most heavily affected regions.

The "Beast from the East" also appears to be putting a strain on the nation's car batteries.

Kwik Fit has seen a 44% increase in demand for new batteries compared with the same time last year. Cold weather means the charge required to start the engine puts a greater strain on the battery.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) warned people not to leave their car unattended while it is defrosting due to the possibility of theft.

It said damage caused to homes, such as collapsing roofs caused by heavy snow, should be covered, so people should check their policy or speak to their insurer.

Comprehensive motor insurance should also cover damage caused by snow and ice.

Looking at the total insurance bills for previous weather-related damage, ABI put the cost of the 2009-10 winter freeze at £200 million, while the 2013 St Jude storm came to around £141 million.

However, weather-related costs can vary widely and snow-related bad weather is often more disruptive than destructive - unlike floods or high winds.

ABI spokesman Malcolm Tarling said: "As ever when bad weather strikes, insurers will be ready to deal with any insurance claims."

Here are Policy Expert's tips for preventing big winter bills:
1. Check your boiler and heating system.
2. Look for any cracked, missing or loose roof tiles which could be hazardous.
3. Look for cracks around chimney pots and at the roof join.
4. Lag any pipes and water tanks in exposed areas.
5. Clear guttering and drains of any debris which can block easily and freeze up.
6. Check the pointing in brickwork and look for any areas in need of repair.

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