/ Home & Energy, Money

Peace of mind – is it always worth the price?

Umbrella and money

Should you invest in home emergency or boiler cover? I don’t think so. It’s far better to save up in case of a rainy day yourself rather than pay for overpriced and ridiculously limited cover.

The cold and wet August may not have come as a big surprise to many of us, although it’s still frustrating to have to turn on the central heating. To discover that it refuses to work is doubly irritating. To then find out that your insurer won’t send someone to sort it out during July and August would be even harder to stomach, especially when you’ve paid extra for boiler insurance.

Cost of home emergency cover

Our investigation into home emergency and boiler cover in the October issue of Which? magazine revealed a multitude of baffling exclusions and limitations like this.

And then there’s the cost. Some providers introduce exorbitant price hikes after the first ‘special offer’ year; some carry excesses of £150 or more. Which? members fork out an average of £245 a year on boiler-servicing contracts, even though an annual service only costs around £70, and many policies won’t cover boilers over a certain age anyway.

Is emergency cover worth it?

The majority of you with boiler or home emergency cover say you’ve taken it out for peace of mind. I can understand why. I had it before I joined Which? (but never claimed), then I read what poor value it was, didn’t renew and haven’t looked back.

For me, ‘peace of mind’ has become one of those buzzwords used by marketeers to encourage us to pay more, and usually get less…

‘Get the ultimate peace of mind with a three-year warranty for £200’ (*even though the soundbar you bought only cost £150). ‘Pay £30 a month into a 50-plus account so you can live with the peace of mind that it will pay for your funeral’ (*but if you miss one payment your family won’t get anything). ‘Pay £250 extra for home emergency cover and you’ll have the peace of mind that you’ll get help if your house is falling down’ (*as long as it doesn’t happen in June and no one’s left any lights on).

With their ridiculous exclusions, limitations and high costs, home emergency and boiler cover can join my list of ‘added extras’ (think mobile phone insurance and extended product and car warranties) that often just aren’t worth it.

It’s far better to save money each month into an emergency fund and draw on it for repairs if you need to. You may feel you’re taking a gamble, but I’d say you’re in for a welcome surprise.

Useful links

Read our advice on home emergency cover
I want to claim on my insurance, what should I do?


I would agree with your assessment Peter, these schemes are designed to generate revenue, the businesses that offer it are not doing so for charity.

Whether it’s boilers, appliances or whatever and, these days it’s often all wrapped up with a neat bow to cover all, I don’t recommend them to anyone.

Put your money away, save it and pay for what you need when you need it.

Find good local tradespeople and use them, faster, cheaper and often better as they care about their customers far more in my experience.


10 November 2015

Just had a nightmare to try and have SCOTTISH POWER boiler engineer sougt out no hot water from a combi boiler. 3 different engineers { this is what they call themselves, came out to fix the problem .
Not one of them were in the house more than 15 minutes before they were making excuses why they could not fix the problem and would have to arrange another visit.MYSELF AND MY DAUGHTER SPENT A TOTAL OF 18 HOURS WAITING FOR THEM TO TURN UP. I could not put into print how I would describe
this pathetic excuse of a service they charge £16.50 a month for. The boiler was repaired by a local plumber!

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For me, the best part of Peter’s advice is his last paragraph: “It’s far better to save money each month into an emergency fund and draw on it for repairs if you need to. You may feel you’re taking a gamble, but I’d say you’re in for a welcome surprise.”

My advice is to look after what you buy, try and have contingency plans so that you can avoid panic purchases, take time to get recommendations of local tradesmen and learn to fix things for yourself.

I fear that as I get older I might become victim of people exploiting my concerns. I’m looking at a bunch of keys for which I took out insurance against loss, something I never felt the need for in the past.

I’d like Which? to investigate and report on the cost of all paid-for warranties – those from manufacturers, those from 3rd parties including multi-appliance cover, and car warranties (manufacturers and insurances) showing the likely costs of typical repairs that might be expected in the reasonable life of the product. I imagine there are some out there that might be worth thinking about. We need to weigh up the chance of a product failure and repair cost against the cost of cover – particularly with the apparent trend for appliances to be more difficult to repair.

My perception is that in general Peter is right to repeat Which?s previous advice to save money to fund your own repairs rather than buy a warranty. However “peace of mind” is sometimes worth paying for – we do it in our house insurance but how many have made claims that outweigh the premiums paid over the years? But the fact you don’t have to fork out for a new dishwasher or fridge freezer if it goes wrong can be good for some people – providing the cover is reasonably priced.

Out of character, I bought a 10 year repair or replace warranty from Miele, for a dishwasher, costing £148 – so £18.50 a year. Although reliable they can be expensive to repair so I thought it good value. My daughter bought a much more expensive warranty (£60 a year) for an Indesit dishwasher that came with a new house, and has recently used it to replace a failed heater in the appliance’s year 2. A silly price but it did pay off this time; even with a “free parts” offer Indesit charge £110 a visit.

An Indesit 10 year guarantee on parts could be very useful if a machine would be expensive to repair, but obviously expensive if there were two or more minor faults.

My guess is I’d buy 3 Indesit dishwashers to last as long as one Miele. so they’d probably have an annual cost of up to 50% more. Or if one were repairable, how many visits at £110 a time might you need? We need to get some information of this kind to be able to make soundly-based decisions.

Well I can think of an organisation that could collate reported faults and costs …..

I would be more than willing to upload to a database with purchase data, usage data , and faults. It would be interesting if it was shown for instance how many ovens are delivered with thermostats out of whack.

There are so many bits of data that en-masse actually would be useful to consumers. As it stands vendors and manufacturers hold most of the information on call-outs and repairs and yet it is us who would benefit most from knowing.

I cannot envisage how it would be possible to calculate an annual cost of ownership for a household appliance because a breakdown can occur at any time. When the annual cost of ownership of a car is calculated, this probably takes into account fuel, servicing, VED and maybe an estimate of depreciation, assuming that there is no damage. It won’t take into account repairs because that is such a variable factor.

I have had products replaced within the first year and the same make and model has lasted ten years or more. The second motor in my washing machine has lasted over 20 years longer than the first one – same make and model. Insulation breakdown does not conform to any predictable behaviour. It would be fantastic if we could make useful predictions of the cost of ownership of household goods but it will take a lot to convince me that this can be done.

It would be interesting to compare the average costs of running an expensive repairable appliance with buying a cheap one and replacing it when necessary. Of course individual appliances don’t always conform to average behaviour.

You could look at reliability history for example to put a number on likely repairs, or likely life before a replacement is required. This needs information, something it is suggested Which? should begin to collate more comprehensively.
To put a cost on warranties would require similar information.

Malcolm rightly refers to house insurance and asks “how many have made claims that outweigh the premiums paid over the years?”. Apart from the fact that insurance is not an investment where you hope to get back more than you put in, insurance protects against catastrophic events that, while unlikely, could occur and would wipe you out. Various friends and colleagues over the years have whinged about the cost of contents insurance and its limitations, excesses and exclusions and concluded that they could do without it. I put it to them that if their neighbours’ house blew up – which does happen – and destroyed much of their’s, would they be able without insurance to replace all their household contents, as it would be no good relying on next door as they might not have any cover. However well you look after your own possessions they are still at risk from external events. This really is peace of mind that is worth paying for.

I think the advice from PVS is probably slightly coloured in a couple of ways.

If you are reasonably savvy and perhaps technically minded you are more likely to feel confident in addressing problems. It also helps if you have a salary coming in that gives you a chance to recover repair costs and rebuild a comfort zone.

I can think of neighbours or are on small pensions with perhaps limited capital. There are also those who are fragile in the face of challenges and it may well be that for this segment the peace of mind is worth more than for other folk.

Advising people on managing their finances I am sure I have recommended buffer funds – however arranging for emergencies and the calls on the Bank of Mum and Dad to be spaced apart is not how life pans out.

The Miele offer is excellent value per year and would be a sensible recommendation for anyone. So being categoric that these extended warranties are a bad thing I do not subscribe to.

There is another dimension to home emergency cover aside from the economic calculations of whether it is worth it or not over the life of a product, and that is the degree of dependence that the householder has on the item or equipment.

If people have no alternative heating and require continuous output from their boiler, an emergency cover plan could make a lot of sense if the price and T&C’s are right. They can ring one number and get it fixed. Relying on the local heating service companies to turn out if you’re not a regular customer can be troublesome, especially in the winter months.

Again with appliances: if you have a large household and could not cope for more than a day without a washing machine or a fridge then emergency cover could be very useful. Very few people have back-ups for these facilities and there is usually a limit to neighbours’ kind-heartedness in letting you use their equipment.

The key to this is “if the price and T&C’s are right”. The problem is that the firms that offer these policies are preying on the dependency factor and exploiting people’s anxieties, (a) by profiteering through the annual charges, and (b) de-scoping the service provided through unjustified restrictions and exclusions.

I am glad that Which? is drawing attention to this important corner of the market place which has been hidden in the shade for far too long.

A breakdown need not be an emergency with a little forward planning. It’s a good idea to have a gas or solid fuel fire and a couple of fan heaters for when the boiler breaks down. Many homes no longer have a hot water tank, so there is no alternative means of heating water, so having an electric shower is well worthwhile.

The failure of a fridge might mean relying on the contents of the freezer and canned food for a few days. If a fridge-freezer will be your only means of refrigeration then a two compressor model will mean that the freezer will continue to work even if the fridge fails.

Hopefully we all have neighbours who would be prepared to do our washing until the machine is fixed. It might be worth making an arrangement before the situation arises.

Earlier generations managed without central heating, fridges, freezers and washing machines. There are people waiting to exploit those who panic so it is vital to plan for breakdowns and be confident about what to do and who to contact, so that an emergency becomes little more than an inconvenience.

I entirely agree. I am all in favour of forward planning and having contingency plans in place. Unfortunately some people don’t seem to think of it and get in a flap when something goes wrong. There’s not much that can be done to help such people – other than be kind to them in their hour of need – but it does strike me that there is a lack of self-reliance among the population these days. There’s a thousand feature articles every week in the popular magazines about how to achieve that perfect hair style, but never one about how to cope in a domestic emergency. As a nation we are less practical and the good advice that Wavechange and others of us might dispense is seen as smug and self-righteous. It is still possible to wash clothes by hand, do the washing up manually, put the milk and butter in a crate outside the back door in the winter, and use vacuum flasks to keep liquids cold. I think ours is one of the few households with only one oven, most people having a microwave also, but breakdown of the oven wouldn’t be a catastrophe as there are other ways of cooking and heating food.

Water heating is the most problematic issue but we found a couple of years ago when having to spend some time in a house where the heating system had packed up, it was amazing what you could do with a kettle to provide enough hot water for basic hygiene and cleanliness for a day or two.

The main thing is not to let the merchants of home emergency cover take unfair advantage and give little in return.

But John, “emergency cover” is almost the dictionary definition of an oxymoron.

Think about it.

If you take out “emergency cover” or any other maintenance type thing really, it implies that the person has the train of thought to imagine that something, at some point will go wrong as otherwise, what’s the point of taking the cover? And that, when it does, that they will need a mechanism to resolve the issue.

Therefore, logically, that would mean that the same person is forward planning for such an event. Albeit in a way that many contributors here might not agree with.

But, if you’d planned for it, why do you need cover?

The only reason I can fathom is that said person wants the cost fixed and the reassurance that, when it does go wrong that it’ll all get put right with no or minimum of hassle and inconvenience to them. Other than that, I can see no advantage being offered.

From my perspective and, solely in my opinion, a lot of it is probably laziness. One number, call it, get it fixed. Simples, done.

By extension then, the people that take such cover are the very ones that do plan and probably don’t/wouldn’t need it anyway. They probably just can’t be bothered with the hassle of doing all the “stuff” they’d have to do to sort it out themselves.

Whether these people know that or care, well, that’s a different question entirely.

It is important to bear in mind that, whilst you, I or Which? might not agree with it and in my own personal opinion, rightly so, there is not harm being done as such. The companies that offer these services aren’t failing to provide what they offer and, the people buying them seemingly want them. They are not taking advantage of the poorer members of society as, they wouldn’t spend that sort of money or most perhaps plan in that way either.

Like “service plans”, “home breakdown insurance” and a host of other things, it’s a numbers game.

Going to a casino and betting on black, red or a hand of cards is also a numbers game.

It’d be really interesting to see the chances of a win at each compared.


For most things I agree with PVS that it is better to save your money and put it towards repairs or a replacement. I am not sure about the welcome surprise though.

Years ago, there was a problem with the hot water. The water heated up in the tank, hot water came out through a pipe but was cold the other side of a joint. After contacting a local plumber, I came home to find a brand new hot water cylinder and immersion heater and my then partner had paid a bill for many hundred pounds. I was furious that we had been ripped off.

Years later, we joined British Gas Homecare when our boiler broke down and have stayed with them as they promptly fix problems without hassle. They only fix what needs fixing and if a return visit is required there is no having to pay a second time, so no feelings of being ripped off and no uncomfortable discussions. Recently, the fan in the boiler started making a noise. An engineer, came out and greased it, a week later it started making a noise again, so another engineer came out and replaced it, all with no hassle or having to pay twice. We have never had a problem with BG when things go wrong, just their annual service that leaves a lot to be desired. The cover is not cheap but we probably nearly get our money’s worth with an aging system and the peace of mind is worth it in our case.

I also think it is worth having buildings and contents insurance just in case disaster strikes.

British Gas generally fares poorly, for example in the recent Which? report on boiler servicing, but you are not the only one who is happy, Alfa.

I have always been very happy with the efficiency of Royal Mail’s service (less happy about the rising prices) but others find it very poor.

I assume that a lot has to do with local organisation and the efficiency of individuals.

Home insurance, travel insurance and car breakdown insurance are my top priorities.

Just a clarification. People who live in rented or leasehold property do not need to take out their own buildings insurance but they should nevertheless check that the landlord or freeholder has obtained adequate cover and maintains it year by year. Homeowners with a mortgage, or whose property has been offered as a security, are normally required under the terms of the agreement to obtain and maintain adequate buildings insurance cover for the property. People without a mortgage are not obliged to insure the building structure but they are taking a major risk if they do not. For some property, buildings insurance is not available on standard terms because of factors like location [e.g. coastal or flood plain], non-standard construction, or structural condition and maintenance, however the insurance industry has made a commitment to the government to offer cover in flood prone and coastal erosion areas [subject to structural satisfaction] and is usually prepared to cover other risks on a partial basis or on special terms or a combination of both.

When we buy car insurance the premium is calculated by the company in the knowledge of various factors including previous claims, the model, engine power, where it is kept, the age of the driver(s), how long they have been driving, their motoring convictions, the proposed annual mileage and other factors related to use. Policy holders are offered a no-claims discount for being careful or lucky and this seems to be transferrable. Insurance companies say that they share information and any new insurer asks for the information all over again. I assume that car insurance is related to risk, though it remains necessary to shop around.

Not having taken out home emergency cover, I don’t know if premiums relate to risk. It would be nice to be offered a discount if the lack of previous claims on similar insurances could be taken into account.

wavechange, car insurance premiums vary hugely from one company to another. I’ve recently had quotes that differed by nearly 3 times. So clearly there is another factor in their assessment. Fewer factors I would have thought are involved in deciding a premium for a boiler for example. As for no claims I think a car is different – it involves accidents. A boiler will be dependent upon its age and reliability record.

That’s disappointing, Malcolm. I don’t see much difference between car insurance premiums these days and had hoped that the industry had improved their understanding of risk.

I make the suggestion of a no-claims discount every time I meet an AA or RAC representative touting for business but all the sector seems to have done is to limit the number of claims per year.

The difference in car insurance quotes may be a function of that insurers record with people fitting your profile or that of the typical owner of that type of car.

I cannot say this applies to the Xar insurance industry but certainly in conservative banks they would not lend money to certain sectors above a certain percentage of the entire lending portfolio.

Unfortunately not all Banks were conservative and there was some very ropey lending from those majors where the lending guys made the criteria rather than the risk guys.

In an obvious example would you be happy with a company that exclusively sold house insurance to properties in floodplain areas. …
Their premium profile would be different from a company with a broadly based pool[!] of households.

I did work for a general insurance agency and believe me I have seen premiums in the thousands for people they did not want to take on. : )

It seems to me that the key here is whether the insurances you might take out offer value for money. Peace of mind is very valuable to some – particularly those not adept at DiY and the elderly, sick and vulnerable. It would be interesting to hear from more contributors on their experiences with warranties for homecare, breakdowns they’ve had, and the cost of an independent boiler engineer. We have a local man to service ours once a year; it costs around £70 for a thorough check.

Which? online appears to have done an extensive survey of boilers:
Best Boiler Brands: “We ask more than 10,000 boiler owners every year about the brand they own, how satisfied they are with it and whether their boiler has suffered any faults or breakdowns. We also ask more than 100 trusted boiler engineers what they think of each manufacturer and how likely they are to recommend boilers from each brand. ”
I would have thought they should be able to derive from this data likely “annual costs” for each brand – including cost of repairs and servicing plus purchase cost – that buyers could weigh up against the cost of insurance plans. It would be a good guide to whether any plans offer worthwhile value.

I had home emergency cover with Direct Line. Whilst I was on holiday my friend discovered the whole house flooded from a leaking toilet. She stemmed the flow by jamming the nearest thing to hand – a bottle of shower cleaner – under the ball valve in the cistern while she ran downstairs to turn off the stopcock.

She phoned DL for help in a state of panic & distress & was asked 1) if she’d stopped the leak, 2) if there was another toilet in the property & 3) if there was drinking water TO the property. DL refused the claim on the grounds that “it wasn’t an emergency” !

1) My friend is not a trained plumber & whilst her solution wasn’t a very ‘scientific’ one, her prompt actions undoubtedly significantly limited the scale of the damage.

2) There was another toilet in the property – rendered unusable as soon as the water supply was turned off.

3) There was no drinking water IN the property once the water supply was turned off at the main stopcock.

I challenged DL’s stance on this, sending them the Oxford English Dictionary definition of an emergency & asked them to give me the DL definition of an emergency, if they deemed the fact that (according to the water company estimate)there were around 1000 gallons of loose water swilling about in my home wasn’t an emergency.

They paid up – eventually – & I’ve never bothered with DL or Home Emergency cover again.

This topic has slipped and bounced between two quite different subjects. Home Emergency Cover (never really understood what that means) and Boiler cover (know exactly what that means). Because the topic is loose in scope we’ve meandered into Home Insurance in general and the statistical likelihood of your home (or you neighbour’s) being clobbered by an asteroid strike, or at least a largish meteorite.

I don’t agree with PV-S about boiler cover: we’ve used it several times and – as we live in the middle of nowhere and been snowed in on many occasions and had most of our 25-year-old boiler replaced over time it’s been good value, since we’ve only once had to wait more than a day for parts, but never for a service call-out.

People living in easy reach of repair shops are probably fine. But when our boiler goes down and we’ve got three feet of snow our Boiler people reach us in Landrovers and carry spares.

On the topic of Home Emergency Cover, not sure what that is, as it seems to vary so much. But I would argue that home insurance in general is necessary when you live where we do. And there’s always that pesky asteroid…

We are a pretty average household with Washing machine, tumble dryer, fridge, freezer, microwave, large-screen TV, central heating, etc. If we paid out for extended warranties or maintenance contracts for all of these, we’d be paying for the equivalent of a new item every year.

Our Vailant boiler was installed in 2002 and we have never had it serviced. It broke down in 2005 and I replaced the circuit board myself (it was a publicised and well-know fault with the model) for about £60 from eBay. I could have paid up to £100 a year for a maintenance contract … almost £1300 to date. By the time it dies, I will have saved sufficient for the replacement.

Just putting aside sufficient funds every year to pay for any unexpected replacement will make huge long-term savings unless you are extremely unlucky.

terfar, I believe a key reason for having an annual boiler service is to make sure the combustion is taking place properly. Is this safety aspect not worth the expense?

As an added point I would say that I don’t believe in extended warranties in general and apart from the boiler we never get them. But I would say to terfar that it’s fortunate you were skilled enough to not only know how to replace a circuit board in a boiler but could get one quickly. IME boilers have this knack of breaking down exactly when you need them most, and if you live in the wilds and your electricity is out at the same time (happens quite a bit in the mountains) and you don’t fancy going anywhere near a gas device, since any repairs done on one by a non-registered individual could not only have severe consequences for your home but might also affect your insurance, then paying a comparatively small amount for what amounts to guaranteed peace of mind is what I believe is describe as a no-brainer. Our boiler is LPG, too, so getting anyone in to fix it if you don’t have a contract borders on the impossible.

Recommending members “not to pay for overpriced services”. Is this the same Peter Vicary-Smith that is turning Which from a charity into a commercial profit-making organisation? The same Peter Vicary-Smith that is on a package of over £340k p.a.?
The same Peter Vicary-Smith that is asking sole traders to fork out £480 pa to join the Which Trusted Traders list? It’s predecessor Which Local charged nothing and relied on members to make an entirely experience related judgement.

I have come across many Which ‘Best Buys’ have been rubbished by members own experiences. Hence the reason I suspect for Which refusing to publish (“in the near future” -meaning probably never) details of complaints they have received regarding their own assessments of consumer products.

Try typing in “Complaints procedure for Which UK” or similar combinations into the search engine on their home page. (They do not have one as far as I can see). It is high time this organisation learnt to practice what it has always preached.

Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. As I’m sure you know, Which? is an independent social enterprise which means we can only continue our charitable work if we sustain our commercial success. All of the money from our commercial ventures is reinvested back into our campaigns and free advice for all UK consumers.

On Trusted Traders, all the traders have to pass our rigorous and independent assessment process before being endorsed on the site. Which? Trusted Traders is open to all consumers, offering the peace of mind of a Which? endorsement alongside user reviews.

If you do have any complaints, our Member Services team is always on hand to help with any problems – you can find details of how to contact us about any aspect of our business here: http://www.which.co.uk/about-which/contact-us/. I’m also pleased to say that we will be reporting on complaints across both our legal and mortgage advice services in our annual report, which you can find on our website when it is published next month.

Thanks very much. Now to move back to talking about home emergency cover.

Patrick, All I can say is that Which survived for many years on members fees and provided a very good service. I have had several sole traders (plumbers, decorators and electricians) who have all said there is no way they can afford your charges.

As for reporting complaints on legal and mortgage services you are well aware that you have no choice in these areas, pity you have taken so long.

You have not explained why you do not publish a complaints procedure on your website.


Which? have published a report on Boiler cover companies: “Each year we survey thousands of Which? members to find out which boiler cover companies keep their customers happy, and which are likely to leave you disappointed. ” This deals with servicing and repairs. In view of the earlier conversation revealing sub-standard and potentially dangerous servicing, what account was taken of this in rating the companies involved?

Very good question.

The glaring issue here for me is the lack of research put in on the part of Which? themselves.
As an individual working for an insurance provider (don’t worry, no plugging here), I’ve seen the shortcomings of Which?’s “research” process first-hand. For one particular product (Motor Legal Expenses Insurance), any inclusion of a provider (with no examination of the product’s quality or features – great research, Which?) in their comparison table requires them to get enough responses from customers who’ve tried that particular product. Whilst I understand the customer-centric nature of this, what they must surely realise is that this will only ever tell people about the big providers they probably already know about (and who probably already pay Which? a fee to be recommended). How then will this benefit the consumer, if they’re effectively not being shown potentially much better deals or more of the market?

In regards to Home Emergency Cover, it seems that Which? still aren’t doing their homework. There are products available with no excess, unlimited claims and very few exclusions, all for less than the cost of mobile phone insurance. Just put some effort in and look past the first 3 or 4 results on Google.

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As someone working in SEO, I have a pretty good understanding of how search engines work. Yes, there are a lot of ad results you’ll get through Google, but there’s plenty more to discover for people who will look past the first page.
I understand what you’re saying about the longevity of small start-up organisations, but when you’re talking about a broker that simply markets a product from a larger insurance company, then there’s next to no risk on the part of the customer or Which – even if the broker goes bankrupt, the customer will still have cover. In actually talking about these smaller companies, the only thing I could imagine Which sees as risking is the displeasure of the big players with the huge budgets who can pay to become a “recommended provider”, or however you’d like to phrase it. Reputation does still play a large part for consumers, but I’m afraid simply maintaining the status quo is just lazy from Which in my opinion.

It’s a pity Peter didn’t address the specific case of damage within your property boundary of your water supply main. I think that this is probably the only emergency insurance worth considering. Repair costs would probably mount to £1000s. But the chance of this happening is low. Therefore premiums should be very low, not reflected surprisingly for some reason by a lot of competing insurance products. Perhaps, it is not worth the effort by insurance companies to cater for a low premium but low rate of claims market. Your standard house insurance might cover this but if it’s anything like mine it’s often difficult to work out your cover from the small print. I would welcome any comments.