/ Home & Energy, Money

Has a Homeserve flyer made its way through your door?

A burst water pipe

To my shame, I have little idea about what’s covered by my home insurance. Will my fence, blown down in this week’s storms, be repaired under my policy? Would my water company cover me for a burst pipe?

A lot of people buy insurance to cover life’s emergencies and many of them do through a company called Homeserve, which provides home emergency cover to more than two million customers in the UK.

This week Homeserve was fined £30.6m by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – the largest retail fine ever handed out by the regulator. The fine was imposed for ‘systematic, and long-running failures’, mainly mis-selling of insurance policies from 2005 to 2011.

Mis-selling to retirees and the vulnerable

Homeserve’s failings were particularly serious in the FCA’s view because a ‘significant proportion’ of its customers were of retirement age and vulnerable.

Many of Homeserve’s customers will have heard about it through their utility company. In 2012, we found that nine of the UK’s 12 biggest water companies promoted Homeserve’s pipe insurance in direct mail promotions, even though some of the companies had their own free insurance policies’.

And Homeserve itself says its business is built on ‘long-term affinity relationships with utility companies and appliance manufacturers’.

Direct mail from your water company

This promotion by water companies is still going on. I live in London and a recent letter from Thames Water urged homeowners to buy Homeserve protection against unexpected plumbing and drainage repair bills.

It told them: ‘Around 179,000 homeowners in the Thames Water area already trust Homeserve to solve such problems, so why not arrange cover today?’

Homeserve says it has cleaned up its act since the mis-selling days. It’s 2013 annual report says it has made good progress with customer service and satisfaction, and has 40% fewer complaints than the previous year.

But have customers’ experiences changed? Have your utility companies tried to sell you insurance from Homeserve or any other insurers? Did you take up the offer – and have you checked to see that the insurance covers you for your needs? Did the company pay out when you needed to make a claim?


It astonishes me that Homeserve have been able to absorb a £30m+ fine and continue trading. It shows how much money is being made through intense selling techniques creating and then targetting false anxieties. It might be called “mis-selling” [a misnomer if ever there was one for it is far from inadvertent] but it is tantamount to deceit and predation.

I am impressed by the fact that the FCA are handing out some worthwhile files, totalling £69 million so far in 2014.

Maybe Ofgem could gain more respect if they did the same.

A quick look at the company’s statutory reports and results shows that they made a profit of over £78m in 2013 in the UK which is the bulk of their business [they also operate elsewhere in Europe and in the USA]. They anticipated [and factored into their profit expectation] a fine by the FCA of the order of £6m. Interestingly, under the disclosure of “principal risks and uncertainties”, regulatory intervention is a major element. It appears that they have clearly been struggling with “restoring our customer focused culture in the UK, with improved customer satisfaction and a significantly reduced number of customer complaints”. They have lost a lot of customers over the past few years but think their new strategy is starting to turn that around, and one way of doing that seems to be by focussing more on direct marketing and the internet, with less reliance on capturing customers via utilities and appliance manufacturers. I hope this big fine has not only taught Homeserve a lesson but raised the bar against other companies who might wish to exploit customer vulnerability.

Gwyneth Bull says:
26 February 2014

I cancelled Policies with Homeserve in March last year after they kept adding on to the price and Policies. They offered to lower my premium from £110.40 to £70.00(which says quite a lot). I cancelled anyway. I have now received renewal documents telling me they will automatically renew my policy in March. This has been sent with the Yorkshire Water and HomeServe logo on the letter.

Al.Bailey says:
23 July 2016

I cancelled my policies with homserve in Feb 2013. after the company had added two policies to my bank account without my permission.

alex wilson says:
13 March 2014

I had several contracts with HOMESERVE until I cancelled in 2013, there were so manyn exclusions it was a complete waste of cash . Since DEC 2013 I recieved letters from them stating th at 3 of the contracts were in question, and enclosed 2 cheques ,£10 and £57 ,which I have no intentions of accepting,ive contacted WHICH, regarding what i should do now ,would appreciate any advice/ comments from other members

Deeply suspicious says:
2 June 2014

It is seriously worrying that Water Companies continue to do business with Homeserve.
If I have problems with Water Supply-I know perfectly well I am wholly responsible for putting it right. Who do I complain to –and how can I stop Affinity Water abusing their public trust as they waste money endorsing rip-off businesses .

Alison4y says:
23 July 2014

We took out Homeserve plumbing and insurance cover several years ago and so hoped that a recent burst pipe would be sorted quickly and efficiently. What a nightmare: It took 12 separate visits, not including a number of no shows, before an adequate repair was carried out. Only two of the visits were necessary. 12 days off work, and miserly offer of compensation

Deeply suspicious says:
23 July 2014

Remember that the Company is basically only probably a co-ordinating office with tele-advisors-who link your needs into their pre-approved locally sourced traders who then operate for you. . Thus -first visit is for them to find out what”s wrong, -they then report back to HQ. Second visit booked by HQ with you and then acted upon by trader. Sometimes trader does not turn up-so you ring HQ and it just goes round and round in circles.
In actual fact you would be better of finding a few local traders yourself and only ring these when you have problems. It’s cheaper and less hassle.
For me the only reason to use a company like Homeserve is if you were seriously unable to find a local tradesman(urgently) and you had no alternative but to rely on their set-up.
Another point worth mentioning-if you were a reliable good professional trader-why the hell would you want Homeserve or their likes to take your profit?
This is why I am deeply suspicious of any utility company that is enhancing it’s profits by recommending customers take out emergency service agreements with organisations like HS.

Keith S says:
26 January 2015

They have not cleaned up their act at all. My 70 year old mother in law had a service contract with what she thoght was Valliant. It was actually administered by Homeserve.
Not only did they not spot that there was a gas leak from one of the valves in the boiler which was the actaual cause of the intermitant failure of the boiler to light.
They also recommended that she have a “Power Flush” done at a cost of £600 but would not gauantee that this would fix the problem.
They took the money up front.
I got involved at this point and got British Gas round to see if there was a leak – which there was and they disconected it from the gas.
I have since called a reputable Gas Safe regested technician who has fixed the problem for substantially less than £600.
Homeserve have not refunded the money as yet but thank goodness she paid with a credit card so is protected under section 75 and will one way or another get her money back.
Stay away from Homeserve is my advice.

teresa says:
23 April 2015

When I began to help my elderly mum with her affairs I discovered she had a number of Homeserve policies – all of which she had acquired through Thames Water. I corresponded with them and then cancelled the policies, having determined they were worth next to nothing to mum. The company resisted the cancellations. The elderly are SO vulnerable to this sort of thing. They take one policy and then more and more are marketed to them and – being anxious about things going wrong – far too many take policies up. It’s one thing for a dodgy builder to knock on the door and offer to fix a slipped roof tile for £1,000 – he’s a fraud. But what of a utility company providing an entree for an insurer – both of them in a commercial relationship with each other – the utility company no longer a PUBLIC utility? It’s no wonder the elderly are confused by this. Is there any redress for individuals?

Just had my Homeserve ‘automatic’ renewal for plumbing and drainage cover through. Increased premium from £63.00 to £86.40. No claims. Ridiculous increase – presume they thought it wouldn’t be noticed. Renewal cancelled.

Iain says:
22 June 2016

Just received one of their flyers with Thames Water logo offering comprehensive plumbing insurance

K Sutton says:
26 September 2016

I have paid for a water supply pipe insurance policy for a number of years with Homeserve, last week I had a need to contact Homeserve and report a leak close to footings of my house, I thought mistakingly that they would be out within a few days, wrong, the earliest time they could give me is three weeks. I have had to hire a water pump and transformer to stop the footings of the house being damaged. I will not be renewing the policy next year. They are clearly rip off merchants and the policy is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Have you looked at your buildings insurance or any home emergency cover as part of your house insurance policy? Worth an ask in case the problem is covered. Some water companies also, I believe, deal with mains leaks without charge.

K Sutton says:
29 September 2016

Hi Malcolm, I spoke with South East Water today and they are not interested, their representative suggested I go back to Home Serve. It was South East Water who suggested in the advert that came with our water bill that we should insure with Homeserve. It would seem they have received their commission and are not interesting in helping their customers.

I would expect including the same cover under an existing buildings insurance policy would add very little [if anything at all] to the premium, so the Homeserve terms might not be the best. They sell their cover by worrying people that they could be facing huge bills if something goes wrong in the pipework beyond the customer’s entry control valve.

Nicola King says:
11 October 2016

I have received two letters from HomeServe this year, both with the Thames Water logo on the envelope and letter, recommending their water pipe insurance. Yesterday evening, I received a phone call from HomeServe trying to sell their insurance. I was busy and rushed them off the phone, but since then I’ve been thinking about how Thames Water have passed on my mobile phone number to this company! Is that allowed?

We have insurance with HomeServe.
To explain in more detail. Our boiler was having issues and after calling another suplier we decided to put a claim. Homeserve engineer came on 24/09/16 and decided that the boiler needs a new heat exchanger. He told us that he needs to order parts , called his manager and set up an appointment for Tuesday 27/09. We waited the whole day and after calling the office were told that no appointment was set. They then offered another appointment for Thursday 29th and another engineer came in without any parts and without knowing anything about our issue. After numerous phone calls to the office and the other engineer he told us essentially the same thing, he needs parts and we have another appointment Saturday 01/10. On Saturday a third engineed came, this times with parts and tools, spend 2 hours reinstalling the parts in the boiler to realise that they have ordered the wrong parts. Once again the boiler was not fixed and we now have an apointment for Tuesday 4/10.
I took a day off on 4/10/16 and no engineer showed up even though on 1/10/16 I have confirmed with homeserve that I had a service appointment for 4/01/16. The service was once again postponerd until 6/10/16.
On 6/10/16 an engineer came. He was supposed to come between 8-13 and he came at 12:50 and stayed untill 15:30 . He fitted the part in the boiler and the boiler started to work. However it had a leak and we were forced to call homeserve again. We had been promised an engineer between 13-18 on 10/10/16. The engineer first called saying he will come at 12 then he said he will come at 1 then that he will come at 4 and finally he came at 17:50 and stayed untill 19. He fixed the leak but now the boiler makes a horrible noise each time it starts.
I called again and was promised an engineer on 12/10/16 between 8-13. Due to past experience I called both the office and the support office evry hour between 8-12:30 and was assured each time that surely somebody will come befoew 13. One of the people I spoke to was actually quite rude saying that even if the engineer comes at 13:00 he is still not late. However at 12:30 the engineer called and said he will only arrive in a “couple of hours. As of 14:43 he is still not here.

We had no hot water or heating for 9 days now and had to stay home for 9 different days waiting for them. 3weeks later my boiler still does not work properly. I have contacted the company in about 20 different ocasions and filled complaints but heard only reassurances that they will investigate from them.

Kenneth Thompson says:
20 October 2016

I have just received a letter from South East Water offering comprehensive insurance for plumbing and water supply problems .

It looks a very good offer when you first read it. 50p per month in the first year. In the first year in very small faint writing. No mention of what it would be after the first year.

On the reply form which is a direct debit mandate it mentions you can tick a box for a quarterly payment of £1.50 a quarter or 50p per month no mention of what the cost will be the following year. If you turn the form over you will see that the second paragraph from the end states “If you have not made a claim it will increases to £8 a month which is £96 a year” Why do they not mentin on the DD mandate that the premium on renewal will be £8 per month or £96 a year as mentioned in the small print at the back of the letter.

I blame this misleading letter on South East Water as it is coming in a letter from them.

I wonder how much South East Water receive for each policy sold?

This could be the next PPI type scandal.

HomeServe fined £30m for mis-selling to 70,000 customers

I renewed at the uprated premium but I didn’t consider it misleading because notice of the increase does appear in the ‘small print’. Also, HomeServe reminded me at the renewal date so I had an opportunity to cancel. I don’t know if this practice amounts to mis-selling – I doubt it, as there is no evidence of any intent to mislead or deceive the policyholder.

Derek Hall says:
28 November 2016

Like many others I was invited by my water supplier (Anglian Water) to take out HomeServe’s Plumbing & Drainage cover at an initial discounted rate. I continued with the cover for a second year despite the premium increasing from £9 to £96 per annum! I recently made my first claim for a minor water leak only to be told by the visiting HomeServe engineer that my policy excludes my plumbing system because it is an unvented system. I checked all my policy documents and found no reference by HomeServe to unvented systems. I called HomeServe’s claims number and they confirmed that unvented systems are excluded but they could not show me where this is stated in my policy documents or contract. When I complained they merely stated that I should have identified my system as unvented when I first took out the policy, to which I replied saying that no one from HomeServe had ever asked me – and even if they had I wouldn’t have known how to answer because I don’t know an unvented system from a vented one or any other type of plumbing system for that matter! So, I have paid for two years’ of cover that provides no cover whatsoever because my system is ineligible. This is clearly a case of contract offer by deception and should be stamped out! I doubt whether I will get my money back though . . . .

Well it sounds a bit like miss-selling to me, Derek. I think it would be worth seeing what Citizens Advice might be able to do on your behalf.

An unvented hot water system is perhaps most obvious because there is no cold water tank. Here is some information: http://www.aphc.co.uk/UNDERSTANDING%20HOT%20WATER%20SYSTEMS%20IN%20THE%20HOME%20Dec13.pdf

Combi-boiler systems are another example of unvented systems and here there is no hot water tank either. The Terms & Conditions do exclude hot water tanks and controls on unvented systems.

This is very unsatisfactory because most people are not likely to understand the technical details of their system. Unvented systems are now common and I’ll bet there are many others that have bought inappropriate cover. The company could easily have asked simple questions that would have identified the type of system in your home.

I do hope you secure a full refund, Derek. I agree with John about contacting Citizens Advice.

Definitely dodgy practice. If it is not in the policy document I cannot see they have a leg to stand on. Of course they will have kept your original application with all these clause so perhaps they can rustle it up for you and others to see.

Who is the Ombudsman for the system? Get a written decline to refund your premiums and then go to whoever the Ombudsman is.

Incidentally as the law has been changed on responsibilities for clearing blocked drains you may find if you have common pipes with neighbours that part of the drainage cover might also have been unnecessary.

It’s the Financial Ombudsman that is relevant here, as it is insurance rather than a consumer product at fault.

Thanks Derek.

colette hughes says:
24 February 2017

Sign up for a 24 hour service only to realise you get access to a voicemail 24 hours a day. Rookie mistake.

[Sorry, this comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, mods.]

Peter says:
14 March 2017

“It’s 2013 annual report says it has made good progress with customer service ……”
IT’S: “Which?” illiterate person wrote this?

Anyone can make a simple mistake, Peter. It doesn’t make it unintelligible.

Kevin Hillbery says:
1 May 2017

OK – it seemed like a great deal – and took up in Jan 2017.

Withholding opinion right now – a good guy did turn up within 5 hours on a Sunday today with a big white van – but the only equipment he had was plunger!! Funilly enough I already had one of those and already 1 week of massive drainblocker fluids used already to try to sort it out myself (that he took photos of!) . max 10 mins at popery trying to sort out – next 30 mins sitting in his van on my drive. Promised a person with proper equipment will turn up Tuesday at 8:00 am – will have work from home as a result. We shall see – if they do – full marks to them – if they don’t – well home insurance legal team already alerted….

Kevin Hillbery says:
2 May 2017

OK – update, great (different) guy turned up today – with the right equipment this time…..

Great job (not easy) done – so at this point can only recommend. Glad to be able to send totally positive feedback given my earlier scepticism having found this site and other comments posted here.

Think my premiums might rise next year mind you… but value for money to date – excellent.

stangya sorensa says:
22 November 2017

Originally was invited by Eastern Electricity to take out “their” home emergency cover; first time I needed to call them out phoned number on policy (which said Eastern Electricity Contracting on policy, no mention of Homeserve); arranged visit for a Saturday; day later got phonecall from some contractor saying would come on monday, replied that had already arranged date for saturday, only to be told “we don’t work saturdays”; called number on policy again, asked why getting calls from some cowboy contractor, told “only used properly vetted contractors”; told them I wanted their own engineers to do job, told “we don’t employ any engineers”, asked, incredulously, why Eastern Electricity didn’t have engineers, told “We are not Eastern Electricty”, asked who the hell I was talking to, told “Homeserve”;how many people, wanting established reputable company with properly trained, qualified, reliable engineers, end up with cowboy company with unqualified cowboy grease monkeys? Customers induced by utility company letterhead to sign up and don’t know what they are getting; this is oldest con in the book; “bait and switch”. Also, called them out to deal with blown immersion heater only to be told that they no longer covered immersion heaters; When I was studying law in college was taught that this is “material change in conditions” that invalidates entire policy and constitutes fraud on part of issuer.