/ Home & Energy, Money

Is home emergency insurance worth the money?

Leaking washing machine

‘Peace of mind’ is the promise that emergency insurance makes, and at this time of year when burst pipes and broken boilers are a worry, it’s an easy sell. But is it all it’s cracked up to be or can we cope without it?

The joys of home emergencies. From blocked drains to lost keys, pest infestation to roof damage, there’s many a thing that can cause you to dial your insurer’s number.

At this time of year, with the boiler working overtime and the ever-present risk of frozen pipes, insurance of this kind sounds like a lot of sense – but will it deliver?

Check the small print

Reviewing policies from over 30 providers for Which? Money recently, I was struck by the number of exclusions and limits lurking in the small print. As is often the case with insurance, if you don’t pay close attention to these you may find that your cover doesn’t count when you need it most.

And you may be surprised by some of the finer points. One important point to check is if boiler breakdown is covered at any time of year, or if this part of the policy is invalid from May to August. Sometimes, only a winter breakdown is deemed an ’emergency’.

What are the options?

Some home insurers offer home emergency cover as part of their standard policy. If this fits your needs, you don’t need to do any more, but you should check the level of cover carefully, as policies vary widely. If your insurer doesn’t provide emergency cover as standard, it may offer it as an optional add-on, but this can get costly.

The main suppliers of home emergency cover aren’t mainstream insurers but specialist providers such as Homeserve, Homecall Plus, Domestic & General and The AA. British Gas is also a major force.

But these can also prove expensive, with annual premiums for comprehensive policies ranging from £125 to £324. It’s debatable whether these companies provide better service than general insurers, although British Gas does have its own dedicated workforce.

Is it worth it?

If boiler failure or blocked drains are a real concern for you, a home emergency policy can be reassuring. But how many times do these emergencies really crop up? It’s unlikely your boiler will break down in same month as a rat infestation, after all. So it could be cheaper to ‘self-insure’ by putting money aside to pay for the times when you need an independent engineer or plumber.

The sums involved will vary, depending on where you live, the age of your boiler and what goes wrong. Insurance should reduce the stress of a household emergency, but the only way to ensure you have the right cover is to compare policies and check the small print carefully before you buy.

Have you found a policy that lives up to its promise – or do you rely on savings to get you through unexpected problems? Hopefully you’ll never need it, but if you do, it pays to have a policy that does what it’s name suggests.

Comments
Profile photo of danny
Member

We have always had our gas boiler on a service contract with Scottish Gas since it was fitted many years ago. Last winter we had a problem with a leaking pipe in the loft. I called our home buildings insurer. Its immediate response was ‘lack of maintenance’ which naturally it had to rapidly change when I pointed out the boiler etc was serviced each year.
Scottish Gas immediately sent an Engineer out to rectify the leak.
The same cannot be said of the way it was handled by our Buildings insurer – minor damage had been caused to the lounge ceiling. The work eventually carried out by its ‘workmen’ left a lot to be desired. There were also problems getting it to do the work when it said it would.
I wouldn’t pay the extortionate amounts asked for ’emergency cover’. We seldom claim on any of our insurances (building/contents etc) but whenever we have tried, they always seem to have get out clauses/excuses!

Profile photo of richard
Member

I’ve had a contingency fund since I had “insurance” for dogs! 🙂 They refused to insure my 8 yo dog as too old but insured my pup until she was 8 when the premium quadrupled – that increase I refused to pay. The actual total vet fees for the refused cover dog in his twenty year life was £140 including home visit euthanasia!! The pup had no problems so no cost her entire 13 year life except euthanasia – which wasn’t covered anyway. In fact no routine costs are covered by pet insurance such as teeth cleaning.

Since then I put into a savings account the lowest premium I can find for each of my three large greyhounds. So far the actual costs of vet fees including annual visits (not actually covered by pet insurance anyway) have been paid out of the ‘pot’ In fact until the credit crunch the interest paid for the annual vet visits. So far only one of the 12 dogs has even approached the cost of a pet premium – meaning the other 11 have been sheer “profit” The pet premium for a large dog can be over £1000 each!!

In essence I have done the same for the home – though I do have normal home theft and damage insurance. I have a contingency fund of a few £1000 to cover emergencies and use tradesmen I trust to do any work I cannot (I am a capable DIYer)

Member
Dan James says:
15 December 2010

I don’t have insurance of any kind except Motor Insurance and I never will –it has always been my expierence that when one makes a claim the ins company always finds a way to wriggle out of paying. We are inundated with quotes from many ins companies who seem surprised we do’nt have any ins– but what I do is put away the premiums I would have paid (if I had any ins) and use this as a contingency fund. I live in a block of flats belonging to a Housing Assoc and we are always afraid of flooding from three flats above us ie washing machine faults pipe breakages bath overflows as the accomodation is for all elderly people who become forgetful it has happened a couple of times and sinks & baths have overflowed with shocking results for the people below them– but when I ask insurers if I am covered for such, they are extremeley vague and sort of “I think so” type of answers so I just say bye bye no more insurance for me

Member
Sardar says:
29 April 2012

My Home care account:
My name M Sardar
phone number.

What ever is out there in the news papers about british gas home care unhappy customers are true. I agree with their frustration. I have a call out on28-4-12 as my house is without heating. engineer visit was arranged on 29-4-12 within 24 hours. on 29-4-12 i recieved phone call from british gas: no one can attend me today! earliest possible is on 30-4-12 around 42 hours of complaint. I left with no option now but to wait in cold, despite paying every month! what a quality of service. keep it up british gas! Customer manager who called me is NARESH LAW.
Luqman

Member
air conditioning in sheffield says:
29 July 2012

You actually make it appear so easy along with your presentation but I in finding this topic to be actually one thing that I think I might never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very broad for me. I am looking ahead for your next post, I will try to get the hold of it!

Member
Anne says:
10 October 2012

This year I included saga home emergency cover to my house insurance policy. Persuaded by quite a pushy sales team. I stopped my British Gas home emergency cover after many years partly due to the rising costs.
Although I have to say the service was good in my opinion.
When my heating broke down an engineer came out the next day,said it may be the pump and someone would return after the weekend. This was followed by a phone call from saga to say it may be the magnum needed cleaning and this was maintainance and not covered by the policy. I was left to find an engineer to clean out the magnum to find out the problem. I have since argued and protested that this should be part of the inspection and boiler service that was carried out six months before when they decided they would insure my system. What a useless policy this is when the magnum is designed to keep your system running well and if it isn’t cleaned during the service then you would have to employ an engineer to come out to complete a 5 minute job. This was something their engineer could have carried out even if with some charge since he was already paid to be there. Disgraceful service and they suggest I go to the ombudsman if I am not satisfied.

Member
Maggie says:
20 February 2015

My boiler would not fire up on Wednesday morning. I realised I had Saga Home emergency and heating cover added onto my buildings insurance and phoned them to see if I was covered for this. I was assured by Saga that I was fully covered for call out, labour and parts costs to get my boiler running again. Within 2 minutiae of making the call I had received a call from Swaleheating the company authorised to do the repairs who arranged for an engineer to be with me that afternoon. He arrived as promised in a very well kept van, he was smart and very pleasant. He took great care in checking out the various main components of the boiler and associated system and diagnosed the problem. He contact his office who arranged for the replacement part to be delivered today on Friday and the same engineer has just left after fully completing the repair. Such excellent service is rare these days. I am highly satisfied with Saga Insurance

Member
steve says:
6 October 2015

I have had british gas homeserve policy for a number of years & never needed to use it,untill there was a leak in the bathroom.I have now been told I am not covered because its the tap,which apparently is classed as wear and tear and they want £150 to repair it. So what is the point of paying over £400 per year to insure ?

Profile photo of alfa
Member

If you have plumbing cover included you should be covered. The booklet says:

Repairs to taps inside your Home and replacing standard non-ceramic tap washers to repair water leaks and dripping taps (not including replacing taps themselves).

If the tap is dripping, O-rings are fairly easy to replace although I suppose it depends on the type of tap.

Member
michael taylor-waring says:
28 December 2016

Very disappointed with British Gas Home Care insurance particularly rip off DynaRod ( a subsidiary). I have paid for British Gas Home Care Insurance since 1992, currently paying £43 per month. They have rejected a call out to repair a leaking kitchen waste trap saying it is an incorrect fitting! They quoted £246 to fix it which was more than double a local ‘Rated People’ plumber who did the job for £110. Customer service level at British Gas appalling too with the complaints procedure as near as useless. I will be changing providers.

Profile photo of GregRobbins
Member

I started SAGA ‘Complete Home and Heating Care’ a few months ago. I first called SAGA for help under this policy when my shower jammed and couldn’t be turned on. This was a straightforward mixer tap and shower-head type of shower taking water directly from the hot and cold water pipes. Assistance was declined because it was a shower.

I have a Vaillant boiler, about four years old. I am very happy with it. I came home late on the evening of Wednesday 07 12 16 to find the house was very hot indeed – over 25 degrees. My dogs were panting! It was most worrying we had never managed to get the system over 21.5 degrees in the past. I checked the Honeywell wireless thermostat controller and it was correctly set at 18.5 degrees, but the boiler was running continuously and in my opinion this was not only going to cost a fortune but was potentially dangerous. I turned the boiler off, so we had no heating and no hot water. I called SAGA first thing in the morning (Thursday). Assistance was declined because I was able to turn the boiler off and on manually! I kicked up a bit of a fuss and SAGA agreed to send an engineer but stressed that if the fault did not meet the conditions of the policy he would walk out without repairing it.

A couple of hours later I was called by Vaillant. They had been asked to send an engineer. I made an appointment for the morning of Friday 09 12 16. They sent a confirmation email. Later I had a call from Swale Heating to make an appointment for later that day. I explained I already had an appointment with Vaillant but they said there must have been a change of plan, so I booked an appointment. I asked to speak to someone who could provide technical input and was put through to a gentleman who seemed to understand the problem and was familiar with the boiler etc. I explained that the Honeywell room controller seemed to be functioning so it probably was a problem with the receiver at the boiler. I gave him the model number. This was to ensure the engineer had any necessary parts when he arrived.
I called SAGA to clarify the situation and they told me Vaillant had now refused the job and there was no need to contact them.

The Swale engineer arrived at 16.45 the same day and quickly diagnosed the problem was indeed the receiver at the boiler and he would order the part as he diin’t have one with him. He went away. He managed to get the boiler to start working properly again, but he couldn’t say how long the temporary fix would last, in his opinion “not for very long”. I would “hopefully get a call in the morning to set up a new appointment”.

At 08.15 on Friday morning the Vaillant engineer arrived to fix the boiler. It was very embarrassing. I explained that the Swale engineer had already started the job and what SAGA had told me. He was very good about it. He said he would have fixed it on the spot because he would have replaced both the controller and the receiver as a pair which he had brought with him. Tempting as it was to let him do the job and for the two firms to slog it out with SAGA I decided it was the right thing to do to let Swale finish the job.
Swale didn’t phone me in the morning. At lunchtime I called them and they seemed a tad put out when I said I was waiting for an appointment. They had ordered the part and would let me know when they were ready to offer an appointment. They called me in the morning of Monday 12 12 16 and said they had received the part and could fit it…the earliest available appointment was PM Thursday 15 12 16, a week after the initial visit. I had an unbreakable appointment so it was arranged for the following day. I said the delay was unacceptable especially as the company knew the model number of the room controller and receiver unit prior to the first visit. I was told their vans carry no spare parts whatsoever. This means of course that unless a fault is a blockage that can be cleared or a matter of adjustment every SAGA repair booked through Swale is going to take at least a week, potentially fatal, I would have thought, for many of their clients!
The Swale engineer arrived in the afternoon of 16 12 16. He replaced both the controller and the receiver as a pair with exactly the same model. In all it took him a quarter of an hour from entering to leaving.
This product is targeted at elderly, hence possibly vulnerable people. It is my conclusion that their default response to any request for help is to say “no”.

I believe that if I had not been very assertive I would have accepted their unjustifiable refusal. Moreover I could have been a frail elderly person left for over a week in mid-December without heat or hot water, which I am not (I am 64).

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

That is a remarkable report, Greg, and it was very good of you to submit it.

Profile photo of Ian
Member

I second that. First hand experience of a worrying and convoluted system.