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The best home emergency cover

Neil Faulkner
by Lovemoney Staff Neil Faulkner on 15 November 2012  |  Comments 8 comments

A look at both premium and budget home emergency cover that you can buy separately from home insurance.

The best home emergency cover

I've already looked at home emergency cover as sold as an add-on to home insurance, and I've found it wanting.

Quite often, this add-on cover is pricey because it does little more than give you a 24-hour line to call, and you still have to pay lots of the costs yourself anyway.

Many add-on policies are more comprehensive, but not only do those add-ons cost more, they're often attached to more expensive home insurance too.

Buying home emergency cover separately

Defaqto analyses and rates financial products, and it has just released star ratings for home emergency cover.

Today, I've picked out most of the Defaqto five-star policies (the premium cover) and the one-star policies (normally the budget cover) that you can buy separately from home insurance, and for which you can get an online quote along with full policy details on the insurers' own websites.

This narrowed our list down to seven one-star policies and four five-star policies. So 11 in total.

Some of the key features you can get from these stand-alone home emergency policies, as identified and rated by Defaqto, include:

  • Boiler breakdown cover
  • Annual boiler service
  • Central heating cover
  • Plumbing and drainage cover
  • Repairs guarantee
  • Water supply pipe cover
  • Frozen pipes
  • Electricity supply cover (electrical failures)
  • Gas supply cover (problems with the gas supply)
  • Home security cover (windows and locks)
  • Roof cover
  • Vermin removal
  • Drainage systems

Bear in mind that if two insurers say they cover boilers for breakdowns, the small print will be different, meaning you might be able to claim with one, but not the other, depending on the specific circumstances.

These are very difficult to compare

I've created an online, colour-coded Home emergency insurance chart especially for this lovemoney article, which helps you to compare all 11 of the policies, based on the Defaqto criteria above.

If you look through the chart carefully, you'll see that no two policies offer identical features. This makes comparison inordinately difficult.

You'll also see in the chart that I have researched the price you pay in the first year, the excess you have to pay for most claims, and what the maximum payout is for any single claim. Even with this information at your fingertips, it's not easy to decide which policies might be bargains.

Some details I pick out from my chart include:

  • Some of the one-star policies surprise by offering a feature not available to most five-star ones, a common one being frozen pipe cover.
  • Most one-star policies don't offer boiler breakdown and central heating cover. Any policy with these tend to be much more expensive.
  • A policy adding an annual boiler service can easily double the cost.
  • One-star policies generally offer no repair guarantees, but the five-star policies in my chart all do.

Any gems among these policies?

I think HomeServe's five-star product, called “Cover 8”, appears to be one of the better-priced products for the level of cover offered.

You get all of the features in Defaqto's list, except an annual service and gas supply cover, all for £114 in the first year. (You can add an annual boiler service but, at approaching £200 extra, you're better off looking for a trusted local trader.) This is the lowest five-star price, but seemingly the best cover available.

This policy has a payout limit of £4,000 per claim, which is actually likely to be unnecessarily high.

Whether the policy is as good as it seems depends on the precise wording in the small print, and I should say that I have not had time to do any research into customer satisfaction levels, or into the number of claims any of the insurers have rejected in the past year.

There's a big but to this HomeServe quasi-recommendation: you can expect the price of this policy to rise by at least £120 – that's more than double – in the second year, to over £234!

Omniassist's “Plumbing and Draining – Essential” policy offers the cheapest budget cover in the one-star range, at just £33. From Defaqto's list of features, this covers just plumbing and drainage, water supply cover, drainage systems and frozen pipes. It has a payout limit of £350 per claim

Bear in mind I didn't look through Defaqto's two-, three- or four-star policies, so perhaps one of those is comparable in price to Omniassist but with, in Defaqto's view, better cover.

I worry about the price

Generally speaking, when insurance products are so hard to compare like this, you have to worry about whether you're getting a good price. It's hard for ordinary customers to know, because insurers hide the information which people like I need to work out whether a policy offers value for money.

That's one reason why you should only buy insurance if you'd have difficulty paying yourself in the event of an emergency.

Still, the large variation in price for the policies in my chart suggests to me that you can sometimes find deals that might be a fair price. Just contrast HomeServe's 5-star product at £114 with the other five-star policies, such as British Gas's at over £300.

However, you should expect most insurers to raise prices considerably in the second year. Don't be surprised to see the renewal price come in 30% to 100% higher. The chances of paying a reasonable price after the first year are pretty low with most insurances, unless you switch.

The problem is that each time you switch home emergency cover you have a 14- or 28-day starting period where you're not allowed to claim. Therefore, it makes sense to buy your new home emergency insurance for the following year a few weeks early, so there's an overlapping period.

From what I've seen of policies that add an annual service, it looks like you should expect to be better off getting a word-of-mouth recommendation for a local tradesperson.

I haven't done all your work for you

There are more things you might want to look for:

  • Will the insurer make good any damage they do in order to get the job done, such as excavations to access water supplies? Plus, what's the maximum they'll pay out for that?
  • Will it find you hotel accommodation if necessary, and how much will it pay for that?
  • How soon does it promise to be on the scene in an emergency?
  • What is the maximum number of claims per year, or maximum total claims limit, in pounds, on all claims in a year?

Some traps to watch for

Complaints against home emergency cover have grown recently, and the Financial Ombudsman is usually ruling in the customer's favour. To avoid some of the common problems:

  • Check what your home insurance policy covers, since it might already have what you need. Even if you don't have add-on emergency cover, there could easily be similar roof cover, just for example.
  • Watch out for “free” trial periods, because you still might get charged for them.
  • Most insurers require you to use an approved repairer, so they might not reimburse you if you get someone else in to do the repairs.
  • As with all insurances, ignore any that say you're getting 20% off, half price, or other cut-me-own-throat deals. These are marketing tricks, nothing more. Just look at the price itself and compare it to other policies with a similar level of cover.

More on home cover

Home insurance: the features you can't do without

Why your home insurance claim will be rejected

How to claim on your insurance after a flood

The best home insurance companies for customer service

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Comments (8)

  • henry1
    Love rating 0
    henry1 said

    To be polite, do not bother with Homeserve. If all their technicians are "busy", they will just not turn up whatever the conditions are ie 8 degree centigrade at home due to boiler breaking down, 2 babies etc... We were told that we have to wait at least 2 days for someone to look at the boiler and fix it. When we subscribed to their boiler insurance someone was not too busy to take our money though.

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • MK22
    Love rating 169
    MK22 said

    On the other hand when a motorised valve failed on my central heating last winter, I got a letter of apology from British Gas who cover it, because they were unable to come out on the same day. And I didn't report the problem until after lunch! They were there the following morning and replaced the valve and the timing controller that wasn't working properly. I guess you get what you pay for......

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • MK22
    Love rating 169
    MK22 said

    PS my contract with BG has annual boiler service visit. It also includes a annual service of a hotw fire but at extra cost.

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • fenemore
    Love rating 251
    fenemore said

    I too have a contract with British Gas, not just the boiler, but all the plumbing & all the kitchen appliances.

    Yes it is expensive, but as MK22 says, you get what you pay for. When I first took out cover from BG, they used to "outsource" (how I hate that word) the work so you never knew who would turn up or what the outcome would be. Happily BG (for once) actually listened to their customers and now all the engineers are employees. I am pleased to report that they have never let me down. The engineer always phones to say he is on the way - the problem is normally fixed on the first visit.

    I have had two kitchen appliances fail this year, a microwave and a dishwasher. Both required replacement parts, they were ordered and the appliances were fixed the very next day.

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • LocalRes
    Love rating 6
    LocalRes said

    I used to have Servowarm cover my central heating, including the annual boiler service.

    Servowarm used to be excellent.

    They were taken over by Homeserve, and what a useless bunch of cowboys they were.

    I used to be corgi registered for industrial boilerwork, so know something of what is supposed to be carried out when servicing domestic appliances. They failed to carry out ANY of the required gas safety tests, and were in and out of the premises in no more than 10 minutes. I challenged them, and they had to come back and do the statutory work as required within the regs.

    They also almost trebled the cost in two years.

    Needless to say their £322 charge for covering just the central heating (2009) was soon cancelled, and I now use a local guy.

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Kentman
    Love rating 0
    Kentman said

    All of these policies are a waste of money. I do "self-insurance" and am now quids in. Some years ago I got a quote from one of these companies, which was £65 per month (probably massively over-priced then), so I put away in a completely separate savings account that same sum each month.

    Ok, initially this is a gamble, but if you can afford, do the same. Over the years I have 2 occassions where I've had to call a tradesman in, which would have been covered under the policy - total cost £350, but in my savings account I now have £4200.

    If you feel the need to take out one of these policies, try and set the same sum aside each month anyway, and eventually you might decide that you can just rely on your own self-insurance and start really saving money!

    Report on 18 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • nosbert
    Love rating 5
    nosbert said

    Excellent idea, Kentman! Think I'll try it. We used to have a Homeserve cover, but a few years ago, the only time we'd ever needed help as one of the kitchen sink taps couldn't be turned off, we rang them - and got no answer. It WAS a Sunday, but aren't they supposed to cover you whatever inconvenient day your appliances need sorting asap?

    They put the price up too and I thought enough is enough, and cancelled the direct debit. I got phone calls & letters from them but stuck to my guns. So far, touch wood, nothing nasty's happened, but I have saved several hundred quid in the meantime - probably enough to pay for any not-too-major mishap/s.

    Report on 19 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Karen1980
    Love rating 3
    Karen1980 said

    We have it with our house insuance Towergate.. it came as a free extra and covers certain costs seems okay hope to never use it.

    The house insurance quote was competitive with other insurers so it was a bonus to have the home cover. No excess on it either....

    Report on 26 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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