Thursday, 22 March 2012

Safe as Houses?

We're not very lucky on the household front.  I'd never made a claim on my household insurance in all the years I'd been paying it but before we embarked on our Northern Adventure, we suffered a catalogue of domestic disasters. 

It all started one day in the early summer 2006 when I was working from home.  I was sitting in the dining room, which is at the back of the house, when I heard what I can only liken to the noise of a jet taking off, followed by a reasonably loud bang.  I ran out into the back garden but couldn't see anything so I went back indoors and carried on.  Moments later, the doorbell rang and I was confronted by our next door neighbour who said (quite deadpan), "Your chimney just landed on our patio."  Well, as you can imagine, I didn't know quite what to say in response, other than to apologise profusely.  It was later reported on local radio that a tornado had touched down in Canvey Island and done tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage.  When you looked out of the upstairs back windows, you could clearly see the line of destruction, bent TV aerials, missing roof tiles and torn trees.  Of course, ours was the only house that lost its chimney and we had a hell of a job convincing the insurance company what had happened.  In the end they paid out though.

A few weeks later, I took YD out for the morning to the beach with a friend and her youngest children.  We left our older ones home alone.  When we arrived back, we were met by two very meek teenage boys who claimed that one of the neighbours' lads had been hitting golf balls from their garden at the back of our house and smashed the cladding.  We were extremely impressed with the accused lad's golfing skills as he'd have to have had one hell of a shot to have been able to do that much damage from such a distance, but they were adamant that their story was true.  They went on to tell us that they had decided to go up onto the flat roof and assess the damage themselves and while up there, their feet went through the felt roof.  Given the fact that OH's golf clubs had been taken out of the shed and were spread over the lawn, my interpretation of the story is that they were hitting the golf balls themselves and climbing up to retrieve the ones that didn't come down naturally.  One of them hit the ball too hard, resulting in a hole in the uPVC cladding and two rather scared boys.  Of course, they never admitted to anything and all I had was circumstantial evidence so I had to take their word for it.  This time, the insurance claim was more complicated.  They agreed to pay out for the cladding, but not the roof.  I suppose you can't insure against stupidity.  They did, however, pay for the rain damage inside the house as a result of the holes in the felt.  Incredible.

In the meantime, we had decided to have our boiler relocated and replaced before the weather deteriorated.  We debated who we wanted to do the job and went with British Gas.  They weren't the cheapest by any means, but we believed that, being a reputable company, we would have a good job done.  How wrong we were.  Apparently it is common practise for them to employ independent contractors to carry out works.  They sent over two cowboys who did such a terrible job that British Gas had to send in their own people to get the system working and 'make good' – whilst at the same time knocking the labour charge off the cost of the installation.

Shortly after the installation was finally completed, in late October, we started to have our downstairs bathroom renovated.  It was quite a big job as we had decided to have our tiny cloakroom converted into a large shower room.  The wall between the loo and the shower had to come down and be moved about 4'.  The mess was indescribable, but the job was 'hitch-free'.  We were extremely pleased with the results and even better, the work came in under time and budget.  As we had been left with a space in the kitchen after the boiler had been moved, we asked the contractor if he would stay on and replace our kitchen units and worktops.  He agreed and work commenced in November.  We had chosen the cabinets, doors, tiles and work surfaces and the stripping out was going well until… the contractor realised that the under-sink cupboard was completely rotten.  On further investigation, he discovered that the plaster was ruined, the tiles fell off the wall and the wall itself was damp.  My prized tiled terracotta floor was lifting and the tiles badly damaged in places.  The old boiler must have been leaking for years without us knowing and without British Gas noticing during their annual inspections.  I really didn't want to enter another difficult correspondence with our insurers so our contractor kindly liaised with the insurance company on our behalf, explaining how the floor was written off, as were the units.  As we have a small kitchen with a continuous run, they eventually agreed to covering the cost of new kitchen cabinets, doors and the floor.  Result.

My mother kept telling me, "these things happen in threes" so I thought that we would be able to relax… until my son tripped at the top of the stairs and his brand new laptop fell from top to bottom and smashed.  Really, you couldn't make this stuff up.   Fortunately we have accidental damage cover and don't have a claim limit on our policy and they paid out again.

Needless to say, our premium went up the following year.  Nobody else would touch us.

We weren't covered for malicious damage so couldn't claim for the works we had to complete on the house before we moved back in, so it's now been over five years since we have made a claim.  Our premiums are back to a 'normal' level and this year we'll be able to shop around for a better deal at renewal time.  Or so we thought.

However, last night we discovered that we have another water leak, this time in the utility room.  It's coming from a joint that was installed by the people who fitted our 'all singing-all dancing' American style fridge freezer that needs a water supply for the water and ice cube dispenser.  It's clearly been leaking for some time (probably since installation in December), but has gone unnoticed because the joint is hidden behind the washing machine.  We only found it when we did because the floor was audibly squelching!  We're currently waiting for the plumber to arrive to fix it and I shall then be writing to Curry's and demanding that they at least contribute to the cost of a new floor - otherwise it's going to have to be another claim.


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