Wednesday 20 June 2018

Just burgled? Your insurance could be about to let you down

You're unlikely to get any payout for theft if you've been reckless with possessions or haven't played by your insurer's rules

Forgetting to lock your front or back door on occasion at night-time could see you struggle to get cover for a burglary
Forgetting to lock your front or back door on occasion at night-time could see you struggle to get cover for a burglary
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

The recent cold snaps caught a number of people off guard when their cars were stolen after they left them de-icing in their driveway. However, it wasn't just the opportunist thieves who caught these car owners out - so too did the small print on their insurance policy.

Insurers usually refuse to cover the theft of a car if the keys to the ignition are left with or in the car when it is left unattended - as is typically the case when de-icing one's car on a cold morning. The recent de-icing thefts therefore highlight the importance of understanding exactly when your insurance policy covers you for theft - and when it doesn't.

Cover for car theft

Cars are a prime target during burglaries. It has become increasingly common in recent years for thieves to use fishing rods and hooks to prise car keys from hallways and hall tables - a type of theft known as 'fishing'.

Your car insurance usually covers you for car theft arising from 'fishing'. Zurich said that 'fishing' is generally covered "once the Gardai can confirm the circumstances". Other insurers which cover fishing include Allianz, Aviva, Liberty and FBD. It's worth checking if your insurer offers any cover if your keys are stolen during a 'fishing' incident, but the burglars fail to steal the car. Aviva for example offers cover of up to €1,000 for you to change your car locks and transmitters.

While insurers say they cover car theft following 'fishing', they could refuse to pay out if you are careless with your keys, according to Brian McNelis, director of general insurance services with Brokers Ireland. This is because under your car and home insurance policy, you have a duty to take care of your possessions.

"If your car is stolen after you left your car keys hanging in the door or very near the letterbox [where they can easily be accessed from the outside], your insurer could refuse to cover you - because that's an unreasonable place to leave the keys for a valuable car," McNelis said.

Similarly, leaving your car unattended while de-icing it in the driveway will usually give your insurer plenty of ammunition to turn down your claim if your car is stolen - though the exact circumstances will usually be taken into account.

For example, a spokesman for Liberty said: "In the event of a theft whilst someone had left their engine running to de-ice the car, this is dealt with on a case-by-case basis where the individual circumstances are reviewed." Aviva said there was a "high probability" that such a claim would not be covered - though "each case is considered on its own merits". Aviva's car insurance policy states that "while unattended, the car must not be left unlocked, or the keys to the ignition left with or in the car or windows or sunroof left open."

A spokesman for Zurich said that it "takes each case on its merits, taking into account where the car is parked in normal circumstances - for example, in a built-up city centre or housing estate, or a rural location".

"While there is a specific exclusion under our motor policies in relation to vehicles being stolen where the keys have been left in the car, we would assess each claim taking a number of factors into account," said the spokesman.

Cover for burglary

The most common things to be stolen from a home during a burglary are cash, jewellery and small electronics, according to insurers. Paintings and other valuable items, such as TVs, may also be robbed.

Forgetting to lock your front or back door on occasion at night-time could see you struggle to get cover for a burglary. "If the door of your home is open, the robber is not breaking in - he is walking in," McNelis said. "Insurers typically cover forcible entry so you may not be covered if you're broken into after leaving your front door open."

There have been some unusual cases where people have had items stolen from their home, but there is no evidence of a break in. You could have trouble getting a payout in such circumstances .

Allianz's home insurance policy "does not insist that there is violent or forcible entry for cover to be provided", according to a spokesman for the insurer. "However our claims team would investigate how it came to pass that there was a theft, but no evidence of a break in," said the spokesman. "We take a practical approach in these scenarios and take the circumstances of the incident into consideration. It can happen that a burglar gains entry through an open window or unlocked door when the customers are at home."

Zurich offers cover where there is no evidence of a break in - but only in homes owned by the person living in them "and following a full assessment". Aviva allows claims "regardless of forced entry or exit" - but again, only if it's an owner-occupied property. A spokesman for FBD said: "Unless the property is let, forcible entry need not be evident [for cover]. However, evidence that a theft actually occurred is a normal requirement. This could be a Garda report."

Cover for valuables

Most standard home insurance policies don't cover valuables worth more than a few thousand euro. With Aviva, for example, the limit on cover for an individual item is €2,600 - or 5pc of the contents sum insured. Where you own something more valuable than an insurer's limit on cover for an individual item, you can usually pay extra to insure that item separately.

However, should you own something valuable which doesn't need to be insured separately, you should still tell your insurer about it. Bear this rule of thumb in mind for any laptops, PCs, bicycles, personal entertainment devices, mobile phone and expensive medical items (such as dentures) which you have. Otherwise, you could struggle to get a payout for such items if robbed - particularly if you cannot prove you ever had them.

"People often get something valuable during the year and don't think to tell their insurer about it until their next renewal date," said Jonathan Hehir, managing director of insuremyhouse.ie. "People can get caught out in this way."

Should you have an expensive engagement or wedding ring, let your insurer know - and if it's particularly valuable, get it insured separately.

Most insurers will insist on a valuation and proof of purchase if you want cover for a valuable. Your insurer may also insist that you update the valuation regularly - so check your policy to see how often you're required to get a valuation done. Don't forget to get valuations for any valuable gifts or inheritances which you receive.

"We are coming across more and more people who are getting things pre-inheritance - such as a mother giving a daughter a ring while the mother is still alive," said Hehir. "In some cases, these items may be quite valuable - they could well be worth more than €10,000."

Check if there any conditions in your policy for the cover of valuable items. Even if you pay extra to insure something separately, your insurer might not cover you if you haven't followed your policy's rules.

"If you're insuring a diamond ring, it may be a condition of your policy that the clasp on the diamond needs to be checked every year," said Hehir.

"If an item is worth more than €10,000, it may be a condition that you keep it in a safe - unless you're wearing it."

Don't underestimate how strict your insurer might be in the event of a claim. "Over the last five or six years, insurers have been much tougher when assessing claims," said McNelis. So check out, and play by, the rules of your insurance policy - before it's too late.

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