Unoccupied House Insurance

The Definitive Guide

Unoccupied House Insurance: The Definitive Guide

Our mission is to make Insurance easy to understand, buy,  and claim against.

With this in mind, we have written the definitive guide to insuring an unoccupied house.  

This guide provides a general overview. You should always read your policy information to understand the conditions that apply.

In this guide, you will learn:

  • What unoccupied house insurance is
  • What is and isn’t covered
  • How to protect your house
  • The requirement to regularly inspect the house
  • What to do when you are making renovations 
  • What to do if you need to make a claim

You can either read the guide from the start, or click a chapter image to go to the content that interests you.

Contents

Chapter 1

An Introduction to unoccupied house insurance.

Chapter 2

Unoccupied house insurance cover explained

Chapter 3

Protecting your unoccupied house

Chapter 4

The need to regularly inspect your property

Chapter 4

What you need to tell your insurer when making renovations

Chapter 5

What to do if you need to claim on an unoccupied house insurance policy

CHAPTER 1 

An Introduction to unoccupied house insurance.

Unoccupied House Insurance: The Definitive Guide

In this chapter, you will learn:

  • What unoccupied house insurance is
  • Why you might need the cover
  • What influences the cost of the cover
  • What cover you will need when the property is occupied again

What is Unoccupied House Insurance?

Unoccupied house insurance is a specialist insurance policy that is required for houses left continuously unoccupied for more than 30 days.

This specialist cover is needed because insurance providers perceive an empty house as a higher risk for theft, vandalism and claims like escape of water. 

Where a house is unoccupied, loss or damage may be undetected for some time, which in some circumstances can increase the size of a loss.

To emphasise this, consider what would happen if you had an escape of water in the property, such as a burst pipe, which is a common unoccupied house insurance claim.  

If the house wasn’t empty this issue would usually detected and dealt with quickly  

You would probably call out a plumber, fix the leak and remove the water from the affected area, hopefully before a lot of damage occurs. 

Imagine the same scenario if the house is unoccupied.  It may be several days before the burst pipe is discovered, greatly increasing both the damage and the size of the loss.   

It is for these reasons that many insurance providers won’t provide cover on unoccupied houses.

Those that do, will often include a policy condition that insists the property is inspected at least every 7 days.  If you consider the scenario above, I think that is understandable.

Insuristic’s inspection rules are far more flexible: Every 28 days for the lowest level of cover.  See chapter 4 for details.

What if you don’t tell your existing insurer that a house is unoccupied?

If the house is going to be unoccupied for longer than your existing insurer allows, which is usually 30 continuous days (check your policy schedule for details), you must inform your insurer as soon as possible.  

Because the risks are much higher for unoccupied houses, many insurers either won’t provide cover or will restrict cover for long periods of unoccupancy.

The Financial Ombudsman Service have listed a number of case studies on their website that involve claims being rejected due to the house being continuously unoccupied when a claim was made.  

Here are a couple of examples where the insurance provider has rejected claims because the property was unoccupied.  The Financial Ombudsman Service ruled in favour of the insurance provider on both occasions:

Claims disputes can take time to resolve and could have been avoided if a specialist unoccupied house insurance policy had been purchased. 

If your house is going to be unoccupied for more than 30 continuous days, don’t leave it to chance. 

Notify your existing insurer to see if they would be prepared to offer the cover.

If they don’t, you should purchase an unoccupied house insurance policy.  You can usually buy this on a short-term basis, more on this later.

10 reasons why you might need to buy unoccupied house insurance.

Out of the 24 million private dwellings in the UK it is thought that only 500,000 are unoccupied.

So having the need for unoccupied house insurance is a rare occurrence. 

When it is needed, it is quite often only required for a short period of time.

There are many reasons you might need to buy unoccupied house insurance, here are some examples: 

  1. A house is going to be unoccupied for a short time (like 3 to 6 months), for any of the reasons below.
  2. You need to insure an empty house whilst it’s for sale.
  3. You’ve bought a new house but aren’t moving in yet (maybe you’re making home improvements before you move in). 
  4. You’ve just purchased an investment property and need time to find a tenant or to renovate the property before selling it.
  5. Your house is being renovated and you’d prefer to move out temporarily whilst it is being renovated.
  6. You’ve inherited a house, which means it is likely to be empty for a while whilst you sell it or find a tenant.
  7. A house is in probate, which means the property is going to be empty for some time.  The insurance will need to be taken out by the person administering the estate, a probate solicitor or accountant.  You will be able to list on the policy all of the parties with an interest in the estate. 
  8. Landlords with empty houses that are between tenants, or the property is empty whilst it is being renovated.
  9. Whilst you are away on a long business trip (for 30 consecutive days or more).
  10. Whilst in hospital or care – if your house is empty whilst you are away, or you are insuring an empty house on behalf of a relative.
  11. House is empty whilst away on a long holiday over 30 days in duration.

How much does unoccupied house insurance cost?

The cost of unoccupied house insurance can vary between providers and the duration of cover you buy. 

Here are some examples of features that influence the cost of unoccupied house insurance:

  • The number of bedrooms: The bigger the property, the higher the cost of repair.  A pricing factor for some insurance products is the number of bedrooms a house has.  
  • The property Rebuild Value: Some insurance products are priced on the rebuild value of the house. 
  • Property Location: The location of the property can have a bearing on the price you pay.  For example, if the property is in an area known for flooding or subsidence or if it is in an area with a high crime rate then this will increase the cost.
  • Property Security: If your house is fitted with good levels of security, such as alarm, this may result in some insurers providing a discount to reflect the lower risk of theft.
  • Property Maintenance:  If the property is in a good state of repair, well protected, is regularly inspected and all water pipes are insulated then the likelihood of a claim is reduced.  If the house has been continuously claim free, most insurers will offer a no claims discount.  The level of discount increases by the number of claims free years.
  • The level of cover you buy:  Unoccupied house insurance policies, usually have three levels of cover.  The cheapest is FLEE only cover.   You can find out more about the levels of available cover in chapter 2.
  • The Policy Excess:  Some insurers may offer the opportunity to add a voluntary excess on top of the policy compulsory excess.  An excess is how much you would pay towards a claim.  An insurer may reward you with a small discount for choosing to pay a bigger excess.  

What cover will you need when the property is occupied again?

The good news is that the various policies you can buy for occupied property are generally cheaper than unoccupied property insurance, as occupied property is a much lower risk. 

If you are looking to move back into the property for use as your main home, then you can buy a standard house insurance policy.

If you have found tenants for the property you should buy landlords insurance. 

If the property is going to be used as a holiday home or holiday let, then you should buy a holiday home insurance product.

CHAPTER 2

Unoccupied house insurance: cover explained.

Unoccupied House Insurance cover explained

In this chapter, you will learn:

  • How long you can insure an unoccupied house for
  • The level of cover you can buy
  • What is covered by an unoccupied house insurance policy
  • What generally isn’t covered

How long can I insure an unoccupied house?

Unoccupied house insurance providers will usually allow you to insure the property on a short period basis, ranging from 3, 6 or 9 months.

If the property is going to be unoccupied for longer you can usually extend the policy term or buy an annual policy.

For long term unoccupied houses, some insurer may not provide cover after a few years of unoccupancy.  You will still be able to obtain cover, but the market for the risk will be smaller.

What level of cover can you buy?

You can purchase either insurance just for the unoccupied buildings or extend the cover to include any contents that remain in the property.

You can then choose from three levels unoccupied house insurance cover:

  • FLEE – The cheapest and most basic level of cover.  The policy will provide cover for claims caused by fire, lightening, earthquake and explosion (FLEE).  A FLEE policy will exclude cover for subsidence, flood, vandalism, escape of water and theft.
  • Full Perils or Full Cover – This is the highest priced unoccupied house insurance cover. The policy will include cover for claims caused by fire, lightening, earthquake, explosion, subsidence, flood, vandalism, escape of water and theft.
  • Full Perils but excluding escape of water – This policy provides all of the cover provided by Full Cover excluding cover for escape of water, which is the most common cause of claims for unoccupied property.  As you’d expect this cover is more expensive than FLEE but less expensive than Full Perils.

What is covered by an unoccupied house insurance policy?

Typically, most unoccupied house Insurance policies will provide:

  • Flood – some policies may restrict cover if you live in an area prone to flooding or have had flood claims.  If you have an issue with flood and want to buy the cover, there are specialist flood policies available, backed by Flood RE, which is a government backed scheme to help owners affected by flood buy flood cover.
  • Subsidence – if you live in an area prone to subsidence or your property has an existing subsidence issue, some insurers may restrict or exclude cover.  It is possible to purchase insurance from specialists for properties affected by subsidence.
  • Escape of water or oil – although most policies will contain a policy condition to be met before providing the cover.
  • Malicious Damage – if your house is subject to criminal damage
  • Property Owners Liability Insurance – to protect you against liability claims arising from damage or injury caused by the property you own or are responsible for e.g. a roof tile falls from your roof and damages a car or injures a member of the public

Insurance cover will vary between insurance providers so you should read your policy wording and Product Information Document carefully before purchasing cover.

What isn’t covered by an unoccupied house insurance policy?

Your unoccupied house insurance provider may not pay a claim in the following circumstances:

  • Theft or damage following unforced Entry: If you leave a door or window unlocked and someone enters your property and causes damage or steals something it is unlikely your house insurance will provide any cover. Cover would only apply if a window or door had been locked and forcibly opened.
  • Contractors: You may not be covered if a contractor causes damage to the property.  If you are having work done, you should check that the contractor has their own public liability policy to cover any damage or injury they cause.  Also make sure their cover has not expired.
  • Property during renovation: If you are having major work done such as an extension or conversion it can increase the risk for the insurer, as such some insurers will either cover the work for an increased price or choose not to offer or continue cover.  We will cover this in greater detail during Chapter 5.

What else might not be covered?

You should always check your policy information document and wording to understand the cover you are buying.

In addition to the above, here are some typical unoccupied house insurance exclusions and restrictions:

  • Having trees close to the property – can create a higher risk of damage to the property. In storms and high winds, trees can fall on property and cause significant damage.  Large roots can over time cause subsidence or heave which can damage the property.  A typical exclusion might be to exclude damage caused by trees higher than 3 meters and are within 7 meters of the property.
  • Boarded up property – Some insurers do not like it if the property has any windows boarded or bricked up. This usually indicates the property is going to be unoccupied for a long time which can be an increased risk of vandalism, water damage and fire.
  • Non-standard construction – you should take care explaining your building construction when obtaining a quote. If the property is built in a non-standard construction, insurers will class this as a much higher risk.  They may choose to cover your property for a higher premium, or you will need to source a specialist non-standard home insurance provider. 
  • Commercial buildings converted into residential spaces – is also a specialist risk. The house might be built in a standard construction, but if it is a commercial building that is converted into residential property, you must tell insurers because the risk can much greater.  Examples might be converted barns or mills, pubs converted to flats etc.  If you are unsure you must consult with your insurance provider before buying cover.

CHAPTER 3

Protecting your unoccupied house

Minimum security on an unoccupied house

In this chapter, you will learn:

  • The level of security you will need
  • Examples of common approved door security
  • What do do with your water and energy supply 
  • Tips for protecting an unoccupied house

What security do I need on an unoccupied house?

If a property is unoccupied the risk of theft or malicious damage is increased.  It is therefore prudent to ensure the property is secure.

Most unoccupied house insurance policies require that the property be fitted with the following minimum standard of security (you should check your policy wording for details of what your house insurer requires):

External Doors (not including patios):

Your main entrance should have either:

  •  a lock approved to BS3621 or a mortice deadlock of at least 5 levers.

Or

  •  a rim automatic deadlatch with a key-locking handle on the inside or a key-operated multi-point locking system with at least three fixing points and a lock cylinder with at least five pins to the main entrance door

All other external doors should have key-operated security devices (top and bottom) in addition to existing locks or a lock to the standard above.

If you need some help understanding what security you have in place, the Master Locksmiths Association have produced a couple of handy guides (including very helpful pictures):
 

Patio Doors

All patio doors should have either a key-operated patio door lock mounted internally on the centre rail(s) or should have key-operated security devices (top and bottom) in addition to existing locks.

Windows and Skylights

All accessible, opening windows and skylights should have key-operated security devices fitted (regardless of the floor they are on)

Storage of keys

When the property is unoccupied, all keys should be removed from locks and placed out of sight.

Alternative security devices are not acceptable unless your insurance provider has given a written agreement.

What to do with your water and energy supplies?

Your unoccupied house insurance policy will likely only provide cover for Escape of Water if:

  • The water, gas and electricity supplies are turned off at the mains
  • During the period November to March inclusive, all water tanks, pipes and apparatus are drained 

Your insurer will often allow you to leave the central heating on to reduce the risk of burst pipes.  They will often recommend a minimum temperature of 15-C or 58F.

You should check your policy wording for your insurers specific requirements.

Why Insuristic is different

If you want to include escape of water cover but draining the tanks, pipes and apparatus is not an option for you, we can provide cover, but you will need to inspect the property every 7 days and the escape of water excess will increase to £2,500.

Tips for protecting an unoccupied house

Empty houses are a prime target for thieves and vandals so it’s important that you make the property secure and look lived in.

Your insurers will usually insist that:

  • You keep your lawns and garden tidy
  • You remove mail at least every 7 days. Redirect mail and clear any away during your regular inspections.

Here are some other areas you could focus on:

  • Speak to the neighbours and ask them to keep an eye on the property.
  • On every visit empty your bins and remove waste.  Ask a neighbour to put the bins back when they have been collected.
  • Put lighting on a timer in the evening to give the impression of occupancy
  • Remove valuables, collections and artwork from the property
  • If you are having work done in the property, make no valuable equipment is left on show in the property.
  • Install Wi-Fi connected indoor security cameras so you can keep an eye on what’s happening in the property when you aren’t there.
  • Check all windows and doors are locked.  This may seem obvious but if you aren’t used to the layout of the house, it’s easy to miss an unlocked window or door.
  • Don’t forget to ensure your outbuildings, garages and any internal doors used to access the property are securely locked.

CHAPTER 4

The need to regularly inspect your property

The need to regularly inspect your unoccupied house

In this chapter, you will learn:

  • How often the property needs to be inspected
  • Why it makes sense to regularly check your property
  • Insuristic’s fair approach to inspections
  • Top tip – evidencing your inspections

How often does the property needs to be inspected?

When you buy an unoccupied house insurance policy, make sure you check your policy wording for details of what your insurance provider will require you to do.

Your policy will usually contain a condition that:

  • The property must be inspected internally and externally at least once every 7 days by you or a representative
  • All mail, newspapers, flyers and such are regularly removed from the house 
  • That buildings and gardens of the property are suitably maintained and in good condition
Insuristic’s inspection rules are way more practical:
  • FLEE: The inspection period is every 28 days.
  • Full Cover (excluding Escape of Water): Every 21 days
  • Full Cover Including Escape of Water but where you fully drain tanks, pipes and apparatus: Every 14 days. You will have an escape of water excess of £1,000

If draining the water systems is a challenge for you: we can still provide cover but the inspection period will be 7 days and the escape of water excess will increase to £2,500.

Why it makes sense to regularly check your property

In Chapter 1, I provided an overview of the increased risk of damage as a result of undiscovered issues, such as escape of water.

Hopefully if you have read this, you will understand why it makes sense for someone to regularly inspect the property.

I can imagine you wouldn’t want the hassle of:

  • Repairing your property, bearing in mind the extent of damage that an undetected issue can cause
  • Making a claim with your insurer
  • Paying the £1,000 escape of water excess that applies to most home insurance policies

Another reason to ensure you regularly inspect your property is that an insurer will likely decline any claims if you don’t.

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) will be unlikely to help if you have not adhered to the terms of the policy. 

The FOS have an example on their website where a claim was declined by an insurer because the property was not regularly inspected.  The FOS upheld the insurers decision. 

Your insurer will no doubt ask for evidence of regular property inspections in the event of a claim, so you should keep a record.

The inspection doesn’t need to be done by you personally, particularly if you don’t live near the property.  An inspection can done by anyone that you appoint for the job.  They just need to keep a record to provide to you.

Insuristic's fair approach to property inspections

Many unoccupied property insurers will need you to inspect the property every 7 days.  Many insurance providers will insist that you have to drain tanks and pipes which is not necessarily a requirement with Insuristic.  

Insuristic’s product is far more flexible on inspection rules and varies depending on the level of cover you have purchased and the risk to the insurer.  

We also take the view that, the more you reduce the risk of escape of water, the lower your excess will be, as you will see below.

Our inspection rules are as follows:

  • FLEE:  The inspection period is every 28 days.
  • Full Cover (excluding Escape of Water): Every 21 days
  • Full Cover Including Escape of Water but where you fully drain tanks, pipes and apparatus:  Every 14 days.  You will have an escape of water excess of £1,000
If you want to buy Full Cover but draining the tanks, pipes and apparatus is not an option for you, we can still provide cover but the inspection period will be 7 days and the escape of water excess will increase to £2,500.
 
We hope you agree, this is a fair and reasonable property inspection requirement.

 

Top tip – evidencing your inspections

We recommend that on every visit you or your representative takes a mobile phone to record the inspection and:

  • Takes at least one internal and external picture during the inspection using the mobile phones camera
  • Ensuring the mobile phone location settings are set to on

This will mean that every photograph taken will contain the time and date of when it was taken and the GPS location of where the person was at that time the image was taken. 

In the event of a claim, you can send the images to your insurer to prove the regularity and location of your inspections.

If you need some help, both Apple and Android have some helpful guides that show you how to ensure your location settings are switched on and how you can view your images by their location.

CHAPTER 5

What you need to tell your insurer when you are making renovations

What you need to tell your insurer when you are making renovations

In this chapter, you will learn what to tell your insurer about such as:

  • When you’re having an extension or converting a basement or a loft 
  • What you need to do for other work like installing a conservatory or replacing your double glazing.
  • Checking your tradespersons insurance

Will my unoccupied house insurance cover building work?

Many insurers will want to know about the improvements you make to your property that increases its value, the number or rooms, or size of your living space.

Examples could be:

  • Extending the property
  • Adding a conservatory
  • Converting a loft into living space
  • Converting a basement
  • Changing all of your windows and/or doors at once

Many insurers require you to notify them well before any works commence (you should give several weeks’ notice).

If you do not tell your insurer about these types of renovations, you could invalidate your unoccupied house insurance policy.

If you are merely redecorating the house or changing flooring covering, you will not need to notify your insurer.

What if I am only installing a new bathroom or kitchen?

Most insurers won’t have an issue with this type of work, but some will. 

Whilst this isn’t a big job, you should still check with your insurance provider that they will maintain your cover, particularly if the work is part of a wider project like an extension.

What if I am having landscaping work done?

If you are having your garden landscaped, laying artificial grass or installing a new shed, you will not need to notify your insurer.

If you are having significant work done such as the construction of an extension or making changes to existing outbuildings, you should consult your insurer.

Flexible Renovation Insurance from Insuristic

Our renovations cover is suitable for any unoccupied house undergoing renovations that cost less than 30% of the value of the house.

You will not be asked any questions about renovation during your quotation nor will you need to make a referral to us or AXA.

If you are undertaking major works that cost more than 30% of the value of your house, then you will need to buy other cover, which we can help you with

Why it is important to check your Tradespersons Insurance

If you have a tradesperson in your property to carry out renovation or other building work, you should always check their insurance coverage before you appoint them.

With any building work, there is always the risk that a tradesperson could accidentally damage your property, a neighbour’s property or worse, cause injury to someone.

A good tradesperson will arrange public liability insurance to cover them against such risks.  If they don’t, you could be liable for any claims that arise.

If you are having a large extension or conversion, the builder may also purchase a contract works policy.  This will cover the unfinished part of the building against fire, flood, storm, vandalism or theft.

If you are having design work done the tradesperson or architect should hold professional indemnity insurance to cover them for poor advice that causes you financial loss e.g. you need to pay someone else to put things right.

The things you should check:

  • What is their level of liability cover and do they have enough for the job. If they have purchased £1m in cover but your home or neighbours’ property is worth more, arguably they haven’t enough cover.
  • The policy expiry date. Clearly if it has expired, they don’t have any cover.
  • References and testimonials from other clients
  • If you hired them from a find my tradesman type site, what are their reviews like

CHAPTER 6

What to do if you need to claim on an unoccupied house insurance policy

What to do if you need to claim on an unoccupied home insurance policy

In this chapter, you will learn what to tell your insurer about such as:

  • When you’re having an extension or converting a basement or a loft 
  • What you need to do for other work like installing a conservatory or replacing your double glazing.
  • Checking your tradespersons insurance

What to do when you need to make a claim

If you have chosen a reputable insurance provider and you have adhered to the conditions contained in your policy wording, you shouldn’t have many issues.

If you need to make a claim, here are the steps you should take:

  • Check your policy wording and policy schedule carefully to make sure that you are insured.
  • Report the loss as soon as possible. Failing to do this could invalidate your claim.
  • If you are a victim of theft, malicious damage, vandalism or something is damaged away from the house, tell the police or issuing authority first and request an incident number.
  • Find your claims phone number. You can usually find this in your policy wording or policy schedule and contact your insurer.

When you call, it is recommended that you have the following information to hand:

  • Your policy number.
  • The address of the property, including the postcode.
  • Your policy number (found on your policy schedule).
  • Policy incident number (if you have one).

You should be prepared to explain the issue that has resulting in the claim. 

Your insurance provider will tell you what you need to do next.

If it is safe to do so, it may be useful to capture images or video of the issue that you can share with your insurer. 

If you have had to pay a tradesman to make urgent repairs necessary to prevent further loss or
damage, you should ask for and keep hold of any receipts they give you. Your insurer will need copies of these.

PS – Insuristic policy holders –  here is our how to claim guide

It is important that you do not:

  • Admit fault if you or your family are being held responsible for injury or damage
  • Pay, offer or agree to pay any amount or admit responsibility without getting permission from your insurer
  • Carry out any permanent repairs or dispose of any damaged items until your insurer has been given the opportunity to inspect the damage.

If you receive any documentation regarding a claim such as letters or receipts, you should send them to your insurer unanswered and without delay to your insurer.

What else might your insurer ask for?

To help your insurer handle your claim as quickly as possible they may:

  • Ask you to take steps to recover any property which has been lost
  • Ask you to send to them all the documents and information (including written
  • Request estimates and proof of value or ownership) they may require
  • Request to enter any building where loss or damage has happened
  • Require evidence that the property has been regularly visited and inspected by you or your representatives.

Some insurers and loss adjusters may require you to set up a remote video call with them so they can inspect the loss.

For larger claims, such as a fire, the insurer will arrange for their claims representatives to visit and inspect the damage.

There may be other things the insurer will ask you to do, but if you have chosen a reputable insurance provider you need not worry, they should help you every step of the way.

Conclusion

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That’s it for my definitive guide to unoccupied house insurance in 2022.

I hope it answered all of the questions you might have.

If you have any further questions, you can start a chat with any of our team or contact us via social channels.

Lastly, if you think this might be of interest too your audience or friends please link to this guide or share it on social media.

Thank you 🙂

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