Unoccupied Home Insurance: Do You Need it?
If you have taken out home insurance, you might assume your home is covered while you’re away – but if you leave it unoccupied for a long period of time, it may not be. Here, we look at what unoccupied home insurance is, if you need it and how much it could cost.
When you buy a home you’ll expect to live there most of the time, but there are all sorts of reasons why a home can lie empty for long periods – from renovation and repair works to long holidays and vacant spells between tenancies and, more recently, the effect of travel restrictions due to Covid-19.
What is unoccupied home insurance?
It can be easy to assume that once you have taken out home insurance, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you are pretty much covered. But your home insurance may not be valid if your home is unoccupied for long periods of time. This means that if you have a standard policy and make a claim while it is unoccupied, the insurer may not pay out.
Fortunately, some providers offer specialist unoccupied home insurance, which includes a number of features that you won’t find in a standard home insurance policy. For example, policy terms tend to be shorter than a year, as homes may only be unoccupied for a few months.
What counts as an unoccupied property?
Most insurers consider a property unoccupied if it has been left empty for 30 consecutive days, although some may cover a home if it is unoccupied for up to 60 consecutive days.
This can vary, however, so to be sure of your insurer’s time frame it is best to check the small print on any existing home insurance you have.
Do I need unoccupied home insurance cover?
If you intend to leave your house empty for a period of more than 30 days, you should consider unoccupied home insurance. While it is not a legal requirement, it can provide peace of mind in the event of any incident that would otherwise not be covered by your standard policy.
Even if you have standard home insurance, it may be worth considering unoccupied home cover if there is any chance that your home will be empty for 30 days or more.
Remember that empty periods can increase the risk of damage caused by leaking or frozen pipes, as well as burglary and vandalism.
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What does unoccupied home insurance cover?
Unoccupied home insurance offers largely the same buildings and contents cover as regular home insurance. In other words, it protects against damage or loss by events such as floods, fire, storm damage, burglary and vandalism.
But there are important differences too, the main one being that unoccupied home insurance policies will cover empty properties for much longer than normal home insurance policies do. The periods covered generally range from three to 12 months, and many will have some degree of extension available.
What doesn’t unoccupied home insurance cover?
As with any form of insurance policy, there will be exclusions to look out for.
These exclusions may include burglary or damage caused because doors or windows were left open or unlocked, as well as damage caused by building work – for example, when extending your home – or by contractors who should have their own insurance in place.
Most unoccupied home insurance policies will include contents cover but this isn’t always the case, so you’ll need to check before you buy.
What happens if I have standard cover and my home is empty?
It depends on how long your home is empty for and the wording in your standard policy. If the policy only covers an empty property for up to 30 consecutive days and your home is empty for longer than that, any claim you make for that period may be rejected.
If you tell your insurer that the property will be unoccupied for a certain length of time, you may be offered temporary unoccupied home insurance for that period, but it will usually cost extra.
The situation is slightly different if the unoccupied property isn’t your main home, for example if it is a rental property or holiday home. There are specialist insurance policies available for landlords and holiday home owners.
Why does it cost more to insure unoccupied homes?
Insurers will usually consider an unoccupied property to be at higher risk, which means premiums are higher than with standard home insurance.
This is because problems such as a leaking pipe will cause more damage if they go undiscovered for a few weeks or more, while there is also a higher risk of vandalism or burglary when a property is empty for longer stretches of time. According to the Crime Prevention website, it is estimated that about 60% of burglaries happen when a property is empty, even if just for a short period.
How much does unoccupied home insurance cost?
The amount you pay will depend on a few factors, including the security measures in place at your property and where it is located. The amount of buildings and contents cover you need, and the length of time you expect the property to be unoccupied for, will also be considered.
It is worth shopping around because premiums vary between providers and policies.
You may also have the option of choosing a higher voluntary excess. This will reduce your premium, but you will pay more towards each claim.
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Jeff is a freelance journalist who writes across finance & business. He was the personal finance editor at The Scotsman & Scotland on Sunday & a member of the Financial Services Consumer Panel. Read more