How to make a claim

The majority of policy holders will go through the year without making a claim. It's possible a major weather disaster could suddenly take out an area, but the actual risks of fires, thefts and accidents around the home are relatively low. Even high-crime areas do not produce excessive numbers of claims. That's why, when the anticipated cost of all the losses is spread among the policy holders, the premiums are not too high. That said, people find the claims process confusing, so here are some simple steps to keep technical problems to a minimum.

1. If a crime has been involved, notify the police immediately and cooperate with the investigation. Your insurance company will want full details of the investigation so keep good notes of the names and contact information for the officers who deal with it. Notifying the police also reduces the risk in the eyes of the insurer that you are making a fraudulent claim. Liaise with the police to get copies of any witness statements, police reports, fire department reports, and so on. Alternatively, be able to pass all the police or fire department contact details over to the insurer.

2. Never delay notifying the insurance company or your local agent that you have suffered a loss. There are a whole series of processes that have to be set in motion to handle the claim. If the loss is minor, your local agent will usually deal with it directly. Anything more serious will go through the claims office. At the earliest possible opportunity, confirm who will liaise with you and how you contact that person.

3. Depending on the circumstances, it's possible that emergency repairs are necessary. Most insurance companies operate a list of contractors approved to make these repairs. Many contractors can bill the insurers directly. If emergency repairs are necessary, get the necessary paperwork to authorize the work from the insurer at the earliest opportunity.

4. Document every aspect of the damage to your property or the contents. That means taking photographs or a video, and keeping a diary of all the events so you can write up a full report for the agent or claims adjuster. The key issues are the value of property damaged or lost, and the cost of repairs. Hopefully, you have kept the receipts for all the bigger ticket items to set a baseline value.

5. Deal with the home insurance company in writing as much as possible, keeping copies of letters and e-mails. If you speak to people by telephone, keep records of the date, time, the person you spoke with and a summary of what was said. This will help you if there is a dispute later on in the claims process.

6. Ensure you are present when the agent or claims adjuster comes to inspect your property and point out all the damage. Again, keep notes of what is said.

7. The home insurance company will make an offer of settlement. Take advice on whether the amount offered is fair. If building work is involved, talk to the building contractor. If you think the insurer is trying to take advantage of you in some way, discuss the issue with the insurance department or commissioner for your state.

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