Buying insurance means buying peace of mind. If anything unexpected happens to rock your finances or your family, you at least know that there’s a certain amount of protection in place to help you pick up the pieces again afterwards.
It’s the bill you pay for a service you hope you never have to use. When you do need to turn to it, you need to know you can trust the insurer to pay out quickly and without trying to find a way out.
Yet insurers are well within their rights to declare a policy invalid if you have failed to keep up your end of the deal.
And you might be surprised at just how many commonplace things you can do that mean you breach that contract and risk invalidating your cover.
So, from drinking too much by the pool to forgetting to mention your pricey jewellery, here are some of the mundane, easy mistakes you might make that could result in a financial disaster.
Arguably one of the most important insurance policies there is, but it’s all too easy to break your conditions if you don’t take the time to read the small print. Here are some ways you can wreck your cover.
Underestimating your value
Around 11 million UK households are not confident that they have valued their possessions correctly for home insurance or they have no insurance at all, according to the latest report from A-Plan Insurance.
It also found that 44 per cent of contents-insurance customers had not reviewed the high-value items they had in their home for the last five years, potentially leaving them dangerously underinsured.
Giving a value that is too low doesn’t just mean you can’t claim the full value back, it can have an even greater impact on your payout.
For example, if your possessions are worth £40,000 but you have only insured £20,000, that does not mean you’d receive up to £20,000 if you had to claim. Many insurers would say that you only insured half your belongings and would therefore only pay out half.
So if you had to make a claim for £10,000 worth of damage but then the insurer discovered you had underestimated the total value of your possessions, they might only pay out £5,000 because you only had half the required cover.
DIY done badly
If you undertake a spot of DIY but you cause some serious damage, for example by drilling through a water pipe, you may not be covered.
Not every insurer pays out for home improvement catastrophes, so it’s a good idea to find out if they do before you get too drill-happy.
Leaving the keys for a friend
Many people will hide their keys on the property so that a cleaner or dog walker or plant waterer can get in. But if a burglar lets themselves in with keys that you left unsecured then your insurer may well refuse to foot the bill.
Failing to activate your alarm
Your insurance may reduce in cost if you have a burglar alarm or particularly good locks but that’s for a reason – it makes you less of a risk.
It’s really important to understand exactly when your insurer expects you to activate any security systems so that you don’t risk finding your cover is invalidated because you didn’t.
Read the insurance documents. They may be dull but being bored is better than being broke.
You need to know what is expected of you to ensure your insurance will pay out. Some of your insurers’ expectations may be less obvious than others.
Modifying your vehicle
Whether it’s blacked out windows or new suspension, you need to let your insurer know about any changes you make to the vehicle – even if they are just cosmetic.
If you don’t then you could risk voiding your insurance entirely.
Being economical with the truth
What do you use your car for and does your insurer know? If you’ve said you use it for personal use only but actually you’re using it for business then this could leave you uninsured.
If you’ve claimed someone else is the main driver to bring down the cost of cover, when actually you are the main user then you could invalidate your cover. That’s called “fronting” and insurers are really clamping down on it.
Maybe you’ve said you typically do 6,000 miles but actually it’s 12,000 miles. Trying to save money by misleading the insurer just means you risk being left without cover when it really matters – when you make a claim.
That’s a very expensive way to save money.
Failing to protect your keys
We’ve all seen news stories of people leaving their engines running so their car defrosts, only for a thief to make off with their vehicle.
One of the worst things about those thefts is that the driver’s insurance is very unlikely to pay out. Keeping your keys secure is a common requirement of car insurance so don’t risk your cover for the convenience of leaving your keys in the ignition.
Changing your job
Insurers price up car insurance based on risk and part of your risk is determined by your job. That’s why you have to state what you do on your application and why it can make a difference to your premiums.
So if you change jobs then it’s really important to let your insurer know or you could risk invalidating your cover.
Not cleaning your windscreen
If you’ve left frost or mud all over your windscreen you could be in trouble. Not only might the police issue you with a fine, but if you have an accident and your car is deemed to be in a dangerous condition then your policy could be invalidated.
Not using your garage
If you have told your insurer that you are parking your car in a garage then you really need to do so.
Parking on the street if you’ve stated that you’re using a garage or drive could leave you in difficulties if you need to make a claim.
Volunteering your wheels
If you’re part of a volunteer organisation like a youth group and you’re regularly using your vehicle to give lifts and transport other volunteers then it’s a good idea to mention it to your insurer and make sure you’re still covered.
Not locking away your valuables
Many travel insurance policies will refuse to pay out if the insurer thinks you’ve failed to secure your property.
For example, if valuables are left unattended in your room and you haven’t secured them in a safe or deposit box then you may find you can’t claim if they go missing.
Doing something fun but dangerous
A holiday might be a great time to try new things but you may want to be sure that your insurance will protect you if you undertake them. Activities like skiing and other winter sports are not typically covered by travel insurance and you will need to upgrade to a policy that does.
Many insurers won’t protect activities like bungee jumping or jetskiing. Even activities like riding on a camel may not be insured by your policy so it’s essential you read the limitations before you decide that you really want to try a trek on an exotic animal.
Not getting your shots
Your travel insurance will protect you from the cost of needing medical treatment when you’re overseas but you still need to take steps to protect yourself.
That means getting the vaccinations you’re due before you travel. For now, before Brexit at least, it also means getting a European Health Insurance Card (for free) that entitles you to the same treatment within the EU that locals get.
Many insurers require you to have that and then they cover any additional medical costs.
Having a few too many
Relaxing on holiday is one thing but getting dangerously drunk or taking illegal drugs can be an easy way to invalidate your cover and increase the chances you’ll need it.