A policyholder who claimed for fire damage after an arson attack was surprised to have his claim rejected because the property was left unoccupied. We found a fair solution.
Simon, who worked in London, bought a house near his parents' home in Cardiff. His mortgage lender arranged the buildings insurance and was aware that Simon had bought the house with the intention of renovating it and then letting it out.
He visited the property almost every weekend to work on it, sometimes staying there overnight and sometimes sleeping at his parents' house. One weekend, he arrived at the house to find it had been damaged by fire, which turned out to be a case of arson.
When he put in a claim, the insurer refused to pay out. It said Simon had left the property unoccupied for more than 30 days and hadn’t intended to live in the property long term. Simon then brought his complaint to us.
How we helped
We looked at the all of the available evidence. Simon had made his intentions clear when he asked the mortgage lender to arrange the policy. However, the insurer still rejected the claim, citing the policy exclusion relating to properties that were left unoccupied for more than 30 days. The insurer said it expected policyholders to stay overnight in the property regularly.
We looked at the facts. We didn’t consider that the insurer had acted fairly or reasonably in rejecting the claim. We first looked at the policy wording and the phrase ‘left unoccupied’ wasn’t defined. The policy was there to provide cover for loss and damage while the property was ‘unoccupied’ provided this wasn’t longer than 30 days.
While the house had minimal furniture and lacked adequate facilities, such as a lavatory and a working kitchen, Simon provided paid invoices for work that had been done to the property. Looking at the dates of the invoices it was clear that work was done each month.
Simon was also able to provide ample evidence to show that he had visited it frequently to carry out work and to check up on the property. Utility bills showed regular use of gas and electricity and the house was neither abandoned nor neglected. Simon was also paying his council tax which hadn’t been discounted on the grounds that it was unoccupied.
Taking everything into account we were satisfied that Simon’s property hadn’t been left unoccupied and that he’d visited regularly and workmen had been there regularly too. As ‘left unoccupied’ wasn’t defined we didn’t think it was a reasonable interpretation to say that the phrase required someone to be staying regularly overnight.
Putting things right
Because we considered the wording of the policy exclusion to be unclear and ambiguous, we interpreted it in favour of Simon. We concluded that the property hadn’t been left unoccupied for more than 30 days, even though it hadn’t been lived in and was not yet habitable on a long-term basis. We told the insurer to pay Simon’s claim.