Guide to Avoiding Underinsurance
One of the most important things to consider when taking out an insurance policy is just how much cover you actually need. If your cover isn’t adequate and you run into trouble, you could end up paying a lot more than you anticipated.
What’s in this article?
- What is underinsurance?
- What are the consequences of underinsurance?
- How does underinsurance happen?
- Care home underinsurance case study
- How can I avoid underinsurance?
- Ensure your business interruption insurance is adequate
- Ensuring your property is not underinsured
- Top ten indicators you could be underinsured
- Care and business insurance from Towergate
- About the author
- Products you may be interested in
- Read more industry articles
What is underinsurance?
Underinsurance is what happens when the cover you purchase does not meet you or your business’s requirements. Insuring assets for incorrect values, or setting cover limits too low, is likely to result in underinsurance.
What are the consequences of underinsurance?
In the best case yet highly unlikely scenario, nothing happens – your business runs smoothly with no issues, and you never need to make a claim. But even the best-run businesses can face unpredicted problems such as flash flooding, fire, burglary, and malicious damage, so it’s likely that you will need to make a claim at some point. But if you’re underinsured, it means that your assets are valued and insured at less than their current rebuilding/reinstatement cost (at today’s prices) in the case of buildings or current replacement value as new for contents, leaving your business with inadequate protection. Therefore, in the event of a claim, you would receive a reduced insurance payout that could have a negative impact on your business.
How does underinsurance happen?
There are several ways underinsurance can happen to policyholders.
Referring to some online calculators or simply making your best guess at a building’s valuation means that you may be insuring the property for less than its actual worth. Using an online calculator is not necessarily a bad thing if you are using a tool such as the ABI Public Rebuild Calculator.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has commissioned BCIS to provide general guidance to help you check the adequacy of your sum insured. The Building Cost Information Service (BCIS) of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) produces a range of detailed guidance on the cost of rebuilding houses and flats.
Many customers are unaware how the insurance principle of ‘average’ works and how it affects the value of a future claim. Any shortfall in a buildings sum insured will be reflected in a proportionate shortfall in claim settlement in the event of an insurable loss.
In simple terms, if your declared sum insured is only 50% of the true rebuilding or new replacement value of all the property, then insurers may only pay 50% of your total property claim.
Most policies have an index-linking clause which helps policyholders keep up with inflation, by automatically increasing your sum insured annually in line with various indices. This should ensure that your sums insured are maintained at a level where ‘average’ should not apply. The average clause is typically found in commercial property insurance clauses.
This pre-supposes however that the base values are correct in the first place. The consequence of under insured values would be compounded if the sum insured is set too low at the outset. Also your rebuilding costs should be reviewed annually to take into account improvements or extensions made to the property.
It is a misconception that the sum insured is the same as market value – there is no correlation between the two. Neither should it simply be based on new build developers’ costs.
Your building sum insured should also allow for the costs of demolition, debris removal, site clearance as well as the architects’, surveyors’ and other professionals’ fees. Also don’t forget to factor in costs for gates, fences or car parking areas into your calculations.
What factors affect rebuilding cost and can cause underinsurance?
It is very difficult to accurately calculate the rebuilding costs of a property as a variety of factors need to be considered:
- Type of property – unusual or specialist design?
- Construction and materials
- Age and if it is ‘listed’
- Your VAT status
What else should be considered when arranging buildings insurance?
- Loss of rent
- Alternative accommodation
- Business interruption
- Increased and additional costs of working
Property owners: If you are letting your property then you need to protect your potential loss of rent resulting from a significant loss or damage. Importantly you should consider the maximum period likely to rebuild the property. This could be anything from 12, 18, 24, 36 months or longer. Ask your adviser for guidance.
Businesses (manufacturers, wholesalers, warehouses, etc.): Similarly to the above guidance, you should consider the potential interruption caused to your business impacted by the length of the rebuilding period and subsequent recovery of your trading to the same levels as applied prior to the damage occurring. In the worst case scenario you may be unable to trade until the property is rebuilt.
During this period you may suffer a total or severe reduction in income and also may have lost customers. How will you pay your bills and continuing overheads? How long will it take you for your business to recover? You should discuss this recovery time with us, in order to determine the correct indemnity period suitable for you.
This is important as claims payments will cease once the indemnity period has been reached.
Care home underinsurance case study
In January 2018, a residential case home for the elderly suffered a fire caused by a short in the fuse box. Thankfully there were no injuries, but the fire caused substantial damage to the premises.
The policyholder had chosen to insure the property for £600,000 despite having a letter from the bank in 2017, stating he should insure the property for £1.8 million re-instatement costs, meaning the property was underinsured by 67%.
Settlement of claim
The claim was eventually settled with a payment of £140,879.89 being made for the reinstatement of the building.
Why so low?
Insurers apply average to claims where the policyholder doesn’t ensure the sums insured are sufficient. In this case, the damage caused by the fire, resulted in a loss of £446,000. In this example, the care home was underinsured by 67%, therefore the amount paid out for the loss was reduced by 67%.
Due to the deficit, the business owner was unable to reinstate the premises due to the significant shortfall in the actual rebuild costs of 96%. As a result, a 27-bed care home closed, and 39 employees were made redundant.
How can I avoid underinsurance?
Here are our tips on making sure you avoid underinsurance when taking out a policy:
- Get an expert valuation.
- Don’t use general market prices.
- Take care when using online calculators to get the value of your property – some of these may be inaccurate and may not include unique features or existing property damage which could impact the valuation.
- Check the VAT status. Some aspects of a building’s reinstatement might attract VAT while others might not, and the position can vary depending on each organisation’s tax arrangements- consider commercial/residential, new or refurbishment.
- Average clause. Understand how the “condition of average” clause applies typically included in property insurance policy wordings.
- Contents valuation. Don’t forget that contents should be insured for their new replacement value and the value should be sufficient to cover all of your contents. You must not omit items and insure everything: while small items may seem insignificant when considering values, it is important to accurately value and include them when making a decision. These can add up quickly, and it’s worth keeping an up-to-date inventory of all the items you wish to insure to make your valuation go as smoothly as possible. We suggest you make a list room by room.
- Stock insurance. When you hold stock this should be insured for the cost of replacement to you, not the price you sell at. many businesses are seasonal. A school clothing shop will peak in the summer months whilst many shops require seasonal increases over the Christmas or Easter periods. You must take account of the maximum stock levels in your property at any one time, and not the value that may be present when arranging your insurance cover.
- Review values at risk regularly. We recommend that buildings are professionally re-valued for rebuilding costs at least every three years. Property values fluctuate and so it may happen that the insurance you took out five years ago may now not be sufficient cover.
- Business changes. You should also consider adjusting your policy when you make changes to the business. If you get new machinery or technology in the building, that can have a significant effect on the level of cover you will require. Discuss the changes with your insurer before you go ahead with them so you aren’t caught by surprise later.
Ensure your business interruption insurance is adequate
Your business interruption insurance not only needs to cover your ongoing costs and net profit (even though you may not be trading due to the insured damage), but also take into account the forecasting of how your profits and revenue are planned to rise during the period you are unable to trade and while your business is recovering, so your sum insured is adequate to cover future plans and growth as well.
In selecting your indemnity period, this must be of sufficient time to enable your turnover to recover to at least the same level as you were at the time the incident occurred. An estimated 43% of business interruption insurance policies are thought to be underinsured by more than 50% (according to a Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters report*), so it is crucial to make sure you are covered for all eventualities. Towergate customers gain complimentary access to a business interruption calculator, which helps you reduce the risk of underinsurance by calculating a more accurate sum insured.
It is also important to remember how long you will need the cover for, given all these factors. Think every year about how your business has changed and what will it cost to rebuild.
Ensuring your property is not underinsured
Underinsurance risks often relate to replacement of property, where the costs relate not only to the rebuilding of the property itself but also the consequential business interruption while the building is being replaced. Remember to think about:
- Costs for planning, permissions, site clearance, digging, construction, fit out – every step.
- The fact you will have to pay for alternative premises in the meantime.
- How long it will take for your turnover to recover once you have reopened.
- Lease, rent, rates and facilities outgoings still in your name.
- Insuring the property for the build costs, not the market value.
- Any extensions, changes or extra buildings which could affect your sums insured.
- If you have rented a property, any tenants’ improvements you have made for which you are responsible.
Top ten indicators you could be underinsured
- Your building is listed, made of stone or other nonconventional material, or was constructed prior to 1920.
- Your building has not had a professional valuation within the last 3 years.
- Your care home has recently been altered or extended or is in an unusual location, perhaps with restricted access.
- Your property is finished to a significantly higher standard than normal or has ‘eco-friendly’ features.
- The value of your property is based on developer’s costs, which are often much lower than one-off rebuilding costs due to economies of scale at the time of build.
- You only cover an indemnity period of 12 months on your business interruption cover.
- You haven’t factored in costs for outbuildings, car parks, driveways, gates, fences, boundary walls, paving or lighting.
- You are carrying more stock (even if temporary/seasonal) than you were when you took out your policy or have purchased additional equipment, tools or machinery and have not advised your broker/insurer. This could also affect your business interruption cover depending on how long these would take to replace.
- You haven’t factored in costs such as professional fees, site clearance or access – particularly where your business might need a crane or heavy plant to help with remedial work as a result of a claim. This could also add time which needs to be factored into your business interruption cover.
- You are now VAT registered.
About the author
Mike Stephen is a respected senior industry professional and Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) with well over 40 years’ varied experience in the commercial insurance sector as a director, underwriter, and operational improvement manager.