How much would it cost to fix your home after flooding, with the ceiling collapsed, plaster falling off, electrics dangling and tiles dropping off the walls? Berkshire couple Paul and Anne Mansbridge had quotes varying from Â£13,000 to Â£24,000 â€“ but their home insurer, the AA, will pay just Â£4,270.
The Mansbridges say they have been left baffled and increasingly angry by what they describe as the AAâ€™s penny-pinching stance. A leak from their toilet cistern brought down the ceiling in two rooms and ruined their kitchen while they were away on holiday.
Although the incident happened last January, they say their home in Upper Basildon is no nearer being restored because of the AAâ€™s refusal to properly pay for the damage.
The AA offered to send in its own contractor to undertake the work for the Â£4,270, but the couple refused because they donâ€™t believe the work could be done to a decent standard for that price. The AA guarantees its work â€“ but only for two years.
The coupleâ€™s experience will raise further concerns about home insurersâ€™ unwillingness to pay out in full when a calamity occurs.
Last month the consumer group Which? warned that complaints about buildings cover saw the biggest increase â€“ 42% â€“ in insurance complaints sent to the Financial Ombudsman Service last year. The FOS data also shows more than half of the insurance complaints against the AA were resolved in favour of the customer last year.
The Manbridgesâ€™s saga started earlier this year when they returned home from a 28-day trip abroad to be met with a scene of devastation.
â€œOn entering our front door, it was like walking into a shower room in our hall, with the addition of the ceiling hanging down nearly to the ground floor. It was the same in our kitchen, which had all the eight light fittings dangling on the end of their flex,â€ said Paul, who is 82 and suffers severe back pain despite spinal surgery last May.
â€œThe tiled floor in the bathroom was swollen up and the ceiling had fallen in, carrying away areas of kitchen wall plaster. The backdoor framework is now warped and it has caused damage to the door locking system.â€ Anne, who suffers a chronic illness, said the dispute has taken a heavy toll on their health.
After the floors had been stripped out to allow the house to dry, the couple â€“ on the advice of the AA â€“ got three independent quotations from builders. The highest was Â£24,500, the second was Â£18,000 and the cheapest Â£12,865, which they deemed reasonable, given the damage and the work required.
They were astonished when the AAâ€™s loss adjuster, Trinity Claims, decided it was too high. A letter sent to the couple said it believed the builders had too much work and had over-quoted as a result.
â€œThe whole things is ridiculous. We just canâ€™t believe that any builder would be able to do the work to a decent standard for this sum, and so we have refused. They appear to have said we would get a further Â£2,548 for replacement kitchen floor and irreplaceable damage to contents, but it seems contingent on us accepting this derisory offer for the main work,â€ said Paul.
â€œWe are beyond angry about the way we have been treated by the AA. We have made an honest claim and expected to be treated fairly. Iâ€™d invite anyone to look at the damage and see if they could find a decent builder to do the work for that sum. Whatâ€™s infuriating is that this is a relatively small sum â€“ the whole thingâ€™s absurd,â€ he said.
The AA told Guardian Money that its offer was an increase on its first valuation. â€œOur settlement offer of Â£3,092 â€“ the cost calculated on Xactware, which is a computer-based estimating system â€“ was considered fair and reasonable for the damage noted by the surveyor. In these situations we try to ensure that our surveyor hasnâ€™t missed anything,â€ a spokesman said.
â€œFollowing a further visit, the surveyor added some items and recalculated the claim at Â£4,268. In recognition of the time it had taken and any inconvenience caused to the policyholder we waived the Â£500 policy excess as a gesture of goodwill. We understand the couple have taken the matter to FOS, and we will abide by its decision,â€ the spokesman added.
The couple look likely to have to wait many months for ombudsman to adjudicate the matter. An initial ruling by one of its investigators sided with the AA, meaning they will now have to ask for a full ombudsman investigation.
The statistics show they have a good chance of a favourable outcome. The most recent FOS data shows that ombudsmen sided with consumer in 55% of general insurance cases brought against the AA, which includes non-building claims. The ombudsman said that across the industry, its staff rule in favour of the public in about 35% to 39% of buildings insurance disputes.
Jenny Ross, the money editor of Which? said home insurance customers would be well advised to check their companyâ€™s claims rates before buying premiums.
â€œOur analysis reveals a steep rise in insurance complaints referred to the ombudsman, and while it is encouraging that consumers feel empowered to challenge insurers, we have concerns that firms may not be handling claims fairly. When choosing an insurance firm itâ€™s worth checking its record with the ombudsman to gauge how it treats customers â€“ a firm with a high proportion of complaints upheld in favour of customers should be a red flag,â€ she said.