Reading and understanding

Andrew and Chaska's story - fire insurance

When Andrew and Chaska's home burned down they were shocked to find that their insurance company would not settle their claim.

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Click on the image above to hear Andrew and Chaska's story.


Angela Rippon: Andrew is a carpenter, skilled at what he does. So, when he and his girlfriend, Chaska, decided to buy a house, they wanted one that they could work on.

Andrew: We’d gone for a really run-down bungalow that needed a lot of work doing to it and a project for me.

Angela Rippon: For 12 months at evenings and weekends they worked on the project. But just two weeks before they were due to move in disaster struck. A neighbour’s home caught fire, and the fire quickly spread to Andrew and Chaska’s house with devastating consequences.

Andrew: Within half an hour it was ripping through our roof and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Angela Rippon: As all of their hard work burnt to the ground in front of them, their only comfort was that they’d taken out home protection and buildings insurance.

Andrew: Everyone kept reassuring us, saying ‘don’t worry, you’re insured. It will be ok. It’s just gonna be tough for a few months’.

Angela Rippon: They put in a claim on their policy. Their claim was rejected.

Andrew: They said basically the insurance was void because the property, they said the property was unoccupied.

Angela Rippon: And this is how the policy spells out what they say unoccupied means. ‘Unoccupied – not currently lived in by you or a person authorised by you for more than 60 consecutive days. What it says’. But, it’s the ambiguity over what the word ‘occupied’ means that is at the root of Andrew’s problems now. There is in fact no standard industry definition. As far as Andrew was concerned, as he was at the house every day and occasional night, he was occupying it.

Andrew: Every single morning, evening, the door was open to that property. I never left the property for more than even two days because I just wanted to keep on battling through to get it finished to move in.

Angela Rippon: But, just as this programme was being finished there was a very welcome final twist. Insurers rang Andrew with a change of heart. After reviewing the case in detail, they understand that Andrew answered all of the application questions honestly and should not be disadvantaged. They’ll pay the claim in full and give appropriate compensation.

Quick tips for tutors

A short video about Andrew and Chaska's struggle to get their insurance company to pay out following a fire that destroyed their new home. The problem centred on the interpretation of wording in the policy.

May be used in class to stimulate discussion around the featured story. Alternatively could be used to introduce the following topics:

  • Fact or opinion
  • Skimming and scanning
  • Reading and understanding