Northern Ireland

The Kilkeel women who took on the insurers - and won

Juneve Nicholls' kitchen floor
Image caption Juneve Nicholls' kitchen floor was dug up to after a damp patch appeared in her home

Imagine you spot a damp patch on the wall of your living room.

It gets bigger by the day. You lift up the floor and it's sodden with water.

Your insurance company sends out a leak detector. Eventually, after a lot of digging, you find the source of the leak but it costs £15,000 to repair the damage.

Then, your insurance company refuses to pay out. Sounds like a nightmare, right?

It is exactly what happened to Juneve Nicholls from Kilkeel, County Down.

Ms Nicholls- a mum of two young children - said half her house was dug up while trying to find out exactly where the water was coming from.

Image caption Juneve Nicholls was told she should have gone through her home insurance company more

"The kitchen had to be replaced, skirting boards, flooring. Plasterers, painters, decorators all had to be brought in to finish off the work because I couldn't do it all myself," she said.

Ms Nicholls added that the insurance company told her she "wasn't supposed to have dug up the floor" and that "this thing and that thing" were not included in her policy - and that she should have gone through them more.

She didn't agree.

So what next?

First of all she had to pay the people who had done all the work to her house, so she took out a bank loan.

Then she got in contact with her insurance broker, Michael Norwood, who got in touch with the financial ombudsman.

He said all sorts of issues were raised by the complaint, including when kitchen units are considered part of a matching set.

"There's a well-established protocol" on this matter, he said.

"You can't say half a kitchen has been damaged so you're only going to replace half a kitchen."

Image caption Michael Norwood says many issues were raised

Thankfully for Ms Nicholls, the ombudsman found in her favour, so she got all her money back.

But it did take time - she had to wait nearly a year and a half before she got her money.

She is not alone in complaining to the Financial Ombudsman.

The watchdog received 464 new cases about contents insurance in the first quarter of the current financial year, and a total of 1,743 new cases in the financial year 2017/18,

Of these complaints, 27% were upheld.

Another 1,695 complaints were made in the first quarter of this financial year about building insurance, with 4,726 in 2017/18 and 34% were upheld in total.

'Put everything in writing'

After her experience, Ms Nicholls has clear advice for others.

Always put everything in writing. "Estimates, invoices, everything - keep as much as you can," she said.

Image caption Juneve Nicholls was successful with her complaint after her floor was dug up

"Never phone someone, always send messages or emails so you've always got a good record of it all."

A Financial Ombudsman spokesman said: "We advise consumers to read their insurance policies carefully, because this is the number one issue when people complain to us.

"For example, when it comes to contents insurance, people don't know their policy includes safe requirements for high risk or very valuable items and once they get damaged or lost consumers can't make a claim.

"As these cases can be very complex, we advise consumers to come to us if they feel they've not been treated fairly by their insurance company.

"We look at each complaint on its own individual basis to see if we can help."

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