It may come as a surprise to some homeowners that some standard home insurance does not cover a house if it is left unoccupied for more than 30 days.
It may also come as a surprise how many empty properties there are in the UK. According to data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the number of empty properties in England is more than 216,000 – the highest level since 2012. It’s a similar situation across the UK – researchers from the University College London (UCL) revealed that nearly 340,000 of homes in Britain are rarely used.
But with all these homes standing empty across the UK, how many are properly insured?
What is classed as unoccupied?
In insurance terminology, an unoccupied property (one left empty for 30 to 60 days) is not covered for certain ‘insured perils’. In layman’s terms that usually means theft, attempted theft, malicious damage and water damage.
But while an unoccupied property might conjure up images of a haunted house with an overgrown garden and broken windows, the reality is often far less sinister.
There are a number of reasons why a house is left vacant. Your property could be left empty because of extensive renovation work, if you are away on holiday, or because you’re planning to sell. Whatever the reason, it’s important that you make sure your home stays covered whenever it’s unoccupied.
Specialist unoccupied home insurance will give you the cover you require and hopefully avoid the stress.
How long can I leave my house unoccupied?
Some insurers have a 30-day rule and will stop covering a property if it has been left empty for more than 30 consecutive days.
From the insurer’s perspective, any house that is sat empty for a long period of time could attract unwanted attention from criminals, vandals or squatters. As a result, that property becomes a higher risk than one which has people coming and going all the time.
If you leave your home unoccupied for more than 30 days, it is worth considering specialist unoccupied home insurance. Insurers often offer unoccupied home insurance in policies lasting, three, six, nine, or 12 months. If you need to be away for longer or something unexpected happens meaning your home will be vacant for longer than you thought, you can usually extend your policy to ensure you keep your home covered.
The terms and conditions attached to a policy will depend on the insurer – it’s always best to read the appropriate policy documentation.
If you fail to tell your insurance provider that your home will be unoccupied for a longer period of time than set out in your standard home insurance policy and you need to make a claim, you risk invalidating your insurance policy.
What is the difference between vacant and unoccupied?
While the words vacant and unoccupied sound interchangeable, in insurance terms they are very different.
The difference between vacant and unoccupied property all comes down to what’s in a home. Generally speaking, vacant refers to a property that is completely empty – lacking both people and personal items. While the term unoccupied refers to a property that has been left in a state where all items are as if the owners were to return at any point.
Can someone stay a night so the property is not vacant?
It is tempting to think that by asking a friend or family member to stay one night in your property while it is empty you can effectively reset the 30-day count. However, this course of action may not be suitable.
Different insurers have different terms and conditions, but many insurers would not consider a property occupied because of a one-night stay. The visitor would need to stay for a significant period of time for an insurer to classify the property as lived in. Arranging for someone to house sit is an option, but always let your insurer know the situation.
How to keep an empty house safe
If your property is left vacant for a prolonged period of time, there are certain things you can do to keep your home safe and secure.
Firstly, it’s always a good idea to ask a friend or family member to check on the property from time to time to make sure everything is OK.
Other things you can do to make your house appear less vacant than it actually is include:
- Installing extra security in the form of locks and an alarm will keep your property safe and deter criminals. It could also help to lower your insurance premium.
- Setting up a timer so that a light comes on in the evenings.
- Keeping valuables out of sight.
- Making sure the garden is tidy before you leave.
When it comes to holidays, another way of making an empty property more secure is not to post endless travel photos on social media. If an insurer feels you have been reckless with how much information you put into the public domain, they could potentially invalidate your cover.
Social media use is not banned by insurers, but a sensible approach to how you use it is recommended.
What does unoccupied home insurance cover?
When you are researching unoccupied home insurance, there are several key things to look out for. These include:
- Storm, flood or fire damage: Any of these can cause severe damage.
- Escape of water or oil: For example, a burst pipe or leaking oil tank.
- Theft: A break-in could result in the loss of valuables and even an attempted break-in could cause serious damage
- Vandalism: This covers any criminal damage to your home and legal expenses if you need to evict squatters
There are lots of home insurance deals on the market. Be sure to do your research and read the policy documents carefully before you settle on a particular deal.