Consumer expert Tina Leonard tells Pat Kenny there can be as much as 170% difference between premiums. Here are her best tips for shopping around.

Premiums for home insurance have been rising, largely due to an increase of complaints relating to flooding and also damage caused during the snow.

But you still may be able to get a better deal: The latest home insurance price survey from the National Consumer Agency shows that differences in the cost of a premium can be as much as 172%.

In addition to the price, what other things should you take into consideration when reviewing your home insurance policy in order to save some money?

And where do you go to if you have a complaint?

Comparing prices:

You should get into the habit of comparing prices and review each year when renewing your home insurance policy.

Savings most definitely can be made on premiums:

In the latest home insurance survey published by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) yesterday for a four bed detached house in Co Kilkenny (rebuild €210,000, contents €70,000) quotes ranged from €257 to €699 – a difference of 172%.

For a four bed semi-detached house in Co Mayo, (rebuild €160,000, contents €80,000 and no burglar or smoke alarm) quotes ranged from €452 to €883.

For a three bed mid terrace house in Dublin 6, (rebuild €250,000, contents €75,000) quotes ranged from €404 to €686.

Check on www.itsyourmoney.ie for regular home insurance price surveys.

Rebuilding costs 

Reducing rebuilding costs can lower premiums:

There have been decreases of up to 20% in rebuilding costs so you have to make sure that your rebuild costs are not too high. For example, in 2008 a three-bed semi (1,500 sq ft) in Dublin cost €306,000 to rebuild but now costs €244,500.

If your re-build cost is too high your premium will be higher and if you are over-insured it does not mean that you’ll get any more money if you have to make a claim.

In the NCA survey when the rebuild cost of a house in Co Kilkenny was reduced from €210,000 to €170,000, the annual premium decreased by €50 on average.

It’s very important not to underestimate rebuilding costs, as if you’re underinsured you won’t be compensated for the full value of your loss but do check the current cost of rebuilding.

A guide to rebuilding costs can be found at the Society of Chartered Surveyors website, www.scs.ie.

Insuring your contents

When it comes to insuring your contents again make sure that you aren’t over-insured.

Remember that you are insuring ‘moveable’ items, including furniture, carpets and curtains, as well as all your clothes and electronics, in other words things that will come under replacement costs and not fixtures and fittings.

Calculate the replacement value of your belongings, and if you think you are over-insured reduce it to save another €50 or more a year.

If buying online, be alert to drop-down boxes that ask if you want to ‘add-on’ extras for expensive items or for items left permanently in the garden for example. By all means itemise the value of expensive things, like your engagement ring, but then make sure the amount you have chosen for your general contents has not already taken these things into account, or you’ll end up over-insured and paying too much.

What about all-risks cover?

When it comes to insuring your belongings outside of the home, your all-risks cover will take this into account. All risks cover is an optional extra under most home insurance policies which protects against loss or theft of, or accidental damage to, personal valuables, such as jewellery.

But be careful, as not everything will be automatically covered.

In the NCA survey, in five out of nine cases when they requested all risks cover for unspecified items there were a number of items that are typically excluded by insurance firms.

These include items commonly taken outside the home, including laptops, hearing aids and mobile phones. If you want to have cover for these items you must list them as specified items. The maximum value that you can insure a single specified item for ranges from €3,500 to €5,000, depending on the provider, and needless to say there will be an additional cost.

If you have a Smartphone or laptop that is expensive to replace you might consider doing this but don’t forget about the excess payable on all claims.

The excess can range from €125 up to €500, and that could well amount to more than the value of the item.

It’s also worth considering the impact that making a claim for a relatively low value item will have on your no claims bonus and future premiums, which tend to rise when claims are made.

Security

If you have a monitored alarm or have recently upgraded yours tell your insurance provider as this will reduce your premium.

Some firms provide a burglar alarm discount, but again be carefull here: if the house was unoccupied at the time of a burglary and the alarm wasn’t on you may not be covered, as some firms specify that they won’t pay out in this instance if you availed of a burglar alarm discount when taking out the policy.

Cover for areas prone to flooding

The NCA cost comparison highlighted the difficulty that exists for consumers with recent claims for flood damage.

Out of nine, no firm would provide flood cover for customers who were in this situation.

The NCA also requested quotes excluding flood cover for the same profile and only three out of nine firms quoted. There was relatively little difference in the quotes, which ranged from €319 to €334.

If you are finding it difficult to get quotes, it is worth approaching a specialist broker that deals with a number of insurers, as they can offer you help and advice.

Your claims history

Some companies will not give you a quote if you have a claims history.

In the previous NCA home insurance price survey from last September, one company won’t if you claimed in excess of €10,000 in the last three years; another if you made more that one claim for any amount in the last three years and another if there were two or more claims in excess of €5,000 in the last five years.

But it is extremely important to disclose any claims history if you are switching insurer.

For example, recently I spoke to two people who, when submitting a claim found out that their insurance was null and void. This was because in one instance a claim had previously been made but subsequently withdrawn so the consumer hadn’t mentioned it. The new insurer did consider it a claim however. In the second instance two claims had been made at the same time and the amount was paid by one cheque so the consumer informed their new insurer that there had been one claim and not two. Again the insurer said this wasn’t full disclosure.

There is an onus on the consumer to declare everything up front so if you are in any doubt seek the advice of your company before signing up, and get their advice in writing while you are at it.

Making complaints

Always address the complaint to the insurance company first and try and resolve it that way. If not, then approach the Financial Ombudsman -www.financialombudsman.ie (there is an online complaint form) or 1890 88 20 90 or 01 662 0899.

The Financial Ombudsman issued their bi-annual report (for the second half of 2010) yesterday. They dealt with 3,599 complaints in that time and awarded €1.3million.

Their figures show that the majority (half) of all complaints they receive relate to insurance (49.6%). The next biggest complaint area is banking (32.9%) followed by investments at 15.5%.

In the insurance category the majority of complaints were about buildings insurance (17.8%), while contents insurance formed a smaller category of complaints at 2.7%.