Beat winter worries

Energy costs are soaring and the government is adding to the pain with huge spending cuts that will hit families up and down the country.

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So the last thing you need is an expensive repair bill for a broken boiler or burst pipes.

Unfortunately, however, winter is the time of year when household emergencies of this kind are most likely to occur.

Last winter, British homeowners faced an average bill of £343 for home emergencies as a result of the cold weather, according to figures from the AA.

And this winter could prove even more costly for many with forecasters predicting widespread snow and Siberian temperatures.

How you can protect yourself

If you are keen to cushion yourself from any sudden financial shocks during these difficult economic times, it may prove a good idea to take out home emergency cover to pay for any unexpected repairs.

About eight in 10 homeowners did not have the necessary insurance in place when their winter home emergencies occurred last year.

But you can get stand-alone cover of this kind for as little as £5 a month, or simply add it on to your home insurance policy for a small cost.

And you could easily save more than the amount you need to take out the insurance by switching to a better-value energy deal.

Many of the best deals are being pulled at the moment, so you need to be quick.

Npower withdrew its cheapest online tariff, Sign Online 19, earlier this week.

But there are still some good deals available, so it is definitely worth taking the time to find out if you could pay less by moving to a new supplier.

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Which companies offer home emergency cover?

Companies offering home emergency packages include general insurers such as Aviva, specialists such as HomeServe and energy suppliers such as British Gas.

So there is lots of choice in the marketplace, with most providers offering several different types of policy.

The AA launched its home emergency cover this week, and offers three levels of cover, with policies starting at £4.99 a month for AA members and £5.99 for non-members for a home rescue package that includes plumbing, electrics, pests, gas, roof damage and water supply cover.

Meanwhile, its highest level of cover, which includes an annual boiler service, costs £19.99 a month for AA members and £21.99 for non-members.

The AA is hoping that its reputation as a road rescue service helps to take on the more established home emergency cover providers.

Tom Stringer, head of home rescue for the AA said: “For over 100 years we’ve been rescuing people on the roads, so it’s a natural progression for the AA to transfer these skills to the home.

“We are confident that many of our 15 million members will see the value in extending rescue cover to their homes.”

Elsewhere, Aviva’s home emergency cover starts from £7.95 a month and has the advantage of imposing no excess and offering cover for the loss of keys you need to get in.

It also includes up to £100 a night for temporary accommodation if you have to move out overnight.

And with HomeServe, you can choose from plumbing and drainage cover from £2.48 a month, boiler and heating cover from £6.99 a month, electrical cover at £2.54 a month and pest cover from £3.57 a month, while the monthly charge for cover with an annual boiler service starts at £20.47 for flats and £29.96 for houses.

Buy-to-let landlords may also be interested to learn that they can cover a rental property against such incidents for £6.67 a month.

If you are a Nationwide home insurance customer, you can add home emergency cover to your policy for as little as £4.95 a month. The building society’s policy covers roof damage, plumbing and drainage, heating beakdown and loss of keys, up to a maximum of £500 including parts and materials worth £100 or less.

Does everyone need home emergency cover?

Not everyone needs – or could even make a claim on – home emergency cover.

There is certainly no point paying for insurance that you do not need – especially at a time when so many of us are tightening our belts.

If you live in rented accommodation, for example, it is your landlord’s responsibility to have the boiler mended if it breaks.

Meanwhile, homeowners may find that their buildings and contents insurance policies already cover their boilers.

If your boiler is quite new, it may also be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.

And if it is old, you may find that it is not covered by your home emergency insurance anyway.

Most policies exclude models that are more than 15 years old and those that are more than seven years of age may also have to undergo an inspection.

Bring down your bills

It’s always good to have some spare cash in case of emergencies, especially at in winter and during Christmas celebrations.

One of the easiest ways to cut your household bills is to switch to a cheaper gas and electricity company – you could save an average of £300.

Read our article ‘Don't get burnt by energy bills’ to find out how you can get the cheapest energy possible. You can also watch our video ‘Switch now for cheaper winter bills’.

What else to watch for…

Other small print to look out for with this type of cover includes your insurer’s definition of an “emergency” – or in other words what situations they will pay out in.

You should also check how long the “no claims” period is. Policies have these to prevent new customers taking out a policy on the day their boiler bites the dust, for example.

They generally last for about 30 days, with Aviva, for example, refusing any claims for the first 29 days that a policy is in existence.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing

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