Your guide to buildings and contents insurance

A general guide to insuring the structure of your home and what’s inside

If you own your home, you’ll probably want to insure it, in fact, if you have a mortgage, buildings insurance will be a condition of the mortgage. While you’re free to get buildings insurance and contents insurance separately from different providers, having a combined policy has several advantages. In this guide, we’ll talk about the benefits of a combined buildings and contents insurance policy and explain what’s typically covered, what to look out for and things to consider.

What is combined buildings and contents insurance?

A combined policy includes buildings and contents insurance, so it covers the structure of your home – walls, roofs and floors – against damage, plus all of your possessions against theft and damage. Your home’s permanent fixtures, such as kitchen cupboards, cooker, bathroom suite and wall tiles are all covered, as are your prized possessions, such as jewellery, watches and gadgets.

What does combined buildings and contents insurance cover?

It covers the cost of rebuilding your home or repairing structural damage, as well as theft or damage to your belongings in your home. The extent of cover varies between providers.

It typically covers damage caused by

  • Water from leaking pipes or from external flooding
  • Storms and adverse weather
  • Subsidence
  • Fire, smoke and explosions
  • Falling trees
  • Vandalism
  • Vehicle collisions into your property

Items covered for theft or damage typically include

  • Household goods – appliances such as your washing machine, dishwasher, fridge, TV and computers
  • Furniture and furnishings – eg beds, sofas, curtains, carpets and dining suites
  • Your prized possessions – items like jewellery, watches, gadgets, mobile phones, art and collections (some policies have a single item limit so you may have to list items worth over a certain amount separately)
  • Personal belongings – everything else, such as clothes, shoes, CDs, DVDs, books, sports equipment, bikes and musical instruments

Most policies only cover these items while they’re in your home. You’d usually need to get separate/additional cover for personal belongings you take out with you, like jewellery, gadgets, sports equipment and your mobile phone. Always check the policy document to see what is and isn’t covered.

Should you get combined buildings and contents insurance?

It’s only suitable if you own your home – if you’re renting, your landlord’s usually responsible for insuring your home’s structure, though you might want to consider getting contents insurance.

If you’re a homeowner, there are a few advantages to getting a combined policy over buying buildings and contents cover separately

  • Setting up your policy – a combined policy is usually more convenient and takes less time to arrange. There won’t be as many forms to fill in, you’ll only need to provide your details once and there’s only one policy number
  • If you need to make a claim – some claims will be for elements of both buildings and contents, eg a fire, which could destroy some of your possessions and also damage your home’s structure. A combined policy means you only have to deal with one insurer
  • Price – many insurers offer a discount if you get a combined policy, so it can be cost-effective

Things to consider

The amount of cover you need
Unless you choose a policy that offers an unlimited sum insured, you’ll need to have an idea of how much it’d cost to rebuild your home and replace everything inside.

The rebuild cost isn’t the same as how much you could sell it for – use the Association of British Insurers’ rebuild calculator to work it out. It’s free, but you’ll need to register to use it.

Working out how much it’d cost to replace all your possessions is a little trickier – you’ll need to think about everything from your furniture to your toiletries. You should also check if your policy offers new-for-old or indemnity in the event of a claim. New-for-old means your insurer will cover the full cost of repairing damaged items, or replacing with new equivalents if they’re destroyed, lost or stolen. Indemnity accounts for wear and tear plus depreciation, and while it may be a cheaper premium, it could leave you significantly out of pocket if you need to make a large claim.

You should check the limits of a policy to see if they’ll be adequate for your needs – some policies have the option to change limits, which is helpful if your needs change.

What exclusions to look out for
The majority of home insurance policies will have exclusions, ie things that aren’t covered. To avoid having a claim turned down, read the policy wording to see what your home insurance covers and what it doesn’t before choosing your policy. For example, boiler cover – some policies cover these while others won’t, or will have them as optional extras.

It’s crucial you check what construction materials are acceptable before choosing a policy – most standard insurance will be for properties built from bricks with tiled roofs. You must tell your insurer what materials your home’s built from as it’ll affect your premium and the level of cover.

A key element to check for is accidental damage – is it included as standard or is it an optional extra? Only 52% of UK homeowners have accidental damage cover1, yet it accounts for around a quarter of buildings claims enquires and over half of contents claims enquires received at Barclays. Three-quarters of these contents claims are for things like knocking the TV over, carpets damaged from spills, or a dropped tablet or mobile phone. Some policies have accidental damage cover as standard, but if yours doesn’t and you haven’t added it to your policy, these types of claims may be declined and you’ll need to foot the bill yourself.

Cover away from home is also worth considering. Think about items you regularly take out of your home, like jewellery, watches, bikes and laptops – are they covered if something happens to them while you’re out and about? If your policy doesn’t cover these circumstances, it may be worth getting an add-on or a separate policy, so you’re covered for loss, damage and theft away from home.

What to insure and how much cover you need
Planning a bit of renovation or an extension? If building work may be on the horizon, see if your policy allows for this. Some policies will be invalid while building work’s carried out; others may have permissible thresholds where you’ll still be covered. Either way, it’s vital you tell your insurer if you get any building work done on your property.

High-value items, such as jewellery or a piece of art, may need to be listed separately, as some policies will have a limit on the amount they’ll pay out for single items (excluding things like furniture). It’s important to check, as a claim for an item may be declined if your insurer doesn’t know about it. It’s a good idea to get things valued, too, so you can make sure you have adequate cover.

If you have expensive sports equipment like golf clubs, bikes or scuba diving kits, you should certainly tell your insurer as it may also need to be listed separately. It’s also worth checking if it’s covered away from home and when it’s in use, if you don’t have a separate policy that covers it.

It’s important you review your cover regularly to make sure it always matches your needs, particularly if you make a large purchase or receive an inheritance.

The excess on a claim
Insurance policies usually have an excess, which is a minimum amount you’ll need to pay towards any claim you make. Some policies allow you to adjust this – generally speaking, the lower the excess, the higher the premium. Don’t just opt for a high excess and a lower premium without giving it careful consideration first though – you need to make sure you’d be able to cover the excess if you needed to make a claim. If you have a high excess, consider if a claim is worth it – for example, a successful claim for £500 with a £350 excess would see you only getting £150 from your insurer.

Look after your home and belongings

Do what you can to reduce your chances of needing to make a claim. Insurers expect a reasonable amount of general property maintenance, and it’s common sense to do all you can to deter would-be thieves.

  • Keep gutters and drains free from debris like fallen leaves, and do what you can to prevent blocking drains, such as not washing fat solids down the sink or flushing wipes down the toilet
  • Keep an eye on your roof and secure any loose slates or tiles
  • Keep brickwork free from rot and weeds – ivy-covered cottages may look pretty but the roots can eat into the mortar and cause walls to collapse
  • Have your boiler serviced every year
  • Get smoke alarms if you haven’t already and check the batteries regularly
  • Check your water tank is in good working order and unlikely to burst
  • Get approved locks, eg 5-lever mortice deadlocks, key-operated multi-point locking systems on uPVC doors, and key-operated window locks – lock up every time you leave the house, even if you’re only going to be 5 minutes
  • Install an alarm system and security lighting if possible – the presence can be enough of a deterrent in itself
  • If you have furniture or other items in your garden or in a shed, keep access locked

Barclays combined buildings and contents insurance

Our combined buildings and contents insurance provides unlimited rebuild and repair costs for properties with 5 bedrooms or fewer. We’ll still cover you for larger properties but you’ll need to know the rebuild cost. You’ll get an unlimited contents sum insured for your home and garden, though there are exclusions, like a certain amount that we’ll pay out for items in your freezer or single item cover. All of this is in the policy summary.

We also offer Premium Home Insurance, provided by Hiscox. This is a comprehensive policy with unlimited buildings and contents cover. It also includes building work up to the value of £75,000, and you can insure multiple homes on one policy.