A family whose home was devastated by a flood are £50,000 out of pocket because they happen to live within 200 metres of a river, even though it’s way downhill, out of sight and didn’t cause the flood.
Mark Jenkins and his wife Cerys were at home in the Welsh Valleys with their two sons Sami, now 15, and Lewi, six, on a Saturday night in November 2016 when heavy rainfall caused a blocked culvert in a neighbouring street up the hill to overflow.
It was the worst flooding the town of Maesteg had seen in 50 years, damaging dozens of properties. But when the couple made a claim on their £50-a-month home insurance policy, it was declined.
Mark Jenkins and his wife Cerys, pictured with sons Sami, now 15, and Lewi, six, had their insurance claim turned down after a flood because they lived within 200 metres of a river
The insurer said the policy was void because they had wrongly declared that their property was not within 200 metres of a river.
It turned out that, as the crow flies, the family live 110 metres away from the River Llynfi, which runs through the valley below their house.
And because the Spanish firm Ocaso claims it would not have offered the couple flood cover had it known, the firm refused to pay out.
Yet experts argue the decision is unfair and most insurance firms would cover the damage because the river didn’t cause the flood.
Mark, 43, had been on holiday in Bulgaria when his broker renewed his home insurance in 2016 using the same information he had provided three years earlier.
At that time, Mark had been asked only if he lived ‘near’ a river. And as he cannot see the Llynfi through the trees near his home, he had answered no.
But what Mark didn’t realise was that when Ocaso issued his policy documents, the wording of the question in the so-called statement of facts had been tweaked to introduce a distance limit of 200 metres to quantify what it considered ‘near’.
As the family’s house is on a hillside, with another terrace of houses between them and the river, Mark hadn’t ever considered it was a risk.
Even the loss adjuster said in its report that ‘the property would never be flooded by the river in question’. But, despite this, Ocaso argued that Mark had misrepresented the facts and so they did not have to pay.
Roger Flaxman, of London-based insurance claims advocacy service Flaxman Partners, says: ‘This is a very good example of how insurance companies behave. Firms know customers don’t read these complex documents once they have bought the policy.’
Storm: Dozens of properties in the town of Maesteg, Wales, were damaged in November 2016 when heavy rainfall caused the worst flooding the town of had seen in 50 years
Mr Flaxman, who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years and acts as an expert witness in court cases, adds that when he asked other leading insurers what they would have done in the same circumstances, they unanimously agreed they would have paid the claim.
Huw Irranca-Davies, the member of the Welsh Parliament for Mark’s consistency, Ogmore, says the decision is ‘lacking compassion and fairness’.
He adds that it sets a troubling precedent for people living in Wales with its many hills, valleys and watercourses. In fact, research shows that of the 33,880 homes in his area, 21,158 are within 200 metres of a river.
Speaking in the Senedd, Mr Irranca-Davies said: ‘A catch-all clause of living within 200 metres of a river sounds like a heck of a cop-out for the British insurance industry.’
The Jenkinses’ tale is a stark warning to other homeowners who buy policies online and then fail to scour their policy documents with a fine-tooth comb.
The average home insurance policy is an astonishing 21,545 words, according to James Daley, of consumer group Fairer Finance.
Small print is routinely littered with hidden caveats and insurers can throw out claims based on one disputed detail, such as the wrong type of burglar alarm or lock.
In one case previously reported by Money Mail, a family was left hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket after their house was devastated by a fire because the insurer claimed they had wrongly declared the property had five bedrooms when it had seven.
They had to battle for more than a year to prove two loft rooms did not legally count as bedrooms before receiving a payout.
Mark, an accountant, says: ‘There is just no common sense. The loss adjuster told me the claim was a ‘slam dunk’.
‘I wasn’t lying or trying to hide anything. I would never risk my family home. I’d even declared storm damage to a fence four years earlier.
‘If I had known the river was close enough to be a problem, I would have said. Surely insurance companies know who live near rivers based on their postcode.’
On top of this, the firm had already organised for workers to begin gutting the house before declining the claim.
This meant the family, who had renovated the property just a few months earlier, faced thousands of pounds in extra costs after their belongings and furnishings were binned.
Mark took his case to the Financial Ombudsman Service in 2017, but it ruled that given how close his home is to the river, it was ‘careless’ not to check before answering.
Ocaso offered compensation for the items lost, but the Jenkinses refused it, claiming it did not cover the value of the goods thrown away.
An Ocaso spokesman says: ‘We are satisfied that the claim has been appropriately resolved.’
A spokesman for the Association of British Insurers says: ‘It is always important to answer all questions as accurately and fully as possible.’