Price hikes, property ratings, claims arrangements...
The fifth Insurance Times property survey finds out what's been happening in the market.

Home insurance premiums have risen for the first time in four years to cover the cost of last winter's floods, according to the AA British Insurance Premium Index, published in April.

The index shows the average buildings insurance premium is now £134, up 1.62% and the average contents policy costs £107, up 1.44% compared to the previous quarter. The AA expects further quarterly increases to raise premiums by at least 5% by the end of the year.

AA Insurance Services managing director Kerry Richardson warns that recent premium rises spelled bad news for homeowners, after a period of stability.

He says: "In our view, this is the first sign that home insurers are starting to pass on losses from severe weather over the winter to their customers."

The price hikes are in line with forecasts last year from market analysts Bacon & Woodrow and Datamonitor, both of which said rate rises were needed to return the market to profitability.

Rate rises the norm
The Insurance Times annual survey, now in its fifth year, shows a similar picture.

Some insurers, such as Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) and Avon, have kept prices the same as last year. However, the majority of companies have increased premiums by approximately £10 to £20. The largest rises have been implemented by AXA, Cornhill and Folgate.

The annual survey uses the same eight household case studies each year to compare the prices of the major insurers. Prices have been rising each year, although last year most insurers kept prices the same.

The full impact of the floods on premiums also remains to be seen as many UK household insurers have said they will withdraw insurance from homes on flood plains within two years if the government fails to toughen up on planning rules and fund new flood defences.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has held talks with the government and agreed to insure otherwise uninsurable homes as its side of a bargain on where and how homes were built.

ABI property statistics show claims following last autumn's storms and floods have totalled almost £700m. More than half (£389m) of the money claimed was for damage to homes, while businesses claimed a total of £303m, made up of £251m for material damage and £52m for business interruption.

Time to address the risks
ABI director general Mary Francis says: "Insurers are actively involved, with the government, in researching the likely future risks. And, where risks are identified, the government must - wherever possible - address them.

"This will not be cheap, but we must remember the alternative would prove even more costly.

"For the immediate future, insurers have promised to continue providing homeowners and small businesses with flood cover, wherever at all possible. But over the longer term, the affordability and availability of insurance will depend on action being taken now by the government and other public bodies to reduce the risks."

The survey also looks at how insurers rate properties and claims arrangements.

As in previous years, the vast majority of insurers rate on both postcode and inner postcode and most take security, claims history age and lifestyle of prosper into account.

On the claims side, a growing number of insurers have set up arrangements with providers for repair and replacement of goods particularly for white and brown goods.

In addition, more insurers are looking at the replacement of jewellery. The speed of the repair and replacement service is also increasing as insurers wake up the fact that claimants want to put the incident behind them as quickly as possible.

As Cornhill's Harry Rule says: "When there is an accident, most people just want insurance to work. If we can provide a fast and efficient service, they will be happy."