How to make an insurance claim

Nobody wants to have to make an insurance claim, but using this checklist will help you to get things right when you do need help...

How to make an insurance claim

Making a motor insurance claim isn't technically difficult. It's mostly a question of getting the details right, because they'll determine the success of your claim, and then keeping on top of the process.

Follow these simple guidelines and you shouldn't have too many problems.

Take notes

Write down and, if possible, photograph everything that happened in the accident – its location, the weather, and the circumstances leading up to it – while events are still fresh in your mind. If you're claiming for a car that's been stolen, take a shot of where it was last seen.

If your claim involves a criminal offence, such as theft or vandalism, contact the police before touching anything, and make sure the police give you an incident number. You'll need this number to register the claim with your insurer.

Inform your insurer – and be organised

Once you've contacted the police, phone your insurer as soon as possible, following that up with a confirming letter. Note down the name of the person you speak to, and the time and date of any conversations.

It's tempting to do everything by telephone these days, but insurance claims are one area where it's really worth using more old-fashioned methods of communication.

Having some notes to hand when you make that first call not only allows you to give a fuller and more accurate account of what happened, it will also help you to keep your side of the story consistent as the claim progresses. Having facts written down for easy repetition when necessary will stop any tendency for the insurer to doubt your claim. It should also speed up the claims process, and your payout.

Writing letters and keeping hard-copy records of all your dealings with the insurer, the police and any garages or other parties related to the claim (including telephone calls) might seem like a pain. However, in a potentially long-running procedure where different parties have different views, and memories become fuzzy, being able to refer to specific statements made along the way really adds to your credibility.

Few of us haven't heard the line ‘this call may be recorded for training purposes'. You can use this to your advantage if you keep a note of dates and times of phone calls. Many insurers can provide you with a reference number for each individual telephone conversation, and the name of the person who took the call.

How to make an insurance claim

Be patient

Some insurers will only agree to pay for repairs carried out by approved garages, so don't take matters into your own hands by having the car fixed yourself. Wait for the insurer to contact you with instructions; if you don't, you could end up paying for the repairs out of your own pocket.

Know your rights

In certain situations, insurers are entitled to refuse to pay out on your claim. If that happens, or if you feel the payout is unsatisfactory, you can appeal.

Try the insurer first to see if it will review its decision. That's unlikely to happen unless you have new evidence, but you still have to do it. The law says you have to give an insurer at least eight weeks to respond to your complaint before you take it to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). If the FOS decides in your favour, it can order the insurer to increase your payout or offer you compensation.

What to do in an accident

Car accidents are a fact of life. Thankfully, your chances of walking away unhurt are higher than they've ever been, thanks to the superb occupant protection provided by even the most affordable modern cars – but there's no escaping the legal process that's kicked off by many accidents.

There are some important things you have to do at the scene of an accident. The first thing you should not do is simply leave the scene. That's a criminal offence. If you bump a parked car, and the owner is nowhere to be seen, you're legally obliged to leave a note with your contact details on the windscreen.

If somebody has been injured, you must call the police. If it looks in any way serious, make sure an ambulance is on the way, too.

Once these priorities have been attended to, it's time to collect some data. Besides noting the full name and address of the other party involved, plus their vehicle's registration number, you should also get contact details from any eye-witnesses.

You and the other party will need to swap insurance company details – their names and addresses, and policy numbers if available. Make a note of any statements made at the scene by any of the parties, and pass that information on to your insurer. In the emotion of the occasion, it's all too easy to talk about whose fault the accident was. Don't do it. If you do, you could create problems for your insurers – and, by extension, you – in the handling of your claim.

If you've had an accident, telling your insurers about it as soon as possible is a condition of your policy, even if you don't intend to make a claim. The other party may well do.

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