Storm insurance

Everything you need to know about protecting your home against storm damage.

Australia may be known around the world for its beautiful weather, but when that weather turns nasty the consequences can be severe. Storms, floods, cyclones and other natural disasters seem to have been a regular occurrence in areas all over the country in recent years, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

If your home or possessions are damaged in a storm or flood, it’s essential that you’re aware of what’s covered by your home and contents insurance so you can access the financial protection you need.

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Storm-Roof

What is storm insurance?

Storm insurance is provided as part of home and contents insurance policies. It offers financial protection if your home or any of your insured possessions are damaged or destroyed due to a storm.

Protection against storm damage is a standard feature on home and contents policies. It covers repair or rebuilding costs following damage to your home, and repair or replacement costs for possessions that suffer damage. Additional benefits, such as temporary accommodation costs while your home is not fit to live in following a storm, are also included.

How does your insurer define a storm?

We’ve all heard horror stories about insurance companies refusing claims based on a minor technicality, falling back on legal jargon and definitions as justification for rejecting claims from distraught homeowners. With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of just what constitutes a storm as far as your home and contents insurer is concerned.

So, what causes storm damage that will be covered by your home insurance policy? Australian insurers commonly define a storm as, "A violent disturbance of the atmosphere". Storm can refer to violent wind (including cyclones and tornadoes), thunderstorms and hail, which may in some cases be accompanied by rain or snow

Thunderstorms typically cause the most damage with hail, flash flooding, strong gusts of wind, lightning, flash flooding and tornadoes. Meanwhile, land gales refer to gale-force winds that occur over land.

What’s the difference between a storm and a flood?

This definition of a storm is different to how insurers define a flood. The standard definition of flood in Australia is:

"The covering of normally dry land by water that has escaped or been released from the normal confines of:

  • any lake, or any river, creek, or other natural watercourse, whether or not altered or modified; or
  • any reservoir, canal, or dam."

Rainwater vs floodwater: what’s covered?

Water damage, regardless of whether it’s caused by a storm or by a flooded river, can have a significant financial impact for Aussie homeowners. However, there are some key differences in how these water-related events are covered by insurers.

Flood cover varies between insurers – some policies don’t include it, others provide it as an extra-cost option, while some insurers provide this cover as standard. Read your PDS closely to determine whether or not your policy covers flood, and find out more about how this type of cover works in our comprehensive guide to flood insurance.

However, even if your policy does not provide flood cover, it will still cover you for loss or damage caused by rainwater. The term ‘rainwater’ usually refers to water that falls naturally from the sky, and includes rainwater run-off over the surface of the land and rainwater that overflows from stormwater drains.

In some cases it will include damage caused by flash flooding, and in other cases it will not. With this in mind, we have to hark back to the same key point: read the PDS closely before choosing a policy. This will allow you to work out exactly what sort of storm, rainwater and flood damage is and is not covered.

King tides, storm surges and actions of the sea

All of these events are caused by the movement of seawater, resulting in inundation and potentially significant damage to your home and contents. If your home is located near the coast, they could pose a major risk of damage.

Unfortunately, king tides and other actions of the sea are usually excluded from cover, but damage caused by tsunamis is typically covered. Storm surges are also a common exclusion, except when they occur at the same time as a flood (and your policy offers flood cover), in which case your claim will be accepted.

How do Australian home insurers treat storm and flood damage?

What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • The escape of rainwater from any water pipe, drain or gutter
  • Surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.

Including loss or damage caused by erosion, subsidence, landslide, mudslide or any other earth movement that occurs within 72 hours of a storm or heavy rain and as a result of that storm or heavy rain.

  • Loss or damage caused by flood, unless you have selected and we have agreed to provide this optional cover.
  • Loss or damage caused by rain, hail, wind or dust due to:
    • A design fault, structural defect or faulty workmanship.
    • Lack of maintenance (a defect that you knew about or should reasonably have known about and did not fix)
    • An opening that was not created by the storm.
    • Building additions, renovation or alteration work.
  • Loss or damage to:
    • Fences and gates that are not structurally.
    • Sound or well maintained.
    • Artificial grass or turf.
    • Garden retaining walls.
    • Garden borders, driveways, paths or gardens.
    • The liner and/or cover of a swimming pool or spa.
    • Water in a swimming pool or spa.
    • The surface of a tennis court.
    • Jetties, wharves and pontoons.
What is covered?What isn't covered?
Including loss or damage from:

  • Surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.
  • The escape of rainwater from any drain, gutter or water pipe.

Including damage or loss caused by erosion, landslide, mudslide, subsidence or any other earth movement that occurs within 72 hours of a storm.

  • Damage or loss caused by flood.
  • Damage or loss caused by hail, rain or wind entering your home due to:
    • A design fault, faulty workmanship or structural defect.
    • Alteration work, building additions or renovations.
    • An opening that was not created by the storm.
    • Lack of maintenance.
  • Loss or damage caused by power surge or fluctuation that is not a result of a lightning strike.
  • Damage or loss to:
    • Driveways, gardens or garden borders, or paths.
    • Fences and gates that are not structurally sound or well maintained.
    • Garden retaining walls.
    • Jetties, pontoons or wharves.
    • The cover and/or liner of a swimming pool or spa.
    • The surface of a tennis court.
    • Water in a swimming pool or spa.
What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • The escape of rainwater from any water pipe, drain or gutter surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.
  • Surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.

Including loss or damage caused by erosion, subsidence, landslide, mudslide or any other earth movement that occurs within 72 hours of a storm or heavy rain and as a result of that storm or heavy rain.

  • Loss or damage caused by flood unless you have selected and we have agreed to provide this optional cover.
  • Loss or damage caused by rain, hail, wind or dust due to:
    • A design fault, structural defect or faulty workmanship.
    • Lack of maintenance (a defect that you knew about or should reasonably have known about and did not fix)
    • An opening that was not created by the storm.
    • Building additions, renovation or alteration work.
  • loss or damage to:
    • Fences and gates that are not structurally sound or well maintained.
    • Artificial grass or turf.
    • Garden retaining walls.
    • Garden borders, driveways, paths or gardens.
    • The liner and/or cover of a swimming pool or spa.
    • Water in a swimming pool or spa.
    • The surface of a tennis court.
    • Jetties, wharves and pontoons.
What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • The escape of rainwater from any water pipe, drain or gutter surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.
  • Surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.

Including loss or damage caused by erosion, subsidence, landslide, mudslide or any other earth movement that occurs within 72 hours of a storm or heavy rain and as a result of that storm or heavy rain.

  • Loss or damage caused by flood unless you have selected and we have agreed to provide this optional cover.
  • Loss or damage caused by rain, hail, wind or dust due to:
    • A design fault, structural defect or faulty workmanship.
    • Lack of maintenance (a defect that you knew about or should reasonably have known about and did not fix).
    • An opening that was not created by the storm.
    • Building additions, renovation or alteration work.
  • loss or damage to:
    • Fences and gates that are not structurally sound or well maintained.
    • Artificial grass or turf.
    • Garden retaining walls.
    • Garden borders, driveways, paths or gardens.
    • The liner and/or cover of a swimming pool or spa.
    • Water in a swimming pool or spa.
    • The surface of a tennis court.
    • Jetties, wharves and pontoons.
What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • The escape of rainwater from any water pipe, drain or gutter surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.
  • Surface run-off rainwater from surrounding areas that occurs within 24 hours of a storm or heavy rain.

Including loss or damage caused by erosion, subsidence, landslide, mudslide or any other earth movement that occurs within 72 hours of a storm or heavy rain and as a result of that storm or heavy rain.

  • Loss or damage caused by flood unless you have selected and we have agreed to provide this optional cover.
  • Loss or damage caused by rain, hail, wind or dust due to:
    • A design fault, structural defect or faulty workmanship.
    • Lack of maintenance (a defect that you knew about or should reasonably have known about and did not fix).
    • An opening that was not created by the storm.
    • Building additions, renovation or alteration work.
  • loss or damage to:
    • Fences and gates that are not structurally sound or well maintained.
    • Artificial grass or turf.
    • Garden retaining walls.
    • Garden borders, driveways, paths or gardens.
    • The liner and/or cover of a swimming pool or spa.
    • Water in a swimming pool or spa.
    • The surface of a tennis court.
    • Jetties, wharves and pontoons.
What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • You are covered for loss or damage to your building or contents (as applicable) caused by storm, rainwater and flood.
  • Loss or damage:
    • To plants, trees, artificial grass and lawns.
    • To swimming pool covers, spa covers or plastic or vinyl swimming pool liners.
    • To retaining and/or freestanding outdoor walls.
    • To fences and gates that are not structurally sound or well maintained.
    • To loose surfaces of paths and driveways.
    • Involving cracking to paths, driveways or any outdoor surfaces.
    • To a sporting surface or court.
    • To external shade cloth and/or shade sails, unless professionally installed and less than 5 years old.
    • Caused by water entering your building due to building alterations, Renovations or additions.
    • Caused by water that has seeped or percolated into your building.
    • Caused by gradual deterioration due to rainwater.
    • Caused to external paintwork if that is the only damage to that part of your building.

We also do not pay for the cost of cleaning or removing mud or debris out of swimming pools and spas and replacing the water.

What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • Loss or damage to the insured property caused by storm, lightning, wind, hail, snow and storm water overflow from roof gutters and their downpipes or from the area immediately around the premises.
  • This includes instances where the storm causes mechanical, electrical or electronic (including computer software) breakdown or failure.
  • Where you have increased your sum insured on this policy within 72 hours of a storm occurring, cover will be limited to the sum insured that was effective 72 hours prior to the event.
  • Loss or damage to the insured property caused by flood.
  • Storm during the first 72 hours of your policy commencing, unless:
    • You had another policy that expired immediately before the start of your policy with us and there was no break or change in the level or type of cover.
    • You moved into the premises or signed a purchase or lease agreement for the premises on the same day your policy with us started.
  • Storm surge, actions of the sea or tides or other oceanic activity.
  • Rising damp or seepage of water from the ground.
  • Rain, wind, hail or snow entering the building through open windows, doors or openings made for alterations, renovations or repairs.
  • Rain, wind, hail or snow entering the building unless through an opening that was:
    • Created by the storm.
    • Not created by the storm and that you could not have been reasonably aware of even though the building is in good condition.
What is covered?What isn't covered?
  • Damage to your building and/or your contents caused by storm, rain or flood
  • Cover for lightning or thunderbolt is provided under insured event "Lightning or thunderbolt"
  • Damage caused by storm, rain or flood to:
    • Fences and gates
    • Privacy screens or retaining walls
    • PVC blinds, shade-cloth, shade-sails or umbrellas
    • Solar covers, spa or swimming pool covers
  • Damage caused by water entering your building through an opening your roof or wall created for the purposes of additions, alterations, renovations or repairs
  • Damage caused by water entering or penetrating your building because of poor maintenance
  • Defective workmanship, fault or structural defect
  • Water damage to your building caused by rain seepage or storm unless the water is the result of an opening made by the storm
  • If there is no record of lightning in your area at the time of the loss or damage
  • Damage or loss caused by power failures or surges by your power provider
  • Damage or loss without written confirmation from a qualified repairer saying lightning was the actual cause of the loss or damage

How to lodge a claim after storm damage

1. Assess the damage. Once the storm has passed and it’s safe to go outside, inspect your home, contents and property for any damage. Make sure to take any reasonable steps to prevent any further loss or damage to your property, but be aware that your insurer will not allow you to make any repairs until they have assessed the damage. If emergency repairs are required, contact your insurer for advice on what you can do.
2. Gather evidence. Supporting documentation will be crucial to the success of your claim, so start gathering proof of the damage and loss you have suffered. Make a list of everything that has been damaged or destroyed, and gather any information you can about make, model and date of purchase. Take photographs of damage to your home and contents, and keep receipts if you need to buy essential items like food or bedding.
3. Lodge a claim. The next step is to lodge a claim with your insurer. You will usually have to fill out a claim form with full details of the storm and the damage it caused. Forms are available through the insurer’s website or by phoning the insurer, and you’ll need to include any supporting documentation requested by the insurer with your claim form.
4. Claim assessment. The insurance company will send out an assessor to inspect the damage and assess your claim. Make sure that you co-operate fully with the assessor, but also remember that it’s their job to make sure your claim amount is kept to a minimum. In some cases, the assessor may arrange for a hydrologist to determine the cause of the storm or flood damage.
5. Claim payment. If your claim is accepted, your insurer will pay out a benefit to cover your loss or damage.

Storm insurance claim tips

Keep the following tips in mind to help make the claims process run as smoothly as possible:

  • Understand your cover. You may be unaware of some benefits that you are eligible to claim under your home and contents insurance policy. For example, did you know that many policies pay a benefit to cover temporary accommodation costs if your home is unlivable following an insured event? Read the PDS closely so you’re fully aware of everything you’re entitled to claim.
  • Gather as much evidence as possible. Compile as much evidence as you can of the damage caused to your home and contents. Make an inventory of damaged items, include before and after photographs where possible, and remember to supply receipts, bank statements or other proof of ownership.
  • Fast-tracking. Under the General Insurance Code of Practice, insurers must fast-track your claim following a storm, flood or cyclone if you are in urgent financial need. For example, you may need money for alternative accommodation or basic living requirements, so proving this urgent financial need to your insurer could speed up the processing of your claim.
  • How to complain. If you’re unhappy with the result of your claim, you can raise the matter with your insurer’s internal complaints resolution department. If that doesn’t resolve the issue to your satisfaction, the next step is to contact the Financial Ombudsman Service.

General exclusions to be aware of

Finding storm insurance cover for your home can be complex and confusing, and it’s important to be fully aware of what your policy does and doesn’t cover when it comes to storms, floods and rainwater damage. To find out what’s not covered, search for the list of general exclusions in the PDS. Some common storm insurance exclusions are:

  • No cover if your claim is for loss or damage from a flood or named cyclone that occurs within a certain time frame (for example 72 hours) after you first take out cover
  • No cover for high tides or king tides
  • No cover for storm surges that do not occur at the same time as a flood (if your policy includes flood cover)
  • No cover for actions of the sea (except tsunami)
  • No cover for flood water combined with run-off or rainwater (if flood cover is not included)
  • No cover for soil movement such as landslide or erosion
  • No cover for loss or damage to gates, fences and retaining walls
  • No cover if rainwater enters your building due to a structural defect, faulty design or your failure to adequately maintain your home
  • No cover for loss or damage caused by wind, rainwater, hail or snow entering your home through an open window or door or any opening not made by the storm

Common storm insurance traps

Don’t get caught out by these common storm insurance traps:

  • Not knowing what’s covered. Working out the difference between rainwater, floodwater, run-off and all other types of water damage, not to mention determining what is covered by your policy, can be confusing. If in doubt, contact your insurer for detailed information about what your policy does and doesn’t cover.
  • The flood cover conundrum. Some people pay extra for a policy that includes mandatory flood cover when their home is highly unlikely to ever suffer flood damage; others don’t have any flood cover in place when it might actually be essential. Check out flood maps and historical weather details to decide whether you need to purchase flood cover or whether it’s an unnecessary expense.
  • Rainwater and floodwater damage. In certain circumstances, your home may be damaged by both rainwater and floodwater. If this happens, some insurers that don’t offer flood cover will automatically exclude your claim. However, you may be eligible to claim in some situations, such as if the rainwater entered your home and caused damage first.

What to do if your home is damaged by rainwater and floodwater

If your home suffers damage caused by both rainwater and floodwater, if your insurer does not cover flood damage then your claim may be rejected. However, there are a couple of situations where you may still be eligible to claim:

  • If the rainwater damage occurred first. Perhaps the heavy rain that inundated your house caused the water level to rise and then stop. Then a second wave of water – floodwater – entered your house, so you may be able to claim for the initial damage caused by the rainwater.
  • If the floodwater caused minimal damage. In cases where the amount of floodwater is relatively insignificant when compared to the amount of rainwater, the insurer may be required to pay your claim.

If your claim is refused in one of the above scenarios, you will need to consider whether the damage that occurred was caused by floodwater as it is defined in your policy. If the water that damaged your home escaped from a source that cannot be defined as a natural watercourse – for example, if it was constructed by the council as a stormwater drain or if the water escaped from a creek that has had its boundaries significantly altered by humans – you may be able to argue that it was not floodwater and that it is therefore covered by your policy.

Storm insurance for cars

If you want to protect your vehicle against storm damage, you’ll need to invest in comprehensive car insurance. This usually includes cover for hail, wind and flood damage, but as always you should check the PDS for full details of the cover available.

If your car is damaged in a storm, keep a few simple tips in mind to help the claims process run as smoothly as possible:

  • Take photos of the damage, including close-up and distance shots
  • Avoid removing any debris until your insurer gives you the okay (of course, if you need to move debris for safety reasons, try to get a photo first)
  • Call your insurer as soon as possible to notify them of the damage and find out whether you’re covered
  • Don’t authorise any repairs before contacting your insurer

Check out our guide to car insurance claims for storm damage for more information.

Storm checklist

Before the storm

  • Check your gutters. Make sure that your gutters and downpipes are free of any debris - if they’re blocked, overflowing water could flood your home.
  • Check your roof. Make sure there are no loose or damaged tiles on your roof, or raised edges on corrugated metal - these could be turned into dangerous projectiles by strong wind.
  • Trim trees. Make sure to prune back any tree branches that overhang your home.
  • Secure loose items. From outdoor furniture to kids’ toys, make sure any loose items in your yard are secured and won’t turn into flying projectiles.
  • Put together a storm kit. Make sure to include first-aid supplies, a torch, batteries, water, non-perishable food and blankets. A radio can also come in handy to keep up to date with weather reports and evacuation notices.
  • Move cars inside. Damage caused by hail or falling trees could cause your vehicle to be written off.
  • Secure doors, windows and awnings. This can help protect your home against damage.

During the storm

  • Stay inside. Stay inside out of the danger and make sure to remain well away from windows.
  • Listen for updates. Keep a radio handy to listen for storm updates.
  • Stay safe. Don’t go outside until you’re sure it’s safe to do so.

After the storm

  • Stay clear of fallen power lines. Electrocution is a big risk following a storm.
  • Avoid floodwaters. Don’t try to drive through floodwaters or allow your kids to play in or near them.
  • Avoid storm-affected areas. Don’t travel through storm-affected areas unless absolutely necessary.
  • Check for damage. Thoroughly inspect your house and property for damage, taking photos as you go.
  • Call your insurer. Contact your storm insurance provider with the details of your claim.

Helpful links and contacts

Picture: Markus Gebauer / Shutterstock.com

Richard Laycock

Richard is the insurance editor at finder.com.au. He is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    JamesJuly 24, 2015

    We are with Budget Direct – Home and Contents insurance. We had a roof leak and damaged TV and were compensated. At the front of the block we have a large tree that was struck by lightning. The fire was extinguished by the SESD/. A branch has already fallen and an arborist said the tree has white ants and is dying. It needs to be removed.Is this claimable on home insurance as it is a result of storm damage?

    • Staff
      WilliamJuly 24, 2015Staff

      Hi James,

      Thank you for your enquiry. According to the Budget Direct PDS, no payment will be made for “loss or damage caused by power surge or fluctuation that is not a result of a lightning strike.” You should be covered for damage that has occurred from lightning but it is not clear if you are able to claim for expenses incurred if no damage has yet occurred. It would be best to get in touch with Budget Direct to discuss further.

      Thank you for your enquiry and all the best,

      Will

  2. Default Gravatar
    DevoJuly 5, 2015

    After the weather event of 2013 in Qld we had a motorbike ,quad bike and tools in our shed what is covered under the insurance can we claim the motor bike and the quad bike as Suncorp is going to pay for tools and the shed as I understand

    • Staff
      RichardJuly 6, 2015Staff

      Hi Devo,

      Thanks for your question. It will depend on your policy and its conditions. Your best bet would be to contact your insurer directly as they will be able to tell you the specifics of your cover.

      I hope this was helpful,
      Richard

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