Legal insurance provider ARAG looks back at 2020 to see whether the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns affected claims numbers, as significant weather events occupy home emergency providers
It’s now three years since the original Beast from the East wreaked havoc across wide areas of the UK and cost as many as 16 people their lives.
As well as testing frontline emergency services, such weather events also present a challenge to home emergency providers, as plummeting temperatures freeze pipes, push older heating systems to their limits and contractors battle dangerous conditions to reach homes without heat, power or a functioning toilet.
With the ongoing pandemic and freezing weather, our homes and their various services have rarely been as important. While there is some upside to pipes being kept warm and us all having very little opportunity to lock ourselves out of our homes, the consequences of a domestic emergency have become even more serious.
It’s not as though one can pop round to a neighbour’s house or into the local pub to wait for a contractor and in the event of a more serious emergency, overnight accommodation options are severely limited, with many hotels closed.
The value of a high-quality domestic emergency service has never been more apparent.
In the past, major weather events have sometimes affected the call-handling operations that represent the first line of response on which home assistance services depend. If operators are unable to get to work or work from home, services can be hampered by an inability to take calls and arrange the various services required to resolve a domestic emergency.
Again, this is where the quality of a given service will be tested. Those with cheaper, more generic operations are unlikely to have invested in the equipment, training and systems that will allow call-handling staff to work just as effectively from home, at the flick of a switch.
Last year, of course, working remotely suddenly became the norm for many of us, a shift that was inevitably smoother for those already set up to make it. But remote working provides another benefit during major weather events. It is so much easier for call-handling staff to work flexibly to meet surges in demand, if they don’t have to get into the office to do their jobs.
We looked at last year’s home emergency callout data, to see if it could tell us what, if any, impact the pandemic and lockdowns had on the nation’s domestic crises. The answer seems to be ‘not much’.
Over the year as a whole, there was surprisingly little daylight between 2020 and 2019, with less than 1% difference in the total number of claims in the two calendar years and also between their busiest month, which was November in both cases.
Clearly, the fact that we have all been stuck at home hasn’t made us any more or less likely to need or call on our home emergency policies. As in any other year, it is the great British weather that played the biggest part in causing domestic emergencies.
While the winter between the two years was remarkably warm, it was also very wet. February 2020 saw the most rainfall of any February on record, by some margin. This was largely the result of three major storms (Ciara, Dennis and Jorge) that hit the UK during the month, and also brought with them dangerously high winds.
However, it is the summer of 2020 that diverges most from our claims experience of previous years. June saw 21% more home emergency callouts in 2020 than in 2019, contributing to an average increase of about 15% more claims, over the summer months.
While it might be easy to imagine this was a consequence of us all spending so much of the spring in our homes and the additional wear and tear this put on all our domestic facilities, the real reason is more familiar.
Many will remember that, in contrast to this freezing lockdown, the first national restrictions introduced late in March, were softened by an unusually dry spring. In fact, May 2020 was the driest on record. It was followed, however, by a very wet June that brought flash-flooding and a lot of work for our home emergency teams.
July wasn’t much drier and the heatwave early in August was followed by storms Ellen and Francis, which created their own share of problems for homeowners, especially in Wales and the Southwest.
What 2021 has in store for us remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that we have never been more dependent on the home comforts we often take for granted, and that our confinement has truly underscored the benefits of reliable home emergency cover.