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Contents insurance explained

Find out how contents insurance works, what it covers and typical exclusions to watch out for.

In this article
What is contents insurance? How does contents insurance work? What are the different types of contents insurance? Golden rules for buying contents insurance Does contents insurance cover accidental damage? What is personal possessions cover?
Contents insurance calculator What are common exclusions for contents insurance? Will contents insurance cover me if my home is unoccupied? Should tenants get contents insurance? Contents insurance: your questions answered

What is contents insurance?

Home contents insurance covers the cost of replacing your belongings in your home if they are damaged, destroyed or stolen.

As a general rule, your ‘contents’ are the items that you would take with if you moved home.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Furniture: beds, sofas, wardrobes and dining tables and chairs
  • Kitchenware: cutlery, cookware, microwaves and kettles
  • Entertainment: video games, toys, DVDs and CDs
  • Soft furnishings: cushions, curtains and bedding
  • Electricals: TVs, laptops and game consoles
  • Clothes and jewellery
  • Ornaments and antiques

Contents insurance can be bought as a standalone policy or as part of a combined home insurance policy with buildings insurance.

Our home insurance reviews show how we rate the standard contents insurance and buildings insurance policies of 31 providers, and how the providers were rated by their customers.

Members can log in to see the results of our analysis. If you’re not already a member, you can sign up to a two-month trial for Which? Money for just £1 to access this review, along with thousands of others, and enjoy the benefits of a Which? membership.

How does contents insurance work?

If you need to make a home insurance claim, your home insurance provider will settle this on either a ‘new-for-old’ or ‘indemnity’ basis.

New-for-old cover means that your home insurer will pay for a brand-new product, of equivalent value, if your insured item is damaged or stolen.  

Indemnity cover takes into account wear and tear on the items that you claim for, which reduces the payout you’ll get.

For example, while it may cost £800 to replace your sofa, you may only get £150 once its age has been factored in.

Since the payouts on new-for-old policies tend to be higher, they can be more expensive than indemnity policies.

What are the different types of contents insurance?

There are three main types of contents insurance policy: bedroom rated, sum insured and unlimited sum insured.  

Bedroom rated

A bedroom rated policy uses the number of bedrooms in your home to calculate the amount of contents cover you get.

Sum insured

A sum insured policy requires you to calculate the amount of contents cover you need.

Unlimited sum insured

An unlimited sum insured policy covers all of your contents without any limit so you don’t have to worry about being under insured.

Golden rules for buying contents insurance

Shop around

Shopping around will increase your chances of finding a competitive deal for your contents insurance.

Get the right level of cover

Be as accurate as possible when valuing your contents. You don’t want to under or over-insure your belongings.

Read the terms of your policy - carefully

Once you’ve found a policy, read the terms and conditions carefully to reduce the chances of being caught out if you ever have to make a claim.

Does contents insurance cover accidental damage?

Accidental damage occurs when there’s a one-off unintentional incident that harms your contents - spilling purple paint on your cream coloured carpet, for example.

Home insurers provide very limited cover for accidental damage as standard so it’s often bought as an add-on to a policy.

Accidental damage cover does increase the price of your home insurance premium and could cost an extra £20-£1000 depending on your policy and the value of your items.

Find out more in our guide to home insurance: add-ons, fees and charges

What is personal possessions cover?

Personal possessions cover - sometimes referred to as an ‘all-risks extension’ - protects your portable belongings while you’re outside of your home and overseas.

These could include items such as your:

  • Mobile phone
  • Tablet
  • Laptop
  • Jewellery
  • Handbag

There are some restrictions as to what’s covered here, so it’s best to check with your insurer so that you get the protection you need.

Contents insurance calculator

Before you start looking for contents insurance quotes you need to work out the value of your belongings.

Our contents insurance calculator will help you work out the total cost of your possessions. 

Simply enter the value of your items in each room. 

What are common exclusions for contents insurance?

There are a number of exclusions that are likely to apply to your contents insurance policy. These include but are not limited to:

High-value items

There is usually a limit on the amount of cover for high-value items such as jewellery or audio visual equipment.

For most contents insurance policies, the limit for each item around £1,500, but this can go up to £15,000 depending on your provider and policy.

If you have expensive possessions, be sure to check your policy to make sure they are covered.

Running a business from your home

Ordinarily, if you run a business from your home, any business-related equipment will not be covered by your contents policy.

It’s important to check this with your insurer however and notify them if you work from home.

Working from home

The amount of cover available for people who work from home varies between providers.

While some contents insurance policies may cover your work phone and laptop automatically, others may not cover them at all.

It’s best to check with your home insurance provider to see if you need more extensive coverage for your work contents.

For more information, check out our working-from-home Q&A.

Subletting your home

If you experience loss or theft when you’ve let or sublet your home, you may not be covered by your contents insurance unless there are signs of forced entry.

Pairs and sets

The cost of replacing an entire set of furniture or units is unlikely to be covered by your contents insurance if only part of the set is damaged.

You’ll usually only receive the cost of replacing the damaged parts.  

Will contents insurance cover me if my home is unoccupied?

Most insurers will cover your home on the condition that it will not be left unattended for more than 30 consecutive days.

If your home will be left unoccupied for an extended period of time - if you’re taking a long holiday, for example - be sure to let your home insurance provider know as you may be able to increase your cover temporarily for an extra cost.

Should tenants get contents insurance?

Depending on your living situation it’s possible to get contents insurance for the entire home or for just your room.

If you decide to insure the entire flat or home-share, bear in mind that being the named person on a policy can bring unintended consequences.

If, for example, your housemate makes a claim, it will affect everyone else’s premium when it comes to renewal - even if it was their fault.

Your claims record can follow you for up to five years, so even if you move out and change home insurance provider you may still have to declare the incident, which will drive up your premium.

If you decide to go for room-only insurance, you’ll need to have a lock on your door to be eligible for theft cover.

Where there is no sign of forced entry into your room, your claim may be rejected. Belongings in communal areas are also unlikely to be covered unless there is a sign of forced entry into your home.

Your landlord is responsible for the buildings and fixtures, so if there’s a burst pipe or a problem with your boiler, ask the landlord to fix the problem as soon as possible.

If your flat is furnished by your landlord, it’s their responsibility to insure their own contents as well.

Contents insurance: your questions answered

 

Homeworkers: should you get contents insurance?

 

A standard home insurance policy is unlikely to cover you for specialist items such as expensive audio visual equipment that you use for work. Some providers, however, may automatically cover the cost of items such as a work laptop and phone.

Certain insurers may offer an 'all risks' policy which allows you to insure a wider range of items (such as home business equipment) for an additional premium.

It’s best to check with your home insurer to ensure you get the right level of cover.

 

Students: should you get contents insurance?

 

Like tenants, students can get contents insurance to protect their belongings while they’re away.

An alternative way for students to to get cover is by extending their parents' home insurance policy.

As long as the student’s permanent address is their parent’s home, it may be possible to get insured against theft or loss.

This comes at an additional cost and can be done by adding an 'all risks' or 'unspecified personal possessions' section to the main policy.

 

Does contents insurance cover items stored in my garden, shed or garage?

 

Belongings stored inside outbuildings, which include sheds, garages, greenhouses and summer houses, are normally covered for theft.

However, most home insurance providers will only pay up to a certain amount for these items and the limit can vary dramatically.

Be sure to check how much cover you have with your home insurer.

It’s also important to make sure that your outbuildings are secure so where possible, invest in locks for doors and windows as well as a security alarm to keep your belongings safe.

 

Does home contents insurance cover my bike?

 

Bikes are not always automatically covered on your home contents policy and the ones that do offer varying degrees of protection.

For example, some insurers will only cover bikes if they’re stolen from your home or garage as standard and may not include mishaps that occur when you are out and about.

It’s important to check with your provider to see if your bike is covered at all and whether you can get the right level of cover needed.

 

Does my home contents insurance include my mobile and other gadgets?

 

Cover for your mobile and gadgets may not be automatically included on your policy as standard.

It is possible to get cover for them by adding personal possessions cover to your policy.

Take a look at our guide for more information on home insurance: add-ons, fees and charges.

 

Will my home contents insurance cover items bought at Christmas and other special occasions?

 

The value of your contents is likely to fluctuate during the year, especially around special occasions.  

The majority of home insurance providers offer free temporary additional cover during special events and religious festivals such as Christmas, weddings and the birth of child.

The amount of additional temporary cover varies between home insurance providers and some offer no protection at all so it’s best to check the terms of your policy.

Find out more: the home insurance companies offering festive cover boost.

 

Can I get home contents insurance for less than a year?

 

In short, no. If you are renting a place for less than 12 months, you will still need to take out a full year’s policy. This is because contents insurance is calculated on an annual basis.

If you need to move before your policy is up, simply contact your insurer, within the notice period specified on your policy, to let them know that you will be leaving the property and won’t need cover for the remaining time on your policy.

Any further direct debits should be cancelled with instruction from your insurer. If you have paid for the annual policy up front, you will be entitled to a refund for the remaining time.

There is likely to be an admin charge for cancelling your policy early.

 

How do I make a claim on my home contents insurance?

 

No one wants to have to make a claim on their home insurance but should the worst happen there are ways to make the process as smooth as possible.

Our making a home insurance claim guide tells you all you need to know about handling the claims process and which home insurance companies stand out from the pack when the going gets tough.

 

Should I renew my home contents insurance policy?

 

Most home insurance providers save their best offers for new customers which can mean that loyal policyholders often pay more in their second year of cover.

Our guide on how to renew your home insurance shares everything you need to know about renewing your policy and how you can save money on your cover.

 

Does my home contents insurance cover damage by pets?

 

Most home insurance providers don’t offer cover for damage as a result of pets such as dogs, cats and budgies.

Some insurers may cover pet damage if you add full accidental damage to your contents insurance policy.

If you do have any pets, it’s vital to check before you buy a policy, that your home insurance provider will cover any accidental mishaps caused by them.

 

What if I have another question?

 

If you have any more questions about contents insurance, get in touch with our experts on the Which? Money helpline or email us using money-letters@which.co.uk.

 

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