Belfast Telegraph

House cover that leaves us out in the cold

By Paul Gosling

Question: I am visiting my daughter in New Zealand for two months during this winter. As a requirement of our household insurance policy with Churchill, we are required to turn off all services - gas, electricity and water.

This would disable our burglar alarms and the central heating, risking frozen pipes. MB, by email.

Answer: A spokesperson for Churchill, a division of the Royal Bank of Scotland, says: "Our unoccupied properties policy is based on a property being permanently unoccupied, such as following a death or when vacating the property, and we require customers to turn off the electricity, gas and oil supplies at the mains, unless it is necessary to maintain central heating. To date we have handled short-term absences of over 30 days on a case-by-case basis.

However, your reader's case highlights that extended holidays of 30 days or more require a different approach, and we will be reviewing our policy going forwards." Not withstanding the implied promise of the change in policy conditions, you have understandably decided that the conditions as they currently stand do not make sense. You have accordingly taken out a policy with another insurer, who does not impose these conditions.

Question: In April 2010 my husband and I travelled in a group of six to Zambia to visit a school we support in Mkushi. When we got to Lusaka to fly home we were unable to do so owing to the volcanic ash. We were stuck in Lusaka for nine days. While BA passengers had their accommodation paid for and were given a daily food allowance, we received nothing from our airline.

We flew from Manchester to Amsterdam with KLM and believed that KLM was "our airline" and that it had a duty of care to us. Our flights from Amsterdam to Lusaka, returning to Manchester, were with Kenya Airways. Eventually Kenya Airways gave us a small amount towards three nights' accommodation, but nothing for food. We were flown back to Heathrow, not Manchester. When we contacted KLM, it told us to contact Air France. In August, Air France told us to contact Kenya Airways. We are £1,300 out of pocket. MW, Melton Mowbray.

Answer: You contacted us in December and we have been liaising with the airlines regularly ever since. KLM is now owned by Air France, which has an arrangement with Kenya Airways to complete onward transmission to some destinations in Africa.

But Air France insists that flights operated by Kenya Airways are not the responsibility of Air France. We have spoken with the European Commission, which explains that its regulations governing compensation for delayed flights affect airlines registered in the EU and flights that originate within the EU. But flights into the EU from outside - such as your cancelled flight - are not governed by EU compensation requirements.

In March Kenya Airways offered, as a goodwill gesture, to repay half the cost of your additional accommodation, which it accepted as being £642.29, so you were sent a payment of £321.15. You have argued that this underpays the amount you were promised as it excludes three nights' accommodation that were accounted for separately. Kenya Airways has declined to pay for this element of your stay as the hotel manager said that this had been paid for by a voucher supplied by the airline. You tell us that in fact you had to purchase the voucher for use at the hotel - though this arrangement mystifies us.

Despite your explanation, Kenya Airways declines to pay more. Your experience underlines the benefits of flying with an EU carrier - and that travellers should check before making a booking exactly which airline they will be flying with and what compensation arrangements are in place. Kenya Airways apologises for the difficulties you suffered, but points out that the cancellations were beyond its control.

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