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BC Wildfire Insurance Claims: What You Need to Know

Home Insurance

By Joanne Lemna | July 12, 2017

The BC wildfires are affecting residents across the province and some insurance companies have set up mobile response units to aid customers with their claims, provide guidance, and provide immediate assistance. These units are staffed with adjusters trained to assess wildfire damage and support staff to help you start your claim and receive additional living expense funds.

If your home has been impacted by the wildfires in BC or you’re under an evacuation order for a wildfire, this article will explain what you need to know about making an insurance claim.

#1 – Call Your Insurance Provider

Step one for starting a BC wildfire claim is to call your insurance broker or insurance company. If you’re insured with A-WIN, you can contact us toll-free at 1-866-278-1050 or find your broker here.

You can also submit a claim through us online or find your insurance company’s claims contact number on our Claims page.

If you’re unsure who to call, don’t have your policy information or don’t even remember who you’re insured with don’t worry. You can call IBC at 1-844-227-5422 and they will be able to help you find out who you’re insured with. As Aaron Sutherland, Vice-President of IBC for the Pacific Region, explains, “Our thoughts are with those whose lives have been disrupted and whose homes have been destroyed. The priority right now is the safety of those affected and their loved ones. The insurance industry is here to help. Anyone with questions about their home or business insurance can call their insurance representative or IBC.”

Contacting your insurance provider is essential but it’s not urgent. Don’t worry if you can’t get to it right away – your safety and comfort come first. It is essential as your claim cannot be started until you’ve contacted your insurance provider, but waiting a few hours or a day or two will just mean your claim is started a little later.

If you’re under an evacuation order, you can start a claim – even if you don’t know if your home is damaged or not. This will help you get funds for your additional living expenses coverage.

#2 – Track Your Evacuation Expenses

Additional living expense coverage helps cover those additional expenses you incur for accommodation, transportation, food and other costs while you’re under a mandatory evacuation order (in this case due to wildfire).

In emergency situations, insurance companies may release funds right away. But in most scenarios, you’ll be reimbursed after the fact. It is essential that you keep your receipts. Bought water at the gas station? Staying in an airBnb? Bought groceries or ate at a restaurant? Bought clothing as you left yours all behind? Keep the receipts!

While not every expense may be covered or covered in full, you must have a receipt to get reimbursed at all.

#3 – Calculate Your Additional Living Expense Coverage

You’ll want to know the limit of your additional living expense coverage to help your budgeting while you’re under a mandatory evacuation order. Remember, you may also be forced to stay away from your home for longer if it was damaged or destroyed as it will take some time for repairs or rebuilding to happen.

Keep in mind that additional living expenses only covers costs above and beyond normal living expenses and only up to your policy limit. You’re not off the hook for any payments and this coverage doesn’t cover debt payments (including your mortgage, personal line of credit, credit cards or other loans). You also need to keep all receipts and invoices to submit to your insurance company.

#4 – Prepare for the Claims Process

If you’ve never submitted a claim before, you may feel lost and overwhelmed in the claims process. You may also have questions. Your broker is your insurance resource – we’re here to advocate for you and answer any questions. The IBC can also help at the phone number listed above.

To prepare for the claims process, there are a few things you can do:

  • Document everything! Record the date/time of important events or updates, keep receipts and invoices, and keep a record of all communications.
  • Create a home inventory (there’s more detail about this below).
  • When you’re allowed to return home, document any damage with photos and videos.

Your insurance company will send out their own adjuster to assess the damage, but it’s helpful if you can document the loss as well.

#5 – Create a Home Inventory

Creating a home inventory helps identify everything that was damaged or destroyed.

It’s easiest to do this by going room by room through your home. If your home isn’t safe to enter, you can do this mentally. Use pictures and videos of your home to help jog your memory – family members and friends can also help. Include an item, a description, and value (as is and new).

If you have receipts for any items, they are also a great asset for your claim.

As the claims process continues, your insurance company may ask for receipts, warranties, manuals, photos, valuation certificates or any documentation associated with your personal belongings. This is particularly true of expensive items such as jewellery and camera equipment. Digital copies work if you don’t have paper copies. Of course, it’s perfectly fine if you don’t have any of these documents but anything you have will help.

#6 – When to Pay the Deductible

At one point you will need to pay your deductible. This is the amount you pay out of pocket for whatever claim you make on your policy before your insurance kicks in. The higher the deductible the more you pay towards the claim or cost of repair. For example, if your deductible is $500, you’ll pay that amount (or have it subtracted from your final settlement) and your insurance covers the rest within the bounds of your policy wording and limits.

Note: You do not have to pay a deductible just to make a claim. You only pay it if the claim is covered.

Some insurance companies will waive the deductible if your loss is over a certain amount. Other insurance companies won’t ask you to pay the deductible if you’ve been claims free up to this point (this is called a disappearing deductible where your deductible decreases every year that you don’t have a claim). Talk to your broker to see if you qualify.

#7 – How Long Will The Claims Process Take?

Always wait until your receive the official approval to start cleaning up your property or beginning to make repairs. You want to wait until the insurance adjuster has examined the site as-is and documented the damage.

You should never attempt a clean-up or repair unless authorized by your insurer and only if you have adequate skills. Homes damaged by wildfire can be very dangerous and injury is possible.

Then it’s time to rebuild. Many insurance companies will have preferred vendors which are companies that have been vetted and approved. The advantage to using these companies is that they’ve been screened and will often provide warranties or guarantees for their work. Some insurance companies will also allow you to do your own repairs or find your own vendors – be sure to talk to them to find out if this is an avenue you’d like to pursue.

So how long will settling your claim take? It will depend on how severe and complex your claim is. The situation is compounded in disasters as there are many others who have been affected and are also filing claims. Things will take time but in the interim insurance companies will have provisions in place to help you as much as possible including ways to correct immediate issues.

Labour and material shortages can also impact repair times.

Remember that every insurance company is different and there are many different insurance policies. The coverage you have may be different from what your neighbour has. Keep the lines of communication open with your insurance provider – they are there to help you get back to the same position you were at before the loss. Your broker is also here to help advocate for you and answer your questions.

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