Hello! My name is Kim, I’m a middle aged mother of two with a history degree and a love of nature, broken things and weird stuff. I live (or rather used to live) in a little cottage in a village in Suffolk. You know the sort I mean. A cosy little home with an open fire and an all round feeling of safety and comfort?
My family (my husband, our oldest son and I) moved to Pendle Cottage in June 2014 from a busy nearby town. We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle and start a new life in the country. And found a little picturesque thatched cottage – my dream house.
Little did we know that just a couple of years later, our new rural life in our Suffolk Cottage would be taken away from us. There was a burst mains water pipe. But it wasn’t the flood damage that was the problem – it was our insurance company! More than three years later I still have to battle with NFU Mutual to get anywhere.
Look at their website and you can see why we chose them. ‘No two homes are the same, so neither is our approach to protecting them. Whether you live in a town house, a listed building or a thatched cottage, we’ve got you covered.’
The reality, however, is very different to the promise.
The Story So Far – How everything is a battle with NFU Mutual
In late 2017, we lodged a claim to our insurers the NFU Mutual, after a water mains leak affected our small Grade II Listed Suffolk cottage. The first part of the claim did not proceed smoothly (long story – for later) and we contacted the Financial Ombudsman Service to investigate on our behalf. The FOS found in our favour and agreed that both the loss adjuster and the surveyor gave poor service. Nonetheless, the NFU Mutual kept both parties on to complete our claim.
New builders were employed (the third lot) to carry out the repairs and work proceeded. But, things weren’t right. In a meeting in November 2019, I told the surveyor that the repairs were not right and asked for a second opinion.
The surveyor agreed to have his structural engineer inspect. I accompanied him and watched him question the builder – it didn’t go well! The structural engineer compiled a damning report. It said that the repairs were really bad. So poor in fact, that in order to complete the works to the specification agreed by the Heritage Office, all the work carried out by these third set of builders needed to be stripped back and started again from scratch.
Shockingly, the surveyor withheld this report and instructed his engineer to write a new one. Why on earth would he do this? Later, I gained a copy of the original report.
The Second Complaint
In November 2019, I lodged a second complaint to the NFU Mutual. It was based on my suspicions that the repairs being carried out to our cottage were not right and I asked them to investigate. I was ignored. In December, hearing nothing from either the insurance company nor anyone else, I wrote an email to everyone. I demanded a written explanation by 5pm the same day. I was still ignored.
Took Away the Keys
Knowing the extent of the issues, but having no evidence, I was distraught! I decided to take the keys of the cottage away so that no further damage could be done. Even my husband thought that this was ‘over the top’, but surely, FINALLY they had to listen to me!
But they didn’t! Instead, I was told that taking away the keys was a criminal offense. If I didn’t replace the keys, legal action could be taken against me. They also threatened that I was to be held accountable for the builder’s costs because of my action.
They Accused Me of Being Unreasonable
At this point NFU Mutual did get involved, but instead of being sympathetic to my plight, they accused me of being unreasonable. The battle with NFU had begun in earnest. They inferred that although they would pay this time, future investigation works would need to be paid by me. Also, as we would soon need to vacate the rental property, because the works were drawing to an end (!!!). They said that if we wanted to stay there longer we would have to pay the rent!
This was devastating! I didn’t know what to do!
Over the Christmas holiday in 2019, we hired our own structural engineer. He confirmed that the repairs looked very wrong and advised us to contact the local Conservation Officer for help.
After his inspection, the CO authorised the Planning Enforcement Office to issue a caution under Section 9 of The Planning Act 1990, due to unauthorised work. This was issued to the claims handler at NFU who was instantly ‘whisked away’.
We were then assigned another claims handler, the third, and, as they advised us, the most senior.
The Meeting which was Supposed to Get to the Bottom of It
It wasn’t until March 2020, a full four months after our original formal complaint, that a meeting took place between everyone involved. This is where it all got even more suspicious…
Instead of NFU Mutual investigating the issues to get to the bottom of the problems, they and their people were gathering evidence against me!
Before the meeting, NFU Mutual requested that I supply evidence of where the work was poor or where the work was non-existent. I wrote up a report and highlighted the specification of repairs where there were irregularities. Unbelieveably, instead of using this evidence to get to the bottom of the issues, they gave this to their people ahead of the meeting. This meant that they had the opportunity to concoct excuses.
Now, you may think that I’m over-reacting here, but if I’m wrong and that wasn’t the case, then why weren’t we given the same courtesy? Although NFU instructed the surveyor to supply us with the builder’s responses to our queries, somehow he ‘forgot’! This put me in a very difficult position. I was having to read their report at the same time as being interrogated. I was then accused of not being prepared.
We thought this meeting would highlight how bad things were and we could move on. No way did I expect to have battle NFU Mutual as well as their builders.
They Had No Intention of Listening to Me
Attendees to the meeting were officials from the local council, people from the NFU, various experts and the builders. They were all men. In the meeting it was me and my husband who were ‘put on trial’. It was obvious they were punishing me for my report and for picking at their work. Only once was anyone on my side. The structural engineer (who wrote the damning report) backed me up when we were arguing about screws!
I have never felt so intimidated or so vulnerable. I can truly say that it was one of the worst days of my life! Mind you, when you feel like a rat backed into a corner – that’s how you behave! I really did give as good as I got. I confonted the surveyor about lying and withholding the evidence which told the truth. He just calmly replied that he hadn’t lied. Just like that!
I had the evidence in front of me and had told everyone but it made no difference. Afterwards we asked the two representatives from the NFU to accompany us to my office in the garden. They reluctantly agreed but would not even sit down and talk to us, hurrying off to speak to their lying surveyor. They just said: ‘But Gary works on all our big jobs!’
This situation did affect me quite badly for weeks afterwards. We were expecting justice but we got none. And even now, it’s almost as if I have PTSD when I think about it.
Since that meeting, NFU Mutual have done nothing. Everything is a battle with NFU Mutual. Their complaints handler still hasn’t given us a response to the complaint. We have written to the GCE (Group Chief Executive) on several occasions. The claims handler gives the impression that he couldn’t care less. Everything, since early 2018, has been left to their surveyor. This man has lied to us, covered up for himself and the builders, withheld information and ignored our concerns. More recently, he even contacted our new Structural Engineer behind our back. Why?
Eventually, we insisted that the claim be finalised by a cash settlement. And this is where we are at the moment. The NFU Mutual are not taking any responsibility for the position they have put us through. They have not apologised and they aren’t even bothering to reply to our emails within THEIR five day response policy. They are being completely unreasonable. Their cash settlement offer won’t cover the repairs. I really don’t know when this will all come to an end.
What’s next for this little Suffolk Cottage?
Three years and four months since we lodged our claim, and my dear little Suffolk cottage, my dream home, is deteriorating by the day. My battle with NFU continues. The NFU Mutual are more interested in arguing about competitive prices than meeting their responsibilities.
Our second complaint to the Financial Ombudsman has been lodged and they have advised us that they have started their investigations…