Disabled man stranded after hole opens up in floor of York home – but insurance company ‘didn’t want to know’

Liz Clark with her husband Tim, who has MS. He can't leave his room because of the hole in the floor. Photographs: Nigel Holland
27 Jan 2016 @ 8.21 pm
| News

When a hole opened up in the floor of her York home, stranding her disabled husband in his bedroom, Liz Clark knew what to do – call the insurance company.

After all she had paid her premiums for years, reassured by her broker’s words that they would be there for her in a crisis.

But those promises turned out to be as empty as the void under her floor – leaving Liz “stunned”, “heartbroken” and wondering what to do.

Sudden shock

Liz with Tim's wheelchair and the damaged floor
Liz with Tim’s wheelchair and the damaged floor

The problems began on Saturday night (January 23).

Liz said the floorboards outside the downstairs bedroom in her Haxby home had felt “bouncy” for a while. But suddenly they gave way completely.

When the carpet was pulled up it exposed the scale of the problem: water had seeped into the boards, rotting them until they collapsed.

Liz’s husband Tim has MS. The illness means he uses a wheelchair and sleeps in a downstairs room.

The collapsed floor effectively stranded him in that bedroom as he couldn’t get through.

“Just imagine if he’d have been going through the door and it had collapsed with him there in the wheelchair,” Liz said.

“You can’t bear thinking about it.”

Lack of emergency response

The scale of the damage revealed
The scale of the damage revealed

Liz’s home is insured through Halifax Home Insurance.

At 7am the next day, Sunday, she rang the emergency helpline number on her documents – which was answered by Axa Assistance, who run the line on behalf of the Halifax.

She explained the situation. The Axa assistant said someone would come round by 8.30am.

Liz runs The Wedding Guide UK and had to go to a wedding event in Huddersfield that day. As Tim could not answer the door, she asked that the insurance assessor let themselves in.

But the helpline assistant said that would not be possible: someone had to be there to answer the door to their representative.

So Liz had to knock on her neighbour’s door and ask if she would sit in her house and let in the insurance man.

Nevertheless Liz felt relieved: “Naively I thought we’ll all be sorted by the time I come home.”

‘It couldn’t be worse’

‘I can honestly say I’m heartbroken’ – Liz and Tim Clark
‘I can honestly say I’m heartbroken’ – Liz and Tim Clark

But when she did return that afternoon, there was still no sign of the insurance assessor. The neighbours had organised a rota of shifts, each waiting in Liz’s home in turn, to no avail.

He actually arrived after 5pm. “When he came he said, ‘they’ve given me all these jobs, saying they’re emergencies and yours kept getting pushed down the list’,” Liz said.

“I said my husband is stuck in the bedroom, because where the hole is is right in front of the bedroom door. So we can’t even get him out of the room now. It couldn’t be worse.”

What made it “even more infuriating” was when she told him about having to bring in the neighbours because he couldn’t come in without someone to open the door, he said, “that’s a load of rubbish, of course I would!”

‘I’m heartbroken’

Liz outside their Haxby home, fitted with the wheelchair access ramp
Liz outside their Haxby home, fitted with the wheelchair access ramp

The most likely cause of the damage was water from the adjacent shower room getting into the floor and causing it to rot.

That’s when Halifax Home Insurance told her – hard luck, you’re not covered and we aren’t going to pay out.

“If you have a burst pipe you’re covered. Because it’s supposedly a leak from a seal that’s failed, apparently you’re not covered for that.

“That’s ridiculous. How are we to know it’s the seal that’s gone?”

The news left her “just stunned”.

I’ve told them about Tim. I’ve got a very ill husband, he’s got MS, he can’t move, and we can’t get him out of the bedroom.

I can’t understand how this is happening.

I can honestly say I’m heartbroken.

‘Wasting our money’

Neighbours have rallied round and were working to sort at least a temporary fix to the floor. That enabled Tim to leave the room on Wednesday (January 27) – more than three days after the hole appeared.

“We are so lucky. We’ve got neighbours who are just more than you could ever hope for,” said Liz.

“There’s nothing like a crisis to bring out the best in people. But the people you rely on – the insurance company – don’t want to know.”

They are looking at a potential bill for more than £10,000 to fix both the floor and the specially adapted shower room.

“We don’t have that sat in the bank for doing repairs that we thought were covered by insurance.”

Liz's picture shows the scale of the damage
Liz’s picture shows the scale of the damage

‘What’s the point?’

The experience has left her questioning the point of paying for insurance.

“You think, have we been wasting our money for the last 40 years, paying insurance premiums when nobody has any intention of paying us any money?”

YorkMix contacted both Axa Assistance and Halifax Home Insurance.

A spokesperson for Axa Assistance told us:

We fully sympathise with the customer’s situation and the distress that it has caused.

We are undergoing a full investigation into the events that occurred, and are in contact with the customer and her insurer, to find a solution.

While a spokeswoman for Halifax Home Insurance said:

We are sorry that on this occasion our service did not meet our customer’s expectations.

We have apologised, re-opened the claim, and will be sending a personal claims consultant to assess the damage as soon as possible.

Health concerns

Liz told us her insurers have been back in touch and she was grateful for that. But she was saddened that she had to battle so hard to get a positive response – and worried that others in a similar position might not be able to.

And she was concerned about the impact on her husband’s frail health.

“Stress is one of the worst things for MS. Tim has been quite ill anyway, so we really don’t need this at all.”

She added: “What we have got is nothing, compared to what all these other people in York and other areas are going through with the flooding.”

But she shared their frustrations with the insurance system.

We’ve been married for over 40 years and we’ve owned our own home for all that time.

We pay our premiums for home insurance every year.

You don’t make a claim because you think one day I’m going to need a big one. And then when you do it’s, ‘oh no, sorry. That’s not covered.’