What students need to know about insurance

Many students are pleasantly surprised to find their family’s home insurance policy covers the items they take to college.

By Steve Smethurst 

What do students need to know about insurance? “With the benefit of hindsight, a surprising amount,” says Sam Bradley, who’s just completed three years of study at Nottingham Trent University.

He tells Aviva: “As far back as the whole ‘fresher’s experience’ when I first moved to Nottingham from Kent, I remember seeing adverts for insurance. They were usually gadget-related and aimed at people in halls of residence. The tactic seemed to be to warn everyone that their hall probably didn’t include contents insurance.”

This is an important point because all students should check whether their family home-insurance policy covers their possessions at university, whether they’re living in halls of residence or privately rented accommodation. 

You may already have cover

It might not be widely known, but many policies will do. Aviva Classic home contents insurance, for example, provides £5,000 of cover for contents temporarily removed from the home. This includes students staying in private accommodation as well as halls of residence, as long as they normally live at the family home when not studying.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many concerned freshers bought duplicate insurance for all the laptops, phones and games consoles they had in halls without first checking they were covered on their home policy,” says Sam.

He also recalls that some of the student-accommodation services he encountered included some level of contents insurance as standard. “They weren’t particularly comprehensive and included a significant excess, so I was always put off. But this might be something to think about for anyone moving into a building that ‘includes insurance’ if they already have some level of cover from their home policy.”

Should you take out student cover for your possessions through a separate policy/specialist insurer at your university? It depends on circumstances and how you protect your student belongings is up to you.

But it is worth checking to see whether you already have sufficient cover under your main home policy for your permanent address, otherwise, you run the risk of insuring possessions twice. If you're covered on your family home’s insurance, then you’d need to find out whether you’d be able to opt-out of the accommodation’s built-in cover.

Prized possessions

It’s also not uncommon for students to leave their possessions unattended. Sam was one of the lucky ones. 

“In May 2018 I was on my way home after finishing my last exam at the end of my first year, and I left my laptop on the bus,” he says. 

“Luckily, it was picked up by the bus company and sent to lost property, but I was worried for a while because neither of my parents’ contents insurance policies would cover it and I hadn’t taken out any separate insurance.”

Are laptops insured if you leave them on a bus? Possibly. If you have personal belongings insurance as part of your family’s main home insurance policy, this will provide cover for many things: clothing, jewellery, watches, mobile phones and gadgets like laptops and tablets, sports, musical and photographic equipment, luggage bags and other items designed to be worn or carried, while you're out and about. This covers theft, accidents and accidental loss.

Another area not widely understood is whether you need specialist bike insurance if you have a bicycle. Bicycles can be covered under personal belongings insurance, as an add-on to home contents insurance, and some home-insurance policies have an option to include pedal bikes. So it’s wise to check the cover at your permanent home address, before taking out a new policy.

“Until recently, I owned a relatively expensive mountain bike which I’d always kept at home,” says Sam. “But I would have been sorely tempted to take it to university with me had I known it was easy to insure it or have it covered by an existing policy. 

“I knew several others in my first year who were in a similar situation and not wanting to have a bike stolen. It put a lot of people off bringing them to university and joining cycling societies – so the knowledge that you can add on a bike will be helpful to keen cyclists at universities.”

Accommodation in lockdown

And what if you have to leave your student accommodation uninhabited for several weeks – potentially as a result of another lockdown?

Sam says that a lot of (if not all) student accommodation services he came across in his three years had a requirement written into their contracts for tenants to notify the property managers and/or landlords of any long periods during which they will be absent from the accommodation – usually for periods longer than two weeks. We recommend you check tenancy agreements for this requirement.

“I can’t be certain this was for insurance purposes, but in halls of residence at least, I found there was a definite recommendation to take any valuables with us if we left for any length of time.”

Many policies will have exclusions in place if accommodation is left empty, for example over the summer holiday period, so it’s best to check with your insurer, to understand any restrictions. 

Living in the family home while studying

Sam decided to stay in Nottingham during the coronavirus lockdown, but would he have needed special student insurance to cover his possessions if he’d been living at his family home while studying?

This is an easy one. There are no special restrictions if you're living at your main family address while you’re studying. However, it’s worth remembering that you're only covered up to a certain limit on your family’s home contents policy if you’re living away from home. 

This will depend on your cover and the policy limit. For items temporarily removed from the home, under Aviva Classic home insurance, the limit is £5,000 in total. For personal belongings, this will depend on the policy limit chosen when the insurance was taken out.

Cover starts from £2,000 and any individual item over a certain limit - typically £2,000 - needs to be specified on the policy.

Finally, although it’s rare, thefts do happen. With Aviva contents insurance you would still be insured for perils such as flood and fire if you happen to leave your door unlocked.

However, theft is far a bigger risk and you would not be covered for theft if there is no forced entry – if someone walked into your unlocked room and took your laptop, for example. And where insurance is concerned, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

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