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Families facing repair bills for two out of three water leaks

5th May 2015

'If the leak is not on the external pipe, it could be under the house somewhere - so it’ll be up to you to find it'

Families only have a one-in-three chance of getting a water leak fixed for free by Irish Water - which means many will have to pay the repair bills for leaks themselves. This is because most water leaks occur within the home itself, rather than on the external supply pipe - the pipe located between the water meter box and the point of entry to a property. Under Irish Water's planned 'first fix' scheme - which was published earlier this month by the Commission for Energy Regulation (the water regulator) - households will be entitled to have the first leak identified on the external water supply pipe repaired - but internal leaks within the home won't be covered. Almost two-thirds of leaks are in the home, according to investigations conducted by Irish Water during a 'first fix' pilot scheme last year. "Faulty toilet cisterns were the source of the majority of internal leaks identified," said a spokeswoman for Irish Water. Only 37pc of the total leaks identified during the pilot scheme were on the external supply pipe and therefore covered by the scheme. So if there is a similar pattern of leakage problems across the country to those identified in the pilot, families will have to foot the repair bill for about two-thirds of the leaks in their homes. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that Irish Water will repair a leak on your external supply pipe for free - under its proposed 'first fix' scheme, the company will only fix leaks in properties which are losing about 53,000 litres of water a year. That's about a third of the amount of water that an average household uses a year. Even if you are eligible for a free repair, chances are you will have to pay to repair any damage caused to expensive paving while an external pipe is being fixed - as Irish Water plans to only reinstate any paving damaged during leak repair works to a standard finish. The repair bill for a stone or brick driveway could easily run into the hundreds. Surely my insurance will cover leak repairs? While you have a certain amount of cover for internal leaks if you have home insurance, you are usually only covered for the cost of any damage caused by internal leaks - and not for plumbing repairs. Aviva's home insurance, for example, covers loss or damage to buildings (including driveways) and contents in the home caused by a water leak. "If a customer is trying to find the source of a water leak causing damage (within the boundary of their home), which is covered by the policy, we cover them for up to €1,000 under our 'trace-and-access' benefit," said a spokeswoman for Aviva. "However, there is no cover for fixing the leak itself, so any damage done during leak repair works would not be covered on our policy." As you could face a bill running into the thousands to find an internal leak, you could really find yourself out of pocket here. "In some situations, there may be no evidence that water is leaking in your home," said Jim Flannery, director of the loss assessors, Balcombes Claims Management. "The only evidence might be through the meter reading. If the leak is not on the external pipe, it could be under the house somewhere - so you'll need to find it. Most home insurance policies have a small limit on the amount of cover they'll give to trace and access a leak. It's usually around the €650 to €750 mark. "You could have to dig up a concrete floor to find a leak. Depending on the surfaces on top of the concrete floor, you could run up a bill of several hundred euro when doing so. On top of that, if you have a tiled or wooden floor that needs to be replaced after digging up a concrete floor beneath it, the bill could run into thousands of euro." There could also be water leaks outside your home, which aren't on the external water pipe and which you could have to foot the repair bill for. Such repairs won't be covered by Irish Water's 'first fix' scheme - and may not be covered by your insurance. "Leaks can commonly occur in pipes outside the house that are serving garden water features and outside taps," said Howard Cummins, FBD's consumer manager. Do insurers cover the loss of metered water? Most insurers don't cover the loss of metered water following a leak. Some take the view that as water charges are capped at up to €260 a year until 2018, there is little point in covering the loss of metered water - because the most that a household can be charged is €260 a year, no matter how serious the leak. Allianz is updating its home insurance policies to provide up to €1,000 cover for the loss of metered water. "We will pay the cost incurred following the escape of metered water from any plumbing or heating system, fixed water apparatus or domestic appliance - as long as the damage arose from an insured cause," said a spokesman for Allianz. Zurich offers up to €1,000 cover for the loss of metered water as long as it arises from "accidental damage to the water installation". Once the cap on water charges is lifted in 2018, other insurers may well be covering the loss of metered water - but who knows where the water charges saga will be by then.
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