British couple warn of 90-day rule and French burglary insurance

They were told their insurance claim was invalid because their property had not been occupied for 90 days, even though Covid restrictions meant they could not visit

29 December 2021

The couple found that their front door and frame had been wrecked, a shutter forced open and €3,000 of possessions stolen Pic: SpeedKingz / Shutterstock

By Brian McCulloch

A British couple are warning other holiday home owners in France to check their insurance contracts after falling foul of a 90-day habitation clause due to Covid travel restrictions.

Terry and Linda Costello, who live near Newcastle, bought their holiday home in the commune of Availles-Limouzine (Vienne) in 2014, and insured it through their local Groupama insurance agency.

Police uninterested, insurer offers €700 on a €3000 claim

When they visited in September for the first time since the pandemic began, they were met with an unpleasant surprise.

They found that their front door and frame had been wrecked, a shutter forced open and €3,000 of possessions stolen.

“The gendarmes were absolutely not interested in anything about the burglary,” said Mr Costello. “They said we should go to the insurers and that was all they did.”

When they put in a claim for €3,000 to cover the cost of the stolen items, the couple were confident that they were protected by their insurance which included provision for replacing stolen goods.

“But then they told us that because the house had not been occupied for 90 days, the claim was not valid,” Mr Costello added.

“They did though offer to pay €700 which we rejected, and when we asked by email to be put through to the complaints department they did not reply.

“It has made me very angry because they always knew it was a holiday home, and so for many people the 90-day period is unreasonable.

“And even though most years we would have been visiting often enough to be within the 90 days, this year we could not do so because of all the restrictions over Covid.  

“We are being punished for obeying the government’s rules.”

90-day rule can be removed for holiday homes

After talking to friends, Mr Costello realised that many of them had no idea of the 90-day habitation rule, which is a standard condition of French house insurance, but which can be removed from the small print for holiday homes.

“I feel that people need to be told about this so they do not get the double shock we did, first from the criminals and then from the insurance people.”

A spokeswoman for Groupama’s head office said each regional caisse under the insurance company’s co-operative status had its own rules as to how to handle cases like the Costellos’.

For the local caisse, a spokeswoman said one of their inspectors had evaluated the claim at €2,000 and not €3,000 and that she could not say why the Costellos’ claim had been devalued by €1,000 by the inspector, because she had not seen the report.

“We made an offer of €700 and when it was refused made another offer of €1,000 which was also refused,” she said.

“We feel we have done a lot -- especially given the circumstances of the claim.”

The insurance industry trade body Fédération Française de l’Assurance told The Connexion there were no national guidelines for handling cases under the 90-day habitation rule and it was up to every insurance company to make their own rules.

People who have a problem with their insurers have to first go to the insurance mediator, but only after having received two written refusals from different levels of management in the insurance company.

Figures from the mediator showed 17,400 people came to it in 2020 with claims against insurance companies, of which only 30% could be processed under its rules.

From those, there were 3,600 recommendations made and just 700 cases where a settlement was reached.

After mediation, cases can be taken to court, but the Costellos say they just want to put the case behind them, and warn others.

“I feel we have been badly treated, and want to warn others about this 90-day rule and the way the insurers are using it,” Mr Costello said.

Related stories 

Reader experiences: Dealing with a burglary in France

What to do (and not to do) after a home burglary in France

French law: Court case highlights rules for insurance and shutters

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