Insurers warn homes to be cautious in hot weather as fire claims increase


There has been a rise in reports of fire incidents at households across the UK since lockdown began, new research has revealed.

Multiple insurers have reported an increase in home insurance claims made by customers after fires started at their homes, with barbecues and bonfires proving to be the main cause of the problems. 

Aviva said it had seen a number of scenarios including hot cinders setting fire to bins, explosions from gas canisters and the heat from barbecues melting conservatories.

It added there was evidence of people burning household rubbish and garden waste on bonfires or in incinerators, while local refuse sites have been closed.

There has been a rise in fire incidents at households across the UK since lockdown began

There has been a rise in fire incidents at households across the UK since lockdown began

In some cases, fires have got out of hand or embers have blown away, causing damage to sheds, fences and garages.

Andrew Morrish, UK Claims Director for Aviva, said: ‘Thankfully fires are relatively rare and one of the least common causes of household claims. But their impact can be catastrophic, so any increase in fire claims is a cause for concern.

‘We’ve seen numerous examples where people think they’ve put fires out, only to find that stray embers have led to chaos. And in a number of cases, fires have started in neighbour’s gardens and spread to our customers’ properties.

‘Whether people are enjoying a barbecue with their families or tempted to get rid of their garden waste with a home bonfire, we’d urge caution, particularly during fine, dry weather. 

‘An unattended flame or a stray spark can quickly lead to a dramatic blaze, so it pays to take all possible precautions.’

Admiral Home Insurance added that its data shows that garden related fire claims accounted for 39 per cent of all fire claims from the end of March to the end of April.

It has seen three times as many claims for fires caused by barbecues and bonfires compared with the same period in 2018, 50 per cent more than the same period last year and is continuing to receive more claims as lockdown progresses.

David Fowkes, Head of Household Underwriting at Admiral, said: ‘We’ve definitely seen a recent spike in the number of fire claims related to barbecues, bonfires and the burning of garden waste since lockdown began.

‘Even more concerning though, is the rise in claims relating to bonfires where they haven’t been controlled, extinguished properly or started too close to other buildings or fences.

‘We think this is down to some people being tempted to burn their garden waste or rubbish because some council waste collections have been disrupted and many tips across the UK are closed. 

‘In these cases, it’s all too easy for the wrong items to end up on a bonfire which can cause plumes of acrid smoke or toxic chemicals being released and even explosions.

‘The last thing anyone wants to do is put any unnecessary pressure on our emergency services right now, but unfortunately fires can and do get out of control. If you’re planning a barbecue or bonfire, take extra care and think twice about your own safety and the safety of those around you.’

AXA also said it had seen an increase in claims this year. A spokesperson said: ‘The number of fire claims AXA receives each year is relatively minor compared to the total number of home claims, however they do tend to increase during the summer months as more people enjoy barbeques, fire pits or chimineas outside.

‘Due to lockdown, this amount has increased slightly more than usual, particularly for fire claims involving our insured or their neighbours’ gardens. Examples received over the past few weeks include fires caused by barbeques, cigarettes that have not been extinguished properly or bonfires which have gotten out of control.’

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Direct Line said it too had seen a rise in claims and warned households about their electricity usage as well as their barbecue and bonfire handling. 

A Direct Line spokesperson said: ‘With more people staying at home due to the lockdown, Direct Line have seen an increase in accidental fire damage claims such as; kitchen fires and damage caused to neighbouring properties.

‘It is incredibly important that householders working from home with more devices plugged in charging throughout the day and overnight, do not overload plug sockets.’

Meanwhile, Halifax Home Insurance has received 262 fire claims between March and May with a peak of 109 claims in May 2020. This is a 13 per cent increase from the same months in 2019 and a 15 per cent increase from 2018.

Some have been burning household rubbish on bonfires while local refuse sites were closed

Some have been burning household rubbish on bonfires while local refuse sites were closed

How to be safe when having a barbecue or bonfire

This is Money, with the help of Aviva home insurance, has put together a list of tips of what you can do to ensure you are safe when having a barbecue or bonfire.  

Don’t leave fires unattended: It only takes a few seconds for a fire to get out of control, so the rule is simple – always have someone to keep watch over any barbecue or fire.

Be cautious with accelerants: If a fire is slow to start, it can be tempting to use an accelerant to give flames a boost. But a little can go a long way and a small spark can quickly become a huge inferno – so exercise caution if you need to use them at all.

Be mindful of weather conditions: If rainfall has been scarce, grass and plants are likely to catch fire much more easily. Windy conditions are also a hazard as they can quickly spread flames over a large area in a small space of time, so be sure to pick the right conditions for your blaze.

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Take it to the tip: Garden waste and bags of rubbish can be an unsightly source of clutter. But it’s much safer to wait until you have access to a refuse site, than risk a fire.

Know the rules: There are no laws against having a bonfire, but there are restrictions regarding the nuisance they can cause – for example in relation to pollution or health hazards to others. Neighbours can also report you if they feel your bonfire is causing a nuisance – which could lead to a fine of up to £5,000.

Give a thought to wildlife: If you’ve built up garden waste to make a bonfire, this can provide an attractive home for garden wildlife, such as hedgehogs and nesting birds. If you are going to set light to your bonfire, take a few minutes to make sure no-one is living in it.

Dispose of barbecues, cinders and matches responsibly: If your barbecue has gone without a hitch, it’s still vital to pay attention at the end of the proceedings. Make sure any coals are not still glowing before you dispose of them and be careful where you discard matches or cigarettes. Bins can quickly catch fire from a stray spark.

Keep a bucket of water or sand on stand-by: Hopefully a precaution that you won’t need to use, but it’s much better to be prepared so you can respond quickly if a fire does get out of hand.

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