It has already been an ­exceptional winter for storm and flood damage, and it is safe to assume there is more bad weather to come, which means it is vital to keep your home fully insured and - to avoid a rejected claim - well maintained.

Insurance trade body the ABI puts the total bill for weather damage over the Christmas and New Year period at £426 million, even before the huge bill for dealing with English floods.

Aidan Kerr, the ABI's head of property, said the "traumatic" effects on those affected this winter show "the importance of having adequate property insurance".

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Insurer RIAS, which provides cover to the over 50s, says it has received six times more wind-related claims and four times more water damage claims in recent weeks than a year ago.

According to the AA's ­insurance premium index the average cost of a buildings policy fell by 8.3% to £125 last year while combined buildings and contents cover fell by 8.5% to £165.

Yet many people are failing to protect their homes. RIAS managing director Peter Corfield said: "Our latest figures show that 6% of over 50s have no level of home insurance cover in place, and it remains the type of cover most at risk of being cancelled or reduced."

Everyone who owns property should have a buildings policy, but it could be a false ­economy to accept the cheapest quote without checking the small print.

Simon Douglas at AA ­Insurance said: "It is important not to confuse cheap premiums with value for money - make sure that the cover you buy does what you need it to."

But it is not enough to just have the right insurance. It is essential to keep your property well maintained, too, and to take reasonable steps to protect it. If you don't, any claim you make is likely to be refused on the grounds that your negligence contributed to the damage.

The latest edition of the ­Financial Ombudsman Service's newsletter describes a claim that was rejected on this basis.

The policyholder said a storm damaged their roof, allowing water to seep in and ruin décor and belongings, but after having the property inspected, the insurer concluded the real culprit was poor workmanship when new guttering was installed.

The claimant appealed but the ombudsman upheld the insurer's decision, leaving them badly out of pocket.

To protect your home - and ensure you have the best possible chance of succeeding if you have to claim - check all roofs, including garages and other outbuildings, for missing slates, and get a reputable contractor to carry out any necessary repairs.

Don't let snow accumulate on conservatory or extension roofs, and make sure all gutters, gullies and drains, including downpipes, are clear of leaves.

To minimise damage in high winds, secure gates, garden furniture and anything else left outside, and cut down low hanging branches.

To reduce the risk of a burst pipe, ensure pipes and tanks are well lagged, and make sure you know where the stopcock is so you can turn it off in a hurry.

If you are going to be away, leave the heating on for at least an hour a day at 10 to 15 degrees and open the loft hatch so warm air can circulate. Consider asking someone you trust to visit every day, so if a pipe does burst, it will be detected as soon as possible.

If you are going to be absent for a long time, shut down the heating system, turn off the stopcock and drain everything.

Boiler failure is another common cold weather emergency. To cut your risk of being left without hot water and heating, have it serviced annually by a registered Gas Safe professional and ensure the external drain-away pipe is properly insulated.

Listen out for weather warnings on local radio or TV, or log on to the Met Office website (, where you can also sign up for email alerts.

If your property is at particular risk, have an emergency kit, including a torch, camera, batteries, warm clothing and blankets, boots, gloves, a first aid kit, prescribed medication, your insurer's helpline and other important numbers accessible.

If you are vulnerable to flooding, plan where family members and pets would go in an emergency, and move personal items upstairs, especially anything with sentimental value.

If your home is flooded or damaged, call your insurer as soon as possible for advice and to register your claim.

Mr Corfield said: "There are steps homeowners can take to make their homes as safe as possible against storm damage, but it is also really important to take the time to read through and understand your insurance policy documentation, to ensure it provides adequate cover for what matters most to you."