Proving ownership of household items when claiming from your insurer is not as easy as it may seem, says the Ombudsman for Short-Term Insurance, Dennis Jooste. Often consumers do not have a proper inventory of their household possessions before submitting a claim or even when they take out cover.

One reason a detailed, up-to-date inventory is important is the so-called “average” clause in a typical householder’s policy. This stipulates that if your household contents are insured for less than their actual replacement value, the insurer is entitled to pay you a lower amount proportionate to the difference.

For example, Mary insured the contents of her house for R100 000 but did not have a detailed inventory, so she did not know the true replacement value of her possessions. After she was robbed and submitted a claim to her insurer, she drew up a list of all the items in her home, including those that had been stolen, and realised that she should have been insured for R200 000. She was therefore insured for 50 percent of her contents and was paid out only 50 percent of her claim.

The ombudsman’s office offers the following guidelines for consumers:

* Create and maintain an inventory of your household items and keep a separate insurance file. An inventory is a list that records all your valuable items, when and where you bought the item and how much it cost. Having an inventory will save you time when you submit a claim, as the insurer will ask you to provide proof of the existence of all stolen items. It can also serve as a guideline to how much you will recover from your insurer in the event of a claim. Remember to update your inventory regularly.

* Keep copies of receipts for household items bought. These can be kept together with the inventory. Some insurers may not compensate you for a claim if you fail to provide the original invoice or receipt. Also maintain a list with the serial numbers of all your higher-valued electronic items.

* Take photographs. It’s a good idea to take photographs of the different rooms in your home. This may go some way to establishing what was in your home and that you owned the items you are claiming for. It will also provide you with a visual record of the items in the different rooms.

* Jewellery. Many insurers require that you specify on your policy jewellery items that exceed a certain value. In the event of a claim, your insurer may ask for valuation certificates. It is important that you keep all valuation certificates safe and update them regularly with a reputable jeweller.

“Remember always to provide true and complete information to your insurer, including when you are claiming. Do not claim for a more expensive item than you originally owned or for an item you did not own, because your entire claim may possibly be repudiated by your insurance company as a fraudulent claim,” Jooste says.