Home insurance: flooding and subsidence

Home insurance

Home insurance: flooding and subsidence

By Simon Miller

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Home insurance: flooding and subsidence

Find out how to check if your property is at risk of flooding or subsidence, how to minimise this risk, and how to find appropriate cover for these problems.

We explain the issues you could face and how to combat them.

Flooding

How can I tell if I live in a flood-prone area?

You can check by visiting the Environment Agency website, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency or, for Northern Ireland, the Rivers Agency. All three have maps showing areas that may be at risk of flooding from rivers and the seas, which should give you a good idea.

What is groundwater flooding and am I covered for it?

Groundwater flooding occurs when heavy rainfall causes the water table to rise, which makes it difficult for storm sewers and drainage networks to function properly. According to the UK Groundwater Forum, thousands of homes are flooded in this way every year.

However, many insurance companies do not cover groundwater flooding and, to make matters worse, do not always draw a clear distinction between what is covered and what isn’t in their policy documents. If you think you live in an area that is susceptible to groundwater flooding, phone your insurer before you buy to make sure you are covered.

Find out more: Best and worst home insurance – the biggest insurers rated

Will I struggle to get cover if I live in a flood-prone area?

Currently, under an agreement between the insurance industry and the government, known as the Statement of Principles, insurers cannot refuse to cover homes at risk of being flooded as long as the government continues to fund flood defences in that region.

However, with at-risk homes routinely paying much more for cover, a new scheme – called Flood Re – was launched in April 2016 to ensure that homeowners with flood-prone properties are provided more affordable cover.

Under the government-backed scheme, the cost of insurance in flood-prone areas is capped at £210 a year for homes in council tax band A and £1,200 a year for council tax band H properties.

If you live in flood-prone area, the following companies should be able to help you find affordable home insurance: Admiral, Avantia, Aviva, Bank of Scotland, Cherish Home Insurance, Churchill, Direct Line, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Legal & General, LV, Lloyds Bank, More Than, Nationwide and Privilege. More companies are expected to go live shortly.

You can buy cover as you normally would, via comparison sites or direct.

The insurance industry will pay for the scheme, but some of the cost is expected to be passed on to customers. It is estimated that the average cost of a policy could increase by £10.50.

Find out more: Visit the Flood Re website

How can I protect myself against flooding?

There are a number of steps you can take to protect your home from floods, including:

  • replacing timber floors with concrete and covering with tiles
  • replacing chipboard/MDF kitchen and bathroom units with plastic equivalents
  • moving boilers and electrical points well above the likely flood level
  • installing one-way valves into drainage pipes to avoid sewage backing up into the house.

If a flood is imminent, the following can help minimise the damage:

  • clearing all debris from drains and gutters to allow rainfall to drain away
  • safely locking away outdoor furniture that may float or blow away
  • placing valuables, electrical goods and important documents either upstairs or in high cupboards
  • buying air brick covers or flood boards to block doorways
  • making a list of emergency numbers, including your local council, your insurers and Floodline (which can be reached on 0345 988 1188).

Subsidence

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is caused when the soil, usually clay, on which houses are built shrinks or swells, depending on the weather. The movement of the ground can cause damage to the property, and the problem is often worsened by extreme weather such as cold snaps, dry summers and heavy rainfall.

How can I spot subsidence?

Cracks appearing on the walls are usually a sign of subsidence, but they could be caused by something else. Your property may be experiencing ‘settlement’, which occurs when a building settles under its own weight. This is common in new buildings and extensions.

However, if new or expanding cracks appear, doors or windows stick for no particular reason, and rippling wallpaper is not caused by damp, there is a chance you may have subsidence.

What impact will subsidence have on my home insurance?

While damage to your property caused by subsidence is usually covered, there's often a larger excess – normally £1,000 or more. Also be aware that buildings policies usually only cover subsidence damage to the house itself: patios, garden walls, driveways and swimming pools aren't usually covered, unless your house is damaged at the same time. Storm damage to gates, fences and boundary walls is normally not covered either.

However, terms and conditions relating to subsidence vary from insurer to insurer, so if you think you may have to claim, check your policy documents carefully.

If you’ve made a claim for subsidence in the past year and are now looking to switch, many new insurers will decline you. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors can provide further practical advice and can recommend a specialist if you suspect your property has subsidence.

Can I reduce the risk of subsidence?

There are some steps you can take to try and lessen the risk of falling victim to subsidence. Try not to plant trees too close to your property, as they take a significant amount of water from the soil, causing it to shrink, and ensure you properly maintain pipes round your property. Leaking water can wash soil away from foundations.