Flooding and Home Insurance

UK homes face an increasing risk of flooding as heavy rainfall and violent storms become more frequent and widespread due to climate change. Flooding can be a frightening as well as costly experience to go through, so having the right insurance to provide financial protection against its effects is vital for homeowners and those who rent alike.

Millions of homes at increased risk of flooding

There are three main reasons that flooding in Britain is likely to get worse:

  • The climate is getting wetter, with experts predicting more frequent and violent storms.
  • The UK’s flood defences aren’t good enough to cope.
  • Modern house building and farming methods have decreased the land’s ability to soak up water.

The statistics back this up: over the last ten years the Environment Agency says that the number of homes at risk has jumped to just over one in six in England and Wales.

Can you afford to be incorrectly insured?

Whether it’s due to natural causes such as heavy rain, or man-made ones such as broken water mains or blocked drains, flooding can ruin the parts of a home that are very costly to repair and replace; from carpets and white goods to masonry and foundations. A recent estimate in the Guardian put the average claim for flood damage at £30,000 to £40,000, which is a huge sum for most people to suddenly have to find if they didn’t have the right cover. Without home insurance that includes cover for flooding, you could find yourself in serious financial trouble, and possibly even homeless.

Are you insured against flooding?

Most standard home insurance policies cover you for flooding. However, nearly all insurers expect you to indicate whether you live on, or near a flood plain, when you take out a policy and getting this wrong could potentially prevent you from being able to make a future claim. Additionally, some policies often have a far greater number of exclusions and expect a greater degree of protective measures to be taken (moving white goods and furniture upstairs, for example) than other types of standard cover.

Types of flooding covered by home insurance

Your home insurance should cover you for flooding, and the escape of water, when the source of the problem is from outside your property and whether its cause is natural or man-made (such as a burst water main). Types of flooding typically covered in a standard home insurance policy include:

  • Rivers, lakes etc. overflowing
  • Coastal flooding
  • Surface water flooding
  • Groundwater flooding
  • Drain and sewer flooding
  • Broken water mains flooding

How do you know if you’re at risk of flooding?

It’s your responsibility to check if you’re in an area which is deemed to be ‘at risk’ of flooding. These areas usually concern houses that sit in flood plains, where flooding has occurred previously and is likely to do so again. There are a number of ways to check where your home lies in relation to flood zones:

  • Call your local council, which should be able to tell you if your home is in a flood risk area after you’ve provided them with your postcode.
  • Check the Environment Agency’s website where you can search by postcode. For England and Wales it’s:http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/. For Scotland it’s: http://www.sepa.org.uk/flooding.aspx.
  • Your insurer may also provide some assistance if you’re still not sure, as they have flood experts who might be able to check on your behalf.
  • Some of the insurers offering the highest level of flood cover also advice on weather warnings, which can certainly help if you think your home may be at risk.

However, you shouldn’t just consider flooding caused by rivers and the sea, but also by reservoirs overflowing, and by surface water and groundwater flooding.

Tell your insurer

Insurers need to know where your home is in relation to flood zones so that they can assess how much of a ‘risk’ you are, and set your premiums accordingly. If you don’t indicate that your home lies in an ‘at risk’ area, and you subsequently have to make a claim for water damage, the claim might be rejected. So it’s important to get it right. Additionally, even if you don’t live in or near such an area, you need to tell the insurer if your home has flooded for whatever reason in the past. You might also be asked if you know if your neighbours’ houses have flooded, or others nearby. It pays to be truthful, as any future claim can be invalidated if the insurer finds out there has been flooding in the past which you hadn’t told them about.

Home Insurance if you live in a flood risk area

If you do live in an ‘at risk’ area, don’t despair! Home insurance is still available to you, but you may need to take out specialist cover if your home is at very high risk and floods often. But, rest assured, cover should be available. As with all insurance, the main rule is to shop around. If it’s flooding that you’re particularly concerned about you should check exclusions and defined protective measures you’re expected to carry out carefully, and see if extra benefits such as emergency accommodation is included, or could be added on. Unfortunately, for those living in areas which often flood, and are deemed very high risk, options are more limited. But although cover might cost more than for those who live outside a designated flood zone, even if your house has flooded many times insurers will now legally have to cover you for the following reasons:

  • Insurers have signed a flood agreement to guarantee all homes cover – Very soon, insurers won’t be able to refuse to insure your home, simple as that.
  • ‘Flood Re’ (effective from 2015) – From 2015 the Government and insurance industry have agreed a way to ensure all homes have cover. It caps the flood element of home insurance premiums by linking this to your home’s council tax band so insurers can afford to insure every home. This should mean that competition will improve for homes considered high risk, and those affected can shop around for better deals than now. Those in the highest council tax bracket ‘H’, however, won’t benefit from the new rules.
  • Until ‘Flood Re’ in 2015 – For those with high risk homes, you will unfortunately have to try and renew with your existing insurer, or seek out specialist flood cover.

How to reduce the impact of flooding on your home

Most policies expect you to take some home-protection measures in the event that a flood is likely (and has been predicted; when it comes to ‘flash floods’, such as those caused by burst water mains, insurers recognise you probably won’t have time to react). Trying to protect your home and possessions can have two benefits; one is that any claim you need to make proceeds more smoothly, another is that the damage caused may be less. You need to check your policy’s requirements, which should be in the terms and conditions. You can also call your insurer to discuss this with them. Indeed, discounts are available to those who make their homes as ‘water-proof’ as possible, such as by replacing wooden floors with concrete ones, using water resistant materials in bathrooms and kitchens, fitting flood-proof doors and windows and non-return valves to drains and waste pipes.

Here are a number of tips experts recommend:

  • DIY protection products – Items such as window and door flood guards, airbrick covers, sand bags and other free-standing water barriers are available on the market.
  • Flood warnings – The Environment Agency, your local council and even your insurer provide a wealth of information regarding flood warnings to help you prepare. You can sign up for text, twitter and email alerts.
  • Move your possessions upstairs – Some insurers will insist you move items upstairs as part of your policy’s terms. Whether that’s the case or not, it’s a good idea as a lot of flood damage occurs at ground level, such as to sofas, electrical and white goods and carpets.
  • Clear your drains – The difference between being flooded or not can be down to your drains. Blocked drains prevent water running away, so keep them well-maintained and clear of debris.
  • Consider placing white goods on supports – This could raise them off the floor enough to save damage occurring.
  • Tile flooring – Tiles are much easier to clean and aren’t damaged as easily as rugs and carpet.
  • Important documents – It’s costly to replace passports, driver’s licences and other documents so consider keeping them in water-proof bags.
  • Cars and other motor vehicles – It’s easy to forget vehicles you own in the panic of facing a possible flood. But moving cars, motorbikes, vans, trucks, ride on mowers and other vehicles to safer areas is a sensible precaution.
  • Electric, gas and water supplies – Make sure you know how to switch these off in the event of a flood occurring.
  • Maintain your home – You need to keep your property in a good state of repair. Many claims are rejected as it’s deemed water damage wouldn’t have occured if the home had been looked after better.
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The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Policy Expert.