/ Home & Energy

Should flood insurance cover groundwater flooding?

Floods in UK street

Does your insurer pay out for flooding caused by groundwater? Unclear definitions in insurance policies are leaving householders in the dark over whether they’re actually covered for future flooding.

Around a quarter of the homes damaged by this year’s winter weather were flooded as a result of rising groundwater, according to the Environment Agency. But some Which? members have told us they fear their policies exclude flooding caused by groundwater. Concerns have also been raised in Parliament.

So we looked at the policy documents of the eight insurers our members told us about and found that many made no clear distinction between flooding from groundwater caused by severe weather, which generally is covered, and flooding caused by a sustained build-up of groundwater over time, which generally isn’t.

What insurers cover

Admiral and Esure all state simply that they won’t cover loss or damage ‘caused by rising groundwater levels’. The Co-operative Insurance and NFU Mutual exclude any flooding caused by ‘a gradual rise in the groundwater level’.

Aviva states it won’t cover flooding if it ‘happens gradually’, Ecclesiastical won’t cover ‘damage attributable solely to a change in the water table level’, and John Lewis excludes damage caused by ‘a rise in the water table’. Legal & General won’t cover loss or ‘damage caused by underground water’.

However, when we contacted these insurers, seven told us that they will cover claims arising from the recent winter floods. An eighth, Esure, said it would deal with claims on a case-by-case basis.

We think insurers should have clearer definitions in their policies so that you know exactly what you’re covered for when it comes to groundwater flooding. Do you think insurers need to be clearer about what they cover? Have you had to make an insurance claim due to floods?


Of course insurance policies should be clear about definitions or exclusions, I thought that unclear definitions tend to get adjudicated in the customers favour by the Onbudsman ?

However it is worrying that an event such as groundwater flooding is excluded by so many insurers.
What is the householder meant to do about it ? Surely a change in the waterlevel is the sort of rare event that you expect insurance to cover.

Surely flooding is flooding, however it’s caused, or should be.
As usual insurers try to duck paying out.

Geoff says:
26 April 2014

Clarity is required. It should be unambiguous or it damages the companies, industry and people’s desire to buy insurance.

Alex, perhaps you could ask the Association of British Insurers to tell us why any rise in groundwater levels should not be covered by insurance, and what time period differentiates a sustained rise from a rise caused by severe whether (which as last winter shows, can still occur over several months). I would have expected any such flooding to be covered by my insurance, but on checking, find it is not (John Lewis) – not that I am at risk.

. . . . . . So with the exception of burst pipes, failed drains and blocked watercourses, there is probably no need for this exclusion then. Perhaps the insurers are worried about the risks in areas where water-extractive industries have declined leading to a rise in the water table, but surely these can be post-coded and specified. I like it when you shine a penetrating beam into the murkier corners of the insurance world and find it incapable of justifying its policies [or its premiums, even].

Alex, thanks for getting a response. However, just what causes a “seepage of water over time” I wonder. Rising groundwater levels may be generally caused by rainfall, which is not seepage, and may be over a very long period,or by leakage from some waterstore or watercourse, presumably caused by some fault. In both cases I would expect flood insurance to cover it? Perhaps the ABI would be specific about when flooding is seepage, and from what cause.

Stressed says:
16 July 2015

How about a riparian watercourse beneath (not known at time of purchase, on a bog standard housing development) a property draining in to a main watercourse. The riparian watercourse is taking outfall regarding hydraulic overload from a public combined main sewer. Not your bog standard ground water. Obviously water must rise in this scenario with every rainfall. Suggestions please!

I think this would depend on whether the riparian watercourse services the property in any way. Many policies cover accidental damage to underground services, so if a sudden and unforeseen event happens the question would then be ‘what are underground services’. Should really be clearly defined in the policy but often not the case. If waste pipes from the property feed into the watercourse (like a culvert) then maybe in certain cases this would be covered, if not then it doesn’t service the property and whilst it would likely be your responsibility if you own the property above, probably wouldn’t be covered on an insurance policy. But if I had more details maybe could be clearer. If the issue started within the main public combined sewer outside the boundary of your land then I think the likes of united utilities would be responsible for the lot, but could be wrong!

personally from insurance brokers point of view, I feel this exclusion should not be there. It is not a peril the insured could be expected to know or be in control of. I have checked the wording on several policies I deal with and their seems to be a 50/50 split on the wording.

Pat S
Insurance hard to find for listed buildings in conservation areas. Rising of water table uninsurable. Forbidden to alter the building in any way to prevent water coming in – a Force of Nature/Actof God, danger of implosion/explosion of building according to Council.