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Q&A: The Government answers your flood insurance questions

Flood road sign

The floods have sadly been dominating our lives in recent weeks, so we’ve asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to answer some of your flood insurance questions.

1. What should I look for in my flood insurance if I live in a high risk area?

The UK insurance market is extremely competitive so you should always start by obtaining several quotes. Insurance premiums and terms and conditions reflect an insurer’s assessment of the likely incidence and severity of the flooding. In most cases, flood insurance is part of your buildings and contents insurance, the majority of which can be obtained through an online form or by telephone.

If it has not been possible to obtain affordable cover through a normal insurance provider, there are specialists who may be able to help. The British Insurance Brokers’ Association (BIBA) can provide details of specialist brokers who will ask specific details about your circumstances, location and property. You may be asked questions about the current flood risk in your location, floods which have happened in the past and the action that has since been taken to reduce the risk of future flood damage. Insurance specialists could charge a fee for the services they provide but, if they do, you will be informed of any costs at the outset.

You can also undertake measures to protect your home against flooding. A flood risk mitigation survey can help you determine what can be done to reduce your exposure to flood damage and confirm that any existing flood measures have been fitted correctly by the installer. This will help to present your risk profile to insurers in the best possible light and could help reduce your premium.

2. What can I do to protect my home against flooding?

For individuals the impact of a single flood event can be devastating with a flood of even just a few hours causing around £35,000 of damage to a property according to the Association for British Insurers. Taking precautions to reduce the damage and disruption of flooding can lessen the impact on your life and reduce the costs of insurance and future repairs. This includes installing flood resistant and flood resilience measures, also known as Property Level Protection.

The National Flood Forum helpfully sets out a step-by-step process for property level flood resilience, from understanding flood risk, to product installation. When considering a particular flood product, check that it has been tested to industry standards by looking for the Kitemark symbol or equivalent accreditation. Kite-marked products are usually favoured by insurers.

There is also a lot of useful advice on how to prepare your property for flooding on the Environment Agency website, for example fitting water-resistant skirting boards and raising electrical sockets.

To find out if your property is at risk from flooding, visit the Environment Agency flood map site and sign up to free flood alerts which provides flood warnings by phone, text or email. This will allow you to take action should flooding be forecasted in your area, for example by moving valuable and precious items upstairs.

3. What should I do if my home is flooded?

First of all, stay safe; depending on the level of flooding you are experiencing you may need to leave your home. Public Health England provides important information on how to plan for flooding before it happens, what action to take during a flood and recovering and cleaning up after a flood. This includes preparing a flood kit (clothes, toiletries, and insurance documents), moving family and pets to a high place and avoiding contact with floodwater. Do not touch sources of electricity if you are standing in water.

Contact your insurer as soon as you are able and once the flooding has ceased, they will send a team to assess the scale of the damage. You will need to keep in close contact with your insurer; their first priority is to help their customers recover and get their flood claim moving as quickly as possible.

If you are having problems making a claim or you don’t feel your complaint has been treated fairly, read Which?’s guide on making a complaint about your insurance provider.

4. What is going to happen in the future with obtaining affordable flood insurance, given the recent spate of floods we have experienced?

In June 2013, ABI and the UK Government announced an agreement on a framework for developing a not-for-profit scheme – Flood Re – to ensure that flood insurance in the UK remains widely affordable and available to households at high risk of flooding.

5. When will Flood Re be implemented and what do I do in the meantime?

The UK Government is looking to implement Flood Re as quickly as possible, however, it must first complete the Parliamentary process which provides the necessary powers to put Flood Re in place. The Water Bill completed its passage through the Commons before Christmas, and is making its way through the House of Lords. The Government are on course for legislation to come into force in April 2014. There will then be work on the regulation and setting up of Flood Re, which should be operational by Summer 2015.

Insurers have committed to abide by the Statement of Principles until Flood Re is operational.

6. Will there be reduced insurance premiums for those properties with recognised flood protection measures installed?

Insurers will always try and take into account measures taken to reduce risk where it can be shown that they reduce the risk for a household. You should talk to your insurer to let them know about the measures you are taking, as different insurers have different approaches to assessing risk. However, to keep premiums as low as possible many insurers keep their processes automated, so it is important that you telephone and shop around at renewal to get the most competitive quote.

You can also contact a specialist broker who may be more able to take installed measures into account.

7. Who is responsible for flooding on my land?

Local flood authorities (county and unitary councils) and internal drainage boards are responsible for managing the risk of flooding from minor watercourses, surface water and groundwater. Flooding relating to land drainage in low-lying areas where land drainage ditches are common is usually dealt with by Internal Drainage Boards.

The Environment Agency is responsible for managing risks of flooding from major watercourses and reservoirs. Water companies are responsible for managing the risks of flooding from water and foul or combined sewer systems.

Flooding related to water draining off motorways or trunk roads, it’s the Highways Agency

8. Will insurers consider flooding events as an ‘Act of God’?

There are no flood events that have been classified as an Act of God – there are different severities of flooding which result from weather and environmental factors. The insurance industry, in developing its Flood Re solution, recognises how much homeowners depend on available and affordable flood insurance.

9. What actions are you taking for flood insurers using costly phone numbers for customers calling for help?

The issue of premium telephone numbers has been raised with insurance companies following the meeting with major flood insurers in Downing Street on 18 February and it’s something insurers have said they are willing to keep under review.

This is a guest post from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Comments
Member

I feel very sorry for the poor souls flooded recently and I think everything possible should be done to help them both now and in the future, because it will happen again.

However I keep thinking this is a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. What on earth were the planners thinking when permission was given to build all these houses on flood plains? And it’s still happening. On TV the other night was a house in the Thames flood plain under construction flooded to half way up where the front door was going to go. Flooded and not even finished yet?
Central and local Government must surely carry at least some responsibility when planning policy seems to be actually creating the problem.

People keep on about river dredging and flood defenses obviously a good idea now these houses are on the flood plains but these defenses cost money. Money clearly not always there which is clearly why we currently have lives being devastated by flooding of house which should not have been sited where they were in the first place.

Best thing Central and local Government can do is stop putting yet more houses on flood plains and in areas prone to flash flooding. Let’s at least stop the problem getting worse in the future, but will they?

Meanwhile all that can be done needs to be done for the poor victims of the folly of current planning policy. Central Government, Local Government and even developers are responsible and they all should be putting their hands in their pockets.

Member
Helping hand says:
19 February 2014

We need solicitors to band together and offer their clients “no win no fee” assistance. The courts are going to have to deal with this incompetence and deprivation of human rights

Member

If these houses are put up by developers, why blame others? Surely they know they are building in an area with risk, and the buyers should be similarly informed. We can’t blame others if we make a poor choice, can we?

Member
Helping Hand says:
20 February 2014

Government have been deliberating about Somerset Levels since 1939. No-one can know what the Plans are – with such a lack of – forward planning. We assume our Nanny State is watching over us – or providing information that an area of land (upon which we dwell or intend to dwell) is to be sacrificed -eg flooding valleys to make reservoirs etc. When purchasing, a solicitor helps with due diligence and prepares Searches and advises clients of Risks. This is because the usual protection of Consumer Law does not apply to House Purchase. With older properties, they have a right to live peacefully and enjoy. This is a human right, and people need to demand compensation from the government for this debacle. It is the only way the Treasury will properly Count-the-cost, and be able to rightly justify the expense Flood PREVENTION schemes – the likes of which progressive nations such as the Netherlands embark upon 🙂

Member

I do not understand why people with homes at risk from flooding do not take protective measures – there are door barriers and air brick seals for example, keep a pump, stock sandbags. Full marks to the guy who put up a wall round his house. Better to spend money on this than put up with the consequences. Are there reasons why others don’t do this – do they not work?
I do not see why insurance premiums for people who choose to live in flood-risk areas should be subsidised by those who choose to live in safer places – unless of course the flood risk is due to lack of maintenance of flood defences. There are advantages in living by the river, for example, but there is a downside. If any subsidy is to be given to ensure these properties are saleable then that should come from government, not a surcharge on my premium.
Building on a floodplain should not be allowed unless effective measures are put in place by the developer to permanently protect the properties – in my area the land has been raised, leaving flood ponds, that have worked well. This is in the control of the local authority. If affordable insurance was not available then new houses would not be viable.

Member

Extensive building has increased flood risk in some areas and we saw with the 2007 floods, even places with no history of flooding were affected. It’s a little more complicated than just avoiding buying a house in an area at risk.

Member

As I intimated, a change in risk (e.g. not maintaining defences or, as you say, poor planning that significantly increases a risk) is a separate issue. A question I am asking is that if people choose to live in a flood risk area what steps can they themselves take to help prevent, or mitigate, flood damage.

Member
Helping Hand says:
22 February 2014</