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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).


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.

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

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?

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 🙂

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.

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.

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.

Helping Hand says:
22 February 2014

ALL areas and Homes are at Risk of Flooding – because of the legacy created by lack of investment, especially since 1989 when the water companies were privatised, and DEFRA reorganised. So, regardless of your “current” Risk Status, (as your street could be next to Flood), EVERYONE needs to…. Contact your Local Council, & read your local Flood Management Plan (a mandatory document now for ALL councils since the new law in 2010 Flood Management Act. ). It will tell you exacty what the Council and all the Stakeholders are planning on doing to prevent Floods in your area. Everyone needs to participate in this exercise unfortunately. We thought we could just go out to work and pay taxes and water charges, but our servants have let us down, and we are needed at the pumps 🙂

Helping hand says:
19 February 2014

Contact your solicitor if you purchased home after due diligence carried out. Someone will be liable for the expense incurred if you are not to blame.

I bought a five year old bungalow in 1982. It is not far from a river, but there was no history of flooding, and Abbey National was happy to provide a mortgage and insurance. A few years later, another street was added, linking on to the street I live on. Confusingly, it was given the same name. Unlike the existing houses and bungalows, some of the new ones are significantly lower lying and a couple of them experienced minor flooding in 2007. This was due to surface water and there was never any danger of flooding for the river.

My neighbours were recently told that their insurer would no longer offer cover for flooding, despite the fact that none of the original properties in the street have ever been affected by flooding. I am still insured for flooding, but the premium has been hiked, presumably because my postcode is the same as that of the new houses built at lower level.

Helping Hand says:
20 February 2014

All Insurance should have been hiked (or more correctly “spread”) because flooding has been going on for several years, and that is the way Insurance works – the Brits invented it – It should spread the cost of the unfortunate, amongst us all. Unfortunately, since going global, the insurance market is in tatters (next to be investigated after Bankers). It should be assessing Risk, recouping costs via the courts – where cause is negligence, Setting aside appropriate Reserves to meet Risk, and setting premiums in accordance with calculated Risk – then enabling shareholder returns. Instead it is running amok.

The government are responsible for ensuring our safety. Flooding in last 5 years has been ignored, and only getting attention now – because it is affecting Thames River where there are very expensive real estate & people with clout. This is an opportunity for everyone (poor and rich) to get on the band wagon. Speak to your MP now. Otherwise only London, and those who speak the loudest, will get new flood defences, and we are all equal, are we not ? Justice for all 🙂

Insurance is about risk – the more of a risk you are, the more you pay, whether it is young or dangerous drivers, or people who have chosen to live in areas that were known to be at risk of flooding. Tax we pay is used to mitigate flood risk and money is not unlimited, so must be used as effectively as possible. Where we need action is in ensuring building is properly planned where a flood risk exists, and that building does not contribute to flood risk elsewhere. We must bear in mind this has been a very exceptional period of wet weather over which we had no control – cutting carbon emissions in the UK would have had no effect either. I think we should know whether dredging the river in the Somerset levels would have been sufficient to offset the effects of this record-breaking rainfall, sand exceptional sea conditions.

Helping Hand says:
20 February 2014

Insurnance is about Spreading risk – and Penalising those who do not Take Care as they Increase the Risk, or are responsible for increasing the Risk. In the case of Flooding, everyone is agreed it is the Planners, DEFRA and the Water Companies who have increased the Risk – and so they should pay, and not the indivudual – who is not to blame – unless as you say – they received a Flood Reports from their Solicitor upon purchase, and ignored the advice they paid to receive about KNOWN Flood Risks. If we don’t check out and chase the promised Govt handouts – we will find that the wrong people are being compensated 🙁

G. Huws says:
21 February 2014

Although most of the insurance related points relate to all the 3 Nations as well as the English Regions =>

Your point:

7. Who is responsible for flooding on my land?

“The Environment Agency is responsible for managing risks of flooding from major watercourses…”

Only true in England. Here in Wales it is the responsibility of the independent ‘Natural Resources Wales’ organisation.

Also, surprised that this article did not identify that ‘Flood/Coastal defence protection; is the responsibility of the Welsh Government. That is, it is a devolved issue.

I assume that is also the case in Scotland and N. Ireland.

On reading the small print on my insurance policy I notice that while I am covered for flood caused by the weather but I’m not covered for increase in the water table and groundwater flooding. That might be a point worth checking?

I have checked mine and it excludes groundwater flooding as well. Can Which put any pressue on the ABI to ensure underwriters include groundwater when accepting premiums? This verges on deception when as most homeowners would be under the impression that flooding means flooding.

Could Which? not help directly here by looking at flood defences homeowners could install – door barriers, airbrick covers, pumps, and other products – either by reviewing them or testing them. I imagine other countries also have these problems to deal with – their consumers associations may have information. I’m sure many people living in risky areas would like to know what personal measures they could take that would be effective in mitigating damage. Insurance is no substitute for prevention.
We also give grants to farmers in some areas to preserve wetlands. I wonder how much this policy has contributed to extra flood damage?

Helping Hand says:
22 February 2014

The Contract between a Homeowner and their Insurance Company needs to be kept simple. It already expects “reasonable steps” to be taken by the Insured to alleviate the liability of the Insurance company and it would not be practical for Insurance companies to offer contracts purely on this “considered” basis – it would simply result in more argument about what the compensation payment should be – for an already-well-stressed individual. Politics must be taken out of Professional judgement. Where DEFRA and Planners have acted unprofessionally because of Political constraints, either they or the Individuals that tied-their-hands should be made accountable for the losses and heartache now being incurred.

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/31644.aspx is a useful page with links to suppliers of products to give prior protection from flooding. How many of those flooded have installed these devices and what success have they had?

It is interesting how this Winter’s floods have had such a political impact. Before the weekend of 8-9th February, 40 homes were flooded and not much was said or done. The weather that weekend led to the flooding of 800-900 homes in the upper Thames valley. The PM immediately said money was no object, the troops were waterproofed, sandbags turned up in the night, and a raft of meaures was floated out to relieve the farmers, shopkeepers and small businesses. Rightly so. By contrast, in 2007, in Yorkshire and Humberside alone, no fewer than 23,478 homes and 3,718 businesses were flooded. The book of blank cheques was kept firmly under lock and key on that occasion. It’s amazing what an approaching election can do.

I had just assumed that London and the Soutth are regarded as far more important than the northern regions. 🙁

A huge effort went into dealing with the floods in 2007 – whether north or south. Leeds and Sheffield suffered, as did Oxford, the Thames Valley, Gloucestershire. So I don’t think introducing a geographical divide is either helpful or justified. Most of the damage is paid for by insurance – £3bn in 2007. The help to victims seemed to be general. Flood defence investment will always be based on maximum return I guess – how else can you prioritise resources? No different with coastal erosion – some properties will not justify the cost of defences. We need to look at both defences, and the underlying factors – including farming practices that lead to soil erosion that help clog drainage sytems and waterways, and developments that take place either in inappropriate areas or are not forced to make adequate provision against normal floods. I also maintain that householders could do more to help protect their properties.

John is absolutely right in what he said about the 2007 flooding. Considering the number of properties affected in the north, there was not much help provided.

By coincidence I have this evening been listening to a group of people debating the lack of support for those affected by flooding in Yorkshire (in 2007) and in Cumbria, compared with current support for the south. They offered the same explanations that John and I have given. I think you are right about the reasons for this prioritisation, Malcolm, but like many others I believe the geographical divide is a bit unfair.

Helping Hand says:
23 February 2014

As long as there is no investment in Sewers and Public Services, flooding will grow to affect everyone. Councils have no money or priority to remove leaves and grass from the highway grids, and are weary of “flushing” sewers, as they crumble and break. Farmers are not not paid to maintain the vital ditches that run across their land, taking water to the rivers. Payment for the Public Service of Surface Water removal in England was transferred to monopoly Water Companies (Wales & Scotland new better). The private companies are likely to offer you a refund of your Service Charge if you complain about the Service, as it is cheaper and easier than addressing the monolithic problems that removal of Surface Water is presenting us with, after 40 years of building – without planning sustainable water removal at the same time. There are tools and technology out there to do this – we are just a LDC now. (Less Developed Country) 🙁

I’d prefer to see hard evidence of a north-south divide before accepting anecdotal evidence. From what I recall of 2007, with Yorkshire and Humberside being particularly badly effected, a good deal of help was given in trying to deal with excerptional rainfall. I would not take the blank cheque book at face value – that is not what is being offered. Small businesses will receive some limited financial aid and council tax will not be.charged on people unable to occupy property for example.
I would be interested to see a survey of who, in areas at risk of flooding, have modified their homes to help deal with the risk.

Helping Hand says:
25 February 2014

I would like to see what the Insurance Companies have done to mitigate flood risks. How much investigation and Reports have they done? Did they demand the Pitt Review, and its swift, funded implementation? Have they helped identify where the blame lies – eg Daily Telegraph report yesterday that the Somerset level flooding was “deliberately Engineered”….

Malcolm, I wasn’t intending to suggest that there was any sort of north-south divide in the allocation of resources to deal with the flooding problems between 2007 and 2013-14. I was merely trying to indicate the contrasting scale of the problem in relation to the political reaction then and now – it just happened that the comparator was the Yorkshire & Humberside region which suffered particularly badly in 2007, just as it happens that now we are in the run-up to a general election whereas then we were not.

As to the blank cheque analogy, I am very aware that there is no blank cheque for the businesses and householders who have suffered during this catastrophe; but the PM made it clear that “money was no object” in coping with the present problem whether it be flood defences, military assistance, relaying railway tracks, dredging rivers, rebuilding sea walls, and so on. I cannot recall any politician ever before saying that “money was no object” about any previous disaster or predicted adverse weather event. That was the blank cheque, and it will be interesting to see whether the words and figures will agree. I think the devil will be spotted somewhere in the detail.

While it would have been better if the flooding had been averted by proper land drainage measures, an earlier implementation of sustainable drainage schemes, and tighter planning controls on new developments on flood plains, the remedy [or sticking plaster] now emerging is thanks to persistent media attention that has stirred up the politicians into a much more acceptable response than the “leave it alone and it will go away” approach in previous years. On the question of new developments on flood plains and the creation of excessive water run-off with inadequate catchment capacity, my curious mind questions whether the local councils who are under pressure to promote the building of new houses [government planning guidance is biased in favour of it], and who also want to increase their rateable property base, are not only sufficiently disinterested intrinsically but also entirely unaffected by influence from the housebuilders to stand in the way of developments that might lead to – or at the least do nothing to mitigate – flooding. To put it crudely, I think the housebuilders have got the local planning authorities over a barrel [or a water butt, even].

Instead of insurance companies keep paying out for insurance damage year after year, why can’t they be the ones to invest in flood prevention instead? It would save them and us a lot of money in the long run !!!

I should be surprised if it made any commercial sense for insurance companies to eliminate the risks from which they make their money. The capital funding for such investment would have to be over a long term but as soon as householders perceived there was little risk they would stop taking out insurance or switch to companies that didn’t invest in flood prevention. At the moment, so long as the government continues with flood prevention measures the insurance companies will carry on offering insurance cover in areas at risk. The argument is that the government is barely meeting its obligations. The government already takes an insurance premium tax from every policy and really needs to improve the country’s resilience to all calamitous weather events.

Pat Lawrence says:
7 July 2014

Although my NFU Mutual Household policy excludes flooding by groundwater, on further enquiry with my broker, it refers to ” flooding of basements or cellars by rise in watertable”.
Insurers need to make exclusions like this clearer to their customers. My own feeling is flooding is flooding, whatever the cause, and insurers should not cherrypick what they decide to cover. Hopefully everything should be resolved with Flood-Re

Flood Help says:
26 June 2015

Floods are very hard to deal with. It is often important to take the right steps after a flood, even if your insurers are bogged down by a series of other policy holders claiming.

[Hi, thanks for your comment and for offering some advice. However, we’ve removed your link as we don’t allow promotional content on Which? Conversation. You can have a read through our commenting guidelines, here. Thanks, mods]

Can anybody tell me how on earth I can value personal photos, prints,negatives and transparencies – some of which were taken 50 years ago- lost in recent floods. My insurers seem willing to accept that whilst they have little or no intrinsic value, they have personal value. But, how on earth do you apply a reasonable figure? There must presumably be some kind of precedent for this, that insurers are willing to accept. At the moment, I do not know where to begin!
With thanks in advance for any thoughts. Mike T.

Insurers presume that things of high personal value will be kept in a safe place. Because they are ‘priceless’, ‘invaluable’ and ‘irreplaceable’ they will not pay out on them unless they are specifically included within special terms of the policy [and then subject to special conditions and an uplift in the premium]. Losses like yours are extremely upsetting but not something that money can really compensate for; a token is probably the best to hope for I am afraid.