Christmas 2013 brought stormy weather and high winds to much of the UK, causing widespread flooding in Kent and other parts of the South East.
Thousands of people were affected over Christmas and it’s likely there will be plenty more storms in the future, with The Environment Agency estimating that one in six homes in England are at risk of flooding at some point.
We’ve put together this guide to help you understand what you can do in the event that you are affected by flooding – either now or in the future.
Protecting against future flooding
Prevention is better than cure, so if you live in an area vulnerable to flooding, sign up to the Environment Agency’s Floodline, a free service which sends a message to your phone or email when flooding is expected. You can also monitor flood warnings through the Met Office’s National Severe Weather Warning Service. Be prepared for the emergency services to evacuate you from your home or business if there is a substantial risk of a flood.
Make sure you have robust building and contents insurance policy – ideally with comprehensive cover. You will need to keep up-to-date with all your premiums as arrears can invalidate a future claim.
If you are considering purchasing a property, check whether it is located in an area vulnerable to flooding and commission a detailed structural survey before you exchange contracts.
Recovering your costs after a flood
If your home is damaged in a flood, the first thing you should do is call your building insurance company’s 24 hour helpline. Don’t worry if your policy document has been lost or destroyed: your insurance company will have all your details stored on its database.
There are a number of provisions your insurance company should make within your policy, including:
- Alternative accommodation
Most policies will pay for alternative accommodation if you are not able to stay in your home because of flood damage. To avoid any future problems, it’s best to ask them to approve your choice of accommodation before your stay commences.
- Repairs and redecoration
If possible, take photos of the damage and use them in your discussions with your insurance company about the work needed. Check whether your policy covers the cost of cleaning your property or whether you need to cover that when the work is complete.
Use a permanent ink pen to mark how high water has risen in every room and make an inventory of the damage. This should include everything from furniture and equipment to food supplies and home accessories.
Don’t throw away any damaged items until you have spoken with your insurer about replacing them, because a loss adjustor may need to assess the full scale of the damage to calculate how much your pay out should be.
If at all possible, wait until everything is agreed with your insurance company before starting any restoration work, but if this isn’t possible, keep receipts for any money you spend.
If items of furniture need to be removed from your home and stored for you until the restoration work is complete, your insurer should usually pay for this too.
Keep a record of all correspondence with your insurance company, including the date, time, name of the person you spoke to and what was discussed and agreed.
What if I don’t have flood insurance?
Without flood insurance, options for recovering the costs incurred by flood damage are more limited, but you may be able to make a legal claim against your local authority for not maintaining drains when this results in your home being damaged by a flood. You may also have a case against the water authority for problems with pumping stations when your property suffers flood damage as a result.
Potential insurance company objections
You should seek legal advice if your insurance company raises any of the following objections to your claim:
- They do not accept the principal of secondary flooding, meaning when the flood water has not got inside the house, but it has damaged the timbers underneath the house and left high levels of moisture under the house. This can lead to damp, wet rot and dry rot and is usually noticed sometime after the initial flooding.
- They do not accept flooding as the cause of the damage, e.g. they may say your home would have been protected if it had been adequately damp proofed.
- Someone else owned the property when the primary flooding occurred and your claim is for damage caused by secondary flooding. In such cases as these it is sometimes possible to pursue compensation from the former owners’ insurers or the surveyor who wrote the report when you purchased the property.
- They refuse to pay out because you did not report the damage within a certain time. For example you may be a landlord and have to report damage to your insurer within 30 days but your tenants only informed you after 31 days or more.
A qualified solicitor will be able to help you fight objections of this nature, often on a no win no fee basis.