There’s no doubt as to the personal devastation that can be caused by flooding.
In just a matter of hours, as the floodwaters rise, lifetime possessions can be washed away and homes left ruined by tidal waves of water.
Even after you start picking up the pieces, you can be faced with months of having to live in damp squalid conditions or moving to temporary accommodation.
And now uncertainty caused by changes to flood insurance could add further to the nightmare endured by flood victims.
There’s currently an agreement between the Government and the insurance industry, called the Statement of Principles. This agreement obliges insurance companies to offer flood cover as part of standard policies in most cases.
The agreement was introduced in 2000 to enable the insurance market to be able to provide flood insurance to the vast majority of households and small businesses efficiently. It states that insurers must include flood cover as standard for properties built before 1 January 2009, where the risk of flooding is low; and, crucially, insurers must allow at-risk households who already have flood cover to automatically renew cover with the same insurer, as long as flood defences are planned to be in place within five years.
But this was only ever intended to be a short-term temporary arrangement – and it’s due to expire on 30 June 2013.
So what are the implications for householders of the ending of The Statement of Principles?
Neil Hudgell Solicitors has a wealth of experience advising clients on flood claims, and is now advising householders how to protect themselves in the future.
Sean Gordon, Senior Solicitors, explains: “The ending of the Statement of Principles agreement could make obtaining affordable flood insurance extremely difficult, if not impossible.
“If customers can’t get insurance, they’ll be breaching the terms of their mortgage contract.
This could also negatively impact on the valuation of their property, potential mortgageability and future saleability – affecting both the homeowner and lending organisations.”
He continues: “Policies will continue to be renewed in terms that reflect the individual insurers’ assessment of the flood risk. After that, if no agreement is in place, then each insurer will make a commercial decision on renewal of policies, if they wish to insure new flood risk properties.
“Having said this, it’s expected that all insurers will in these circumstances do all they can to continue to offer flood cover. Under their obligations as ABI members, insurers can’t refuse to renew the flood coverage part of any policy.”
Once the agreement expires in June, it’s estimated that 200,000 homeowners who live in the highest risk properties could potentially lose their insurance, or see premiums and excesses run into tens of thousands of pounds.
So what should you do if you fall victim to flooding?
What should I do in the immediate aftermath of a flood?
Sean Gordon: “Call your insurance company’s (24 hour) Emergency Helpline as soon as possible. They’ll be able to provide information on dealing with your claim, and assistance in getting things back to normal. Keep a record of the flood damage (especially photographs or video footage) and retain correspondence with insurers after the flood.”
Carrying out repairs
Sean says: “Commission immediate emergency pumping/repair work if necessary to protect your property from further damage. This can usually be undertaken without insurer approval, but remember to get receipts.
Get advice where detailed, lengthy repairs are needed. Your insurer or loss adjuster can give advice on reputable contractors / tradesmen.
Beware of bogus tradesmen and always check references.
“Check with your insurer if you have to move into alternative accommodation as the cost is often covered under a household policy. Make sure your insurance company knows where to contact you if you have to move out of your home.”
- Don’t try to walk or drive through floodwater – six inches of fast flowing water can knock you over and two feet of water will float your car. Manhole covers may have come off and there may be other hazards you can’t see.
- Never try to swim through fast flowing water – you may get swept away or be struck by an object in the water.
- Don’t walk on sea defences, riverbanks or cross river bridges if possible – they may collapse in extreme situations or you may be swept off by large waves. Beware of stones and pebbles being thrown up by waves.
- Avoid contact with floodwater – it may be contaminated with sewage.
Who can help?
- The emergency services will help those who are in danger or stranded from floods. Local authorities set-up centres for those displaced from their homes so keep the telephone number of your local authority close by.
- The Citizens Advice Bureau can help people obtain money in an emergency and can help with insurance claims.
- Check with your local authority or health authority in the first instance or look under ‘Flood Damage’ in Yellow Pages for suppliers of cleaning materials or equipment to dry out your property. It takes a house brick about one month per inch to dry out.
- Open doors and windows to ventilate the house but take care to ensure your house and valuables are secure.
- Contact your gas, electricity and water company. Have your power supplies checked before you turn them back on to make sure they have dried out. Wash taps and run them for a few minutes before use.
- Don’t attempt to dry out photos or papers – place them in a plastic bag, and if possible store them in the fridge.
- Throw away food which may have been in contact with floodwater – it could be contaminated. Contact your local authority Environmental Health department for advice.
- Don’t think it can’t happen again. Restock your supplies and be prepared for another flood.
Homeowners can take action to reduce the risk of a flood ruining their property.
Sean Gordon says: “There are two parts to making a home more resilient to flooding. The first is to slow or stop water entering. This might include fitting flood guards to doors and covers over air bricks.
“The second aspect is to reduce the damage and the costs if water does come into your home. This can include moving electrical sockets and wiring higher up walls and replacing wooden floors with concrete and tiles.”
He continues: “Homeowners living in flood risk areas can meet with local authorities, the Environment Agency and water companies, and try to focus on practical measures to ensure that existing drains and flood defences are working properly.”
Last year, Neil Hudgell Solicitors helped Hull Couple Simon Moss and Louise Fletcher win a lengthy legal battle for damage to their flood-ravaged home which was damaged following the catastrophic flooding in June 2007 when 100mm of rain fell in just 24 hours and some 9000 homes were flooded.
Although they didn’t suffer directly in the floods, large parts of their house soon became riddled with damp in the months following the floods, forcing them to live in damp conditions.
Simon believed the urgent repairs needed to the couple’s house would be covered by his insurance policies and costs would be quickly recouped.
However, their insurers denied the claim – stating that the damp problems under the house were due to poor ventilation and longstanding failure of the damp proof course. They concluded the real reason for damage through damp was inherent defect and not the floods. The insurers relied on evidence from a surveyor who visited the property in January 2009. In his report he felt the damp proof course had failed and the damp was a long standing problem.
Disappointed by this outcome, Simon instructed his own expert who did an inspection in June 2009. This expert was supportive of the claim of secondary flooding but the insurance company still refused to make any pay out.
Simon then took his plight to compensation specialists Neil Hudgell Solicitors who pursued the matter. Now the couple have won the case, with the court deciding that on the balance of probabilities the floods caused secondary flooding and damage to Simon’s house.
The court also ordered that the insurers paid damages in respect of flood damage which should have been paid when the claim on the policy was made in 2008.