Flood damage is messy and devastating. It leaves family memories and treasured possessions sodden and ruined. The worst thing to say to a person affected by a natural disaster is; “it’s only stuff”. Maybe so, but it’s my stuff, my history and in some cases my dreams.

Global warming means the flood risk in many parts of Britain is only going to get worse. Homeowners need to arm themselves with knowledge to ensure their property and possessions are protected, should murky, brown, pungent flood water, filled with mud and silt overwhelm them.

Why are flood incidents increasing in the UK?

In early 2014, the UK suffered its worst rainfall in at least 248 years. Thousands of homes were flooded, causing great distress and an estimated £1.1bn in damage. December 2015 was the wettest in a century. Storm’s Desmond and Eva left around 16,000 homes across England flooded and the historical city of York underwater.

What’s going on?

A Financial Times article in January 2016 featured Professor Alan Jenkins, the deputy director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the leading flood research body in the UK. He was quoted as saying “We are absolutely convinced that there is weighty scientific evidence that the recent extreme rainfall has been impacted by climate change.”

We were warned decades ago that a warmer planet would lead to more extreme weather incidents. Climate change is far from being solved, and is not going away anytime soon. Therefore, it looks like swift, damaging floods are set to become a normal part of life in some parts of Britain.

Protecting your home from flooding

More than five and a half million homes in England and Wales are deemed to be at risk of flooding. Although you cannot completely flood-proof your property, there are steps you can take to protect it including:

  • Identify areas in your property that could allow flood waters to seep in such as drains and gaps in the floor and walls.
  • Invest in purpose-designed flood products which include guards that be fitted if a flood is imminent, covers for ventilation bricks and “non-return” values fitted to drain-pipes and other pipes that could allow water to back-up during a flood. Ensure any products you buy have been awarded a ‘kitemark’, which indicates they have undergone rigorous testing to establish that they will do what is required in the event of a flood.
  • Sandbags covered in plastic wrapping can provide some protection from mud and silt entering the property.

The Environment Agency lists a number of ways to make your home “flood resilient”. If you follow these steps you may limit the damage caused by flood waters and return to your home more quickly if disaster strikes.

Steps include:

  • Ensure all wiring, power sockets and fuse boxes are at least 1.5 metres above floor level.
  • Use water-resistant materials for kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Avoid laying carpet.
  • Put valuables and precious items (ie photographs) on high shelves

Do you know about Flood Re?

Flood Re is a collaboration between the British Government and flood insurance providers to create affordable flood insurance for those whose homes are located in flood prone areas. It began operating in April 2016.

Flood Re (which stands for Flood Re-Insurance Scheme), is in place for the next 23 years and aims to increase the choice of insurers for homeowners and allow time for insurers, local and central government and communities to better prepare for the increasing flood risk now facing the country.

Around 350,000 households are expected to benefit from the scheme.

Rather than purchase insurance directly from Flood Re, property owners will buy the insurance from one of the insurers that offer Flood Re compatible policies. Because it is a not-for-profit reinsurance company, Flood Re mitigates the cost to insurers providing insurance to flood-prone areas. Insurance companies who are members can recover the cost of any insurance claims from Flood Re.

This should, in theory, keep the cost of flood insurance at a reasonable level.

Businesses are not eligible to purchase insurance through the Flood Re scheme.

Will home insurance premiums increase in flood prone areas?

Home insurance is a fiercely competitive market in the UK and this protects consumers to some degree.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says that, if you make one claim or more during the year, it could impact your premium at renewal but small claims are unlikely to make much of a difference, although you could lose your no-claims discount.

The cost of Flood Re, which is funded by a charge on all insurers totalling £180 million, works out as an extra £10.50 levied on everyone’s home insurance premiums each year.

However, the ABI says home insurance customers are unlikely to notice the increase as it’s roughly the same as the level of cross-subsidy that already exists between lower and higher flood risk premiums.

In summary

Homeowners in Britain have to accept that unfortunately annual flooding may now be the norm rather than the exception in some low-lying areas. Flood Re is a sensible move by the British Government to meet this challenge head-on, as other places such as Japan, California and New Zealand have had to do by providing similar schemes for earthquake insurance.

The rise in cost is negligible, and it gives homeowners some piece of mind to know that insurance companies will not be incentivised to charge exorbitant insurance premiums in flood-prone areas.

Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based in London’s West End. We have dedicated and highly experienced residential property law solicitors who can advise on all legal matters relating to flooding and flood risk. For more information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.

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