Flooding and your home – what you need to know
It’s estimated that around 5.2 million homes is England and Wales are at risk of flooding. You may have one of them without even realising.
According to government research, less than 40% of people who are at risk know they are.
If you live near a river or close to the sea, the degree of danger might seem obvious, but this is often not the case because defences and flood prevention methods can greatly lessen what might seem an obvious risk.
And the extent of a flood and the direction it takes is not always a simple thing to predict.
On top of this, most insurance claims now involve surface water and groundwater flooding rather than that caused by rivers or the sea.
Making sure you have the right insurance - you can get cover by comparing policies online - is crucial (scroll down for what to look out for before taking out a policy).
Local authorities are now putting together Intermediate Surface Water Flood Risk Management Maps, which should be available in the next couple of years.
In the meantime, there is no foolproof way of easily checking whether you are at risk from surface-water flooding.
In the meantime, you may be aware of previous flooding in your area or there may be community concerns, a few local authorities also provide a warning service.
Other common forms of flooding you often can do something about are:
* Blocked or overloaded drains and waste water pipes
* Burst pipes
* Ditches and drainage channels
What is surface water and groundwater flooding?
Also known as pluvial flooding, surface-water flooding can happen in places that would seem to be unlikely to flood.
It’s caused when heavy rain simply overwhelms the drainage system and is becoming increasingly common as more land is developed and doesn’t allow water to soak through.
Groundwater flooding happens when the water table itself is raised usually after a long period of rain.
If you’re affected by this kind of flooding, you’re likely to see water seeping up through the floor rather than rushing in through doorways.
How do I know if I’m at risk from flooding?
You can ask the Environment Agency for what’s known as an insurance-related request letter.
These are free of charge and include details like:
* The most recent National Flood Risk Assessment that was carried out
* Any flood defences and the level of protection they offer
* Any planned improvements to reduce flood risk
* Any dates when the area was previously flooded.
At the end of 2013 the Environment Agency published its updated flood risk maps and these are available for anyone to view.
You can see if you have been identified as being at flood risk from rivers and the sea, surface water and/or reservoir flooding.
What’s in My Back Yard also gives information about which areas are at risk of river and coastal flooding.
If you live in Scotland, check the flood map on the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency website; Northern Ireland residents should go to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development website.
Make sure you know the risk of flooding in your area
What about insurance?
Even if you’ve never been flooded, getting insurance for your home if you’re in an at-risk can be difficult, or even impossible.
Often, when you are offered a quote, it will be prohibitively high.
However, recognising the extent of the problem, the government has agreed with the insurance industry to introduce what amounts to a levy on all insurance to make affordable insurance available for high risk properties.
It affects around 350,000 properties believed to be at risk of flooding, but it doesn’t cover all properties.
You can compare insurance policies online to search for a competitive and robust deal.
What is Flood Re?
Usually flood risk is part of a regular buildings and contents insurance policy. But because so many people found they could not afford super-high premiums, Flood Re was brought in.
It is a premium of between 2 to 3% charged on all household insurance to subsidise premiums for those most at risk.
It’s a temporary measure and will be reviewed every five years up to 2039.
What should flood insurance cover you for?
When comparing insurance policies, check you're covered for the following:
* Drying out, repairing and fixing your property along with its fixtures and fittings.
* Repairing or replacing damaged furniture and belongings.
* Removing debris.
* Professional fees for services such as solicitors, architects and surveyors.
* Alternative accommodation while you can’t live in your home.
What will my insurance company pay out on if I’m flooded and contents are damaged?
This will depend entirely on the type of cover you have.
If you have ‘new for old’ cover, the insurer should pay enough to buy new versions of all damaged items.
There is usually a deduction for wear and tear with clothes. This is the most common type of cover found in most policies.
If you have indemnity cover then you’ll only get the value of your possessions before the flood happened.
So, while, say a TV might cost £500 to replace new, if the insurer says your old version was worth only £100, that’s the figure they’ll use to calculate the pay out.
The amount insurers will pay out if you need to vacate your property will, again, vary according to your policy.
It’s worth checking what the amount is.
It should certainly run into tens of thousands because repair to a seriously flood-damage property can take many weeks and even months before work can begin; for example, the property needs to be dried out.
Beware of under-insurance
As with all insurance policies, be aware of the dangers of ‘under-insurance’.
This is commonly misunderstood outside the industry and many policy holders do not appreciate how it can affect what payout they receive in the event of a claim.
Obviously, the more you insure for, the higher the premium, because a payout will mean greater cost to the insurer if they have to pay out.
So, it can be tempting to lower the amount insured.
For example, you may decided that if you lost all your possessions, £15,000 would be OK to replace them and you declare that as their value.
However, if you do have to claim for these possessions, or any part of them, your insurer can decide that your content was actually worth twice as much as you insured it for.
That means they would deem you to be ‘under-insured’ by 50% and any payout could be reduced in proportion.
Always check the fine print on any insurance policy, especially one as important as a policy covering your home, building and contents (for tips on how to save money on home insurance, go here).
A major claim is statistically unlikely, but if you do have to make one, finding you have inadequate or the wrong kind of insurance can be catastrophic, especially on top of such a traumatic experience as being flooded.
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