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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Shane Hickey

As extreme weather increases, watertight insurance is a must

The average flooding claim is £48,551 for a building and £11,489 for contents.
The average flooding claim is £48,551 for a building and £11,489 for contents. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Consumers face the prospect of increasing home insurance costs as flooding and other extreme weather events drive up premiums.

The price of home cover, where both buildings and contents are insured, went up by 40% last year on 2022, according to consultants Pearson Ham.

“The unexpected and extreme weather events are causing the biggest increases,” says Stephen Kennedy, director at Pearson Ham. “Prices went up in January and I’d expect that to continue for at least a few months.”

There were more than 100 weather warnings in place last week as Storm Henk hit the UK, resulting in thousands of homes being flooded. It is the latest in a series of extreme weather events following on from storms Babet, Ciaran and Debi last year.

Campaigners for those affected have said that it is common for homes to be underinsured, which could result in a claim not being fully covered.

Rising premiums

After the October and November storms, insurers paid out £352m for damaged homes, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

The average cost of a homes and buildings policy is £350, according to its latest figures.

Even in the first week of this month, as Storm Henk took hold, premiums were up 1.5% on last month, says Kennedy.

It is proving a double headache for insurance companies. The cost of repairs is up as a result of labour shortages and rising materials costs. Chelsea Shakespeare, of brokers Adrian Flux, says, the combination of flooding, drought and storm damage has resulted in more payouts, which will lead to higher premiums.

The ABI declined to comment on future price rises, saying it was a matter for individual insurers.

Increases in flooding have also led to an increase in excesses – the amount that a homeowner has to pay on a claim – by insurers for all premiums, according to Shakespeare. She says that “some, unfortunately, are as high as a few thousand pounds. However, more frequently, we’ve seen the removal of cover completely in extremely high-risk areas.”

Heather Shepherd of the National Flood Forum, a charity that supports flood victims, says that for those who have cover it is a “common problem” to find that they are underinsured when a loss adjuster comes to assess the damage.

“People don’t always realise because they are asked ‘what is your home valued at?’, ‘what is the value of the contents?’ and ‘how many bedrooms have you got?’” she says.

“Because getting home insurance is not a bespoke process, people can be caught out.”

Check it’s the right deal

Price comparison website puts the average flooding claim at £48,551 for buildings and £11,489 for contents – a hefty bill if you do not have cover.

“So although you might not think you need the insurance, it could be a lifesaver if the worst happens,” says the site’s Matthew Harwood.

“Just make sure you check your policy documents carefully, to be sure you’re covered properly if you need to claim.”

Protection against damage from adverse weather conditions – such as flooding, storms or subsidence – is a standard feature in the vast majority of home insurance policies, according to the ABI.

The level of flood cover depends on the provider and the policy you choose. Reading the details closely will ensure you are fully covered.

Emma Myrie, of specialist home insurer Homeprotect, says failure to be truthful about risk can lead to cover being withdrawn.

The Environment Agency’s website will tell you whether your property is at immediate risk, will be at risk within five days, or is in an area that is likely to flood in future – useful if you are planning to move.

Those who live in areas with a high risk of flooding may be able to access insurance through Flood Re, the government scheme that offers subsidised insurance to especially vulnerable buildings.

It operates via insurers and charges a fixed fee based on council tax bands for buildings and contents. Not all insurers participate, however.

Make a home more resilient

Some steps can be taken to reduce your insurance bill. “Underwriters may offer better terms if they can see that a customer is taking steps to improve their risk,” says Myrie.

Covers for air bricks can limit the chance of water coming in and cost from about £10 each. Flood gates can be put in doorways when flooding is expected, and act to block water coming through a doorway, for example. Prices vary, but they can cost from about £430.

The Property Care Association, a trade body, suggests fitting a return valve to drains to prevent sewage, or floodwater, backing up into the property.

Brickwork can be painted with water-resistant solutions, while gaps around pipes and or wires should be sealed.

The ABI says that having proper drainage on a property can also help. “Incorporating sustainable methods, such as areas of grass and plants, or permeable paving … can also help absorb heavy rainfall and reduce flood risk,” says Louise Clark of the ABI.

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