Home insurance and the floods

July 27, 2007 at 9:37 am

According to the Association of British Insurersan estimated 27,500 homes were damaged in the floods which recently hit Yorkshire and parts of the Midlands, and the cost to insurers is expected to be in excess of £1.5 billion. It is a nightmare scenario to see your home devastated by flood waters but the misery is compounded if you are uninsured. Many people see home insurance, particularly contents insurance, as some sort of luxury or optional extra. In fact Abbey Home Insurance estimate that with around 25% of home owners having this attitude, some 5,000 families may find themselves wishing that they had insured their homes. In the days after the floods, applications for insurance rose by 300% in places like Hull and Sheffield and it is reasonable to assume that these applicants are those who have learned from their neighbours’ misfortune.

According to the Environment Agency 2.3 million homes are built on flood plains and insurance companies are seeking information from the agency to see whether their black list of uninsurable properties should be increased. At the moment over half a million homes and businesses are uninsurable as they are at risk of being flooded more than once in every seventy-five years. An agreement was reached in 2002 between insurers and the government that cover would be given to home owners with properties on flood plains so long as defence systems were either in place or planned. Currently that agreement is being adhered to although in many other countries home owners are less fortunate; flood cover is often not included in the standard home insurance policy and is very difficult to obtain, even as a separate policy, if the risk is deemed too high. advises householders to check their insurance policies carefully, including all the small print and offers the following tips:-

Before a flood

  • Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies at the mains
  • If you have time, move all items of sentimental value to a safe place
  • Again, if time allows, move what you can upstairs and raise heavy furniture on bricks to minimize damage

During a flood

  • Be aware of the risk posed to health by flood water contaminated by sewage
  • Follow instructions from the emergency services and do not wade through high flood waters

After a flood

  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible on their 24 hour emergency number
  • Keep a record of all damage including, if possible, photographs and/or video footage
  • Do not turn your gas, electricity or water supplies back on before having them checked professionally

For further advice on coping with floods visit the Environment Agency website and remember to keep a note in a safe place of which company you are insured with since you may well be evacuated in a flood and be unable to return home to obtain the information (always supposing it has survived the event). One way round this is to e-mail yourself the policy number and contact details for your insurers.

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Tips on obtaining home insurance if you live in a flood-prone area

July 27, 2007 at 9:14 am

In a worrying development, there are fears that many homeowners may be denied the opportunity to obtain home insurance because they live in areas that are prone to flooding due to poorly maintained flood defences. In a survey by the National Audit Office, a staggering 50% of linear defences and 49% of flood defences are in disrepair thus leaving whole regions susceptible to flooding during periods of heavy rainfall. Conditions vary between different regions. In the South West, for example, a mere 18% of flood defences are in an acceptable condition. Given that there are some 2.2 million properties located in regions which are at risk from flooding, obtaining sufficient home insurance is essential. This, as Malcolm Tarling from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) pointed out, can often be a very difficult process for homeowners: “If the area (where the individual lives) does not have adequate flood defences in place, homeowners will find it difficult to get insurance, as there is no obligation to provide cover.”

Under these circumstances, what can you do to try to obtain home insurance if you live in a region vulnerable to flooding? Here are a number of useful tips.

  • First, evaluate the quality of local flood defences. You can do so by typing your postcode into the website of the Environment Agency which will provide you with a map highlighting high risk regions. Alternatively, you can write to the Environment Agency – the department can provide you with details about the quality of flood defences in your region. You will have to pay a fee of £25 for this service. If defences in your area are maintained to a high quality then you should have little difficulty obtaining home insurance.
  • Contact a number of insurers when buying home insurance. Just because one insurer denies you cover does not mean that others will necessarily do the same. It is vital to do your best to obtain insurance for your property. Failing to obtain home insurance is likely to reduce the value of your property substantially. According to Halifax, one of Britain’s largest lending agencies, “Householders who cannot get building insurance will not be able to get a mortgage.”
  • Do your bit to make your home more flood resilient. This will make insurers more willing to grant you a policy. You could, for instance, have your floor tiled rather that carpeted. In addition, it might be wise to install door boards to keep out flood water. Having electrical sockets installed at higher points on your walls will prevent them being damaged during flooding; it will also make your home more child-friendly.

If you are finding it difficult to obtain insurance for your home or are having problems dealing with the paperwork, then there are a number of organisations that can provide you with impartial advice and assistance. These include the National Flood Forum (Telephone: 01299 403 055) and the Telegraph Insurance Services provided by Cornhill Direct (Telephone: 0800 10 70 500).

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Home insurance advice for flood-hit property owners

July 27, 2007 at 9:03 am

Torrential rains in Yorkshire and the north-eastern parts of the UK have left much destruction in their wake. Particularly hard-hit have been home-owners who must now face the prospect of reconstruction and filing insurance claims. Whilst many insurance companies have set up special help lines for flood-hit property owners, making an insurance claim can still be a rather complicated process. There are also a number of key issues that you should bear in mind if you have been a victim of the recent flooding and have suffered damage to your property.

  • Firstly, it is vital to inform your insurance provider as soon as possible. This will allow them to deal with your situation quickly and thus provide you with the relevant advice. It is likely that your provider will have set up a 24 hour helpline to deal with the large number of worried home owners seeking assistance. (Nationwide, for example, has set up such a hotline which has received over five hundred calls from affected property owners.)
  • Whilst it makes sense to carry out essential repairs, ensure that you only engage in the more complex repairs after receiving the go-ahead from your insurance provider. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the undesirable position of having to foot the bill for these repairs yourself. Also ensure that you keep all the receipts for the repairs you undertake.
  • Move your valuables to a safe location in your house (for example, the upper floors). Do not dispose of any furniture unless your insurance provider has acknowledged the damage and agreed to compensate you for your loss.
  • It might be wise to check with your insurance provider as to whether it is possible for them to move you to an alternate location. In certain cases this might be part of your home insurance policy.
  • Finally, remember – safety first! Do not consume tap water unless you have been told that it is safe to do so by your local authority. Do not turn on the electricity or gas – be cautious about potential gas leaks.

Once the flood waters have subsided, there are a number of tasks you need to undertake to make your home more habitable.

  • Heavy rains can cause corrosion. It is therefore advisable to oil locks and hinges.
  • You will also need to dry and air your home to prevent the growth of mould and fungi – these flourish in damp environments. Also leave your windows and doors open to bring some fresh air into your home.
  • Once you have obtained the approval of your insurance company, disinfect your home, washing down affected walls and surfaces.

Finally, even if you have not been hit by flooding, it might be an idea to go through your insurance policy to ensure that you are aware of its terms and conditions. As the experience of flood-hit home owners demonstrates, there is no telling when the worst could happen – it is therefore essential to be prepared.

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Thousands lose water supply in flood crisis

July 25, 2007 at 2:12 am

The age-old adage of ‘Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink’ is proving a harsh reality for Gloucestershire residents affected by severe flooding. Around 350,000 people will be left without running water this week as rising floods close down local treatment works. Problems have been compounded by interrupted electricity supplies.

Those in flood-hit areas have been told not to panic as emergency measures are put in place to ensure supplies of clean water. Hundreds of bowsers (mobile water dispensers) have been dispatched by Severn Trent Water and the Army is distributing bottled water where people are stranded. Householders are also stocking up on shop-bought fluids, but shelves are emptying quickly.

Bowser water is safe to drink when tankers first arrive, but officials are advising a number of precautionary measures to prevent infection. The following advice has been issued by Gloucestershire County Council and Severn Trent Water:

  • Collect and store bowser water in a safe, clean container.
  • Where possible, boil bowser water before use.
  • Boiled bowser water is the best option for bottle-fed babies. Bottled water can also be used. It is important to keep babies hydrated, so unboiled bowser water can be used as a last resort.
  • Use bowser water as sparingly as possible and save it for drinking.
  • Flood water, rain water and water from streams can be used to flush the toilet. It is not necessary to flush every time but remember to wash hands after using the toilet.
  • If you have tap water but notice changes in quality, such as discolouration or a difference in taste or smell, ring your water company. If in doubt, boil water before drinking or use bottled water.
  • If your home has been flooded, assume water has been contaminated and boil it before drinking or use bottled water.
  • While health risks are low, try to avoid contact with flood water. If you have to deal with it, use protective clothing such as overalls, goggles, wellies and gloves.
  • Don’t allow children to play in flood water.
  • When walking through flood water, beware of hidden debris.
  • If you have been exposed to flood water wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food or eating.

Officials are also urging the public to check on elderly and vulnerable neighbours to ensure they have access to clean water.

Severn Trent Water is regularly updating information for local residents on its website, including the locations of bowsers and public health advice on water quality. The Health Protection Agency publishes health advice for residents whose homes have been flooded.

The Environment Agency Floodline on 0845 988 1188 has information on the latest flood warnings.

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Scottish Water clean up coastland

July 19, 2007 at 3:53 pm

A £1.6 million waste water treatment system has been installed in Innellan in Western Scotland, ending discharges of raw sewage along the picturesque coastline. Scottish Water said the completion of the project would benefit locals and visitors alike.

Waste water from over 1,000 households had previously been pumped out of 12 points along the shore directly into the sea. It will now receive treatment in three underground tanks before being discharged into deep waters in the Firth of Clyde via long outfall pipes. The areas around the tanks have been landscaped with footpaths and benches.

Innellan residents originally expressed concerns about locating the water treatment facility close to homes. Scottish Water was criticized by Jim Mather, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, for failures in its consultation process.

So when investment started in 2005, Scottish Water were keen to work closely with the community to ensure minimal inconvenience during the work. Contractors Bi-Water Leslie organised a safety workshop for local children and helped raised funds for Cowal Hospice.

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How are some UK towns more ready for flooding?

July 12, 2007 at 2:16 pm

The UK’s love/hate relationship with the weather was weighted very much toward the latter this summer as Britain experienced the wettest June since 1914, with more than double the average rain-fall. 27,000 homes and 5,000 businesses were damaged and The Association of British Insurers announced that the total claim cost will reach up to £1.5billion.
Aviva, who own the largest home insurers Norwich Union, received 13,000 claims in a few days after the first down-pour. The worst affected areas such as Sheffield and Hull will take months to recover; their schools and businesses swamped in contaminated water.

But what caused this catastrophe? A polar jet stream, which usually creates the UK’s weather, passed through the island much further south this year with a huge area of built-up low pressure sweeping across the north of England resulting in large cloud formation and up to a month’s rainfall in a matter of hours. The cause however is almost completely irrelevant now. The solutions are what many people are demanding from Gordon Brown’s new government.

David Millband, the Environment Secretary at the time of the floods, announced in parliament that “All relevant lessons will be learned once the existing priorities have been met. The Environment Agency’s flood warnings direct system did very well”. This is despite figures from the National Audit Office stating that 54% of high risk areas are not adequately covered.

DEFRA allocated £600 million in 2007 for flood defences but many schemes have been postponed, resulting in insurance companies refusing to cover some of their existing and new customers who live in these so called hot-spots. More than 500,000 people could be refused cover and forced to cover themselves, according to the National Flood Forum.

Flood defences include embankments, walls, weirs, sluices and pumping stations. The Environment Agency claim to be focusing on the country’s ‘soft-defences’, which include wetlands and salt marshes. They stress these can also help benefit wildlife. But why is the government allowing the building of thousands of businesses and homes in these hot-spot areas at the highest risk of flooding?

The Thames Gateway, bordering the east of London, and covering parts of Kent and Essex, is the principle worry for future flooding; these areas are natural basins for the River Thames and would be the first to see the devastation of the river bursting its banks.

The Environment Agency continually puts the government under pressure for more flood defence funding and since 2002 there has been a 40% increase. But in 2006 the budget fell by £15million from the previous year. The fact remains that sites for development, especially around the capital, are few and far between. The risk of flooding might be lessened but it seems that green-bunds placed between houses might not be enough to prevent a yearly repeat of what happened to the UK in June 2007.

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Welsh Water prosecuted over bug

July 5, 2007 at 11:04 am

Dwr Cymru, or Welsh Water is facing charges of supplying water unfit for human consumption in the wake of the outbreak of a stomach bug in North Wales. The Drinking Water Inspectorate is bringing the charges in relation to cryptosporidiosis contamination in the winter of 2005. The bug affected 231 people, making it the largest such water borne outbreak in Wales.

Around 70,000 people whose water was treated at the Cwellyn works in Snowdonia were told to boil their drinking water for two months after the bug was discovered. Householders were later given £25 to compensate for the energy costs and inconvenience.

Dwr Cymru Welsh Water have expressed disappointment at the decision to prosecute. They say that protecting public health by providing a safe and reliable water supply has always been and always will be their first priority. Their own investigations at the time of the incident showed that the Cwellyn water treatment works was operating normally and tests showed no breach of regulatory standards. The company has now installed new ultra-violet treatment that kills cryptosporidiosis.

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Thames Water to spend £1 billion on Leaky London

July 5, 2007 at 10:09 am

Thames Water is planning to spend nearly £1 billion over the coming year as it replaces 540km of Victorian-era pipes in London. The company’s operating costs have risen by 32% following the summer 2006 drought crisis. It was heavily criticised last year for charging consumers high rates while failing to control leakages.

The latest results show that Thames Water met and exceeded its Ofwat –agreed leakage target for 2006/07 and that 323km of new water mains have already been installed. Chief Executive David Owens described the results as encouraging given the challenges posed by ‘one of the worst droughts in a hundred years’.

The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat)] expressed serious concerns in June 2006 over Thames Water’s failure to achieve leakage targets for two years running. The following month saw Ofwat take legal action to ensure Thames Water remedied these failures at the expense of its shareholders.

Ofwat described the 2006-2007 Thames Water results as ‘good news for water consumers’. Customer complaints have fallen by 9% over the last year. The £1 billion spending will reduce the risk of future water supply problems, but Thames Water admit there is ‘still much to be done’ to improve infrastructure in the capital.

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UK water companies face the effects of severe flooding

July 5, 2007 at 10:04 am

Heavy and persistent rainfall has resulted in phenomenal levels of flooding in northern England. Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and the Midlands have been hardest hit, with over 3,000 properties reported flooded.

Over 350 people were evacuated from homes in north Doncaster after the River Don burst its banks, flooding nearby villages. Rescue services were unable to save a man trapped in a drain in Hull, and another man and teenage boy were swept to their deaths in Sheffield.

Hundreds have had to take up temporary accommodation in emergency shelters. Fire crews have been busy helping people to safety while the [ Environment Agency] and local water companies face the challenge of minimising flood damage and restoring normal water supplies and drainage.

Yorkshire Water warns that sewer flooding can happen in moments and has urged householders to take preventative action. Flows can be diverted with sandbags, planks and rags. Anglian Water advised members of the public to tune in to local TV and radio stations to stay up to date with the latest situation. The Environment agency stressed the importance of alerting neighbours and checking on elderly relatives.

Forecasters had hoped that the worst conditions were over, before warning that there could be further heavy rain. The Met Office issued a number of severe weather warnings, saying that total rainfall could reach 50mm in eastern England.

The Environment Agency Floodline (0845 988 1188) provides advice and information to those in affected areas.

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