Around 1,800 properties are estimated to have flooded across the North
Damage is expected to cost the insurance industry between £80m and £120m
Insurance service Flood Re was set up to help those living in flood-risk areas
But businesses and homes built after 2009 are not eligible for the scheme
Pam Webb tries to make a discreet entrance to The Old Butchers cafe in the village of Fishlake, South Yorkshire, just before midday. It has been three days since she gave a tearful interview to TV crews, admitting that her flooded hotel-spa was not insured, but she is already a minor celebrity. The 49-year-old is immediately swamped by neighbours, volunteers and journalists. She is taking it all with admirable grace.
‘The support has been incredible, she says. ‘I’m getting messages from all over the UK. The Press has been great. I keep on saying ‘Don’t abandon us.’ We need to keep the stories coming.’ Her business, Truffle Lodge, comprises luxury accommodation and a spa with a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and steam room. It was fully booked until Christmas, but she has been left with no option but to shut for the foreseeable future. Pam says a flooding exemption was added to her policy without her realising — meaning she will receive no compensation.
‘I only discovered that when they rang me on Monday’ she adds. ‘They phoned me as I was on the back of a trailer, with the Press, showing them the devastation of the whole village. When they told me, I just burst into tears.’
Insurers can tell from your postcode whether you live in a flood zone. And experts say it is therefore ‘morally indefensible’ to sell customers living in these areas policies that exclude flood cover.
Hundreds facing huge repair bills
Tales of flooding come thick and fast in Fishlake, which has borne the brunt of the damage since the River Don burst its banks a week last Friday. Around 1,800 properties are estimated to have flooded across the North. More than half are in towns and villages around Doncaster. The resulting damage is expected to cost the insurance industry between £80 million and £120 million, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Of the 700 households in Fishlake, around 350 have been evacuated. Pam is just one of many who have since discovered they may not be covered for flood damage. Andy Beaglehole has lived in his three-bedroom bungalow in Fishlake since 1997. He says he only realised he wasn’t covered for flooding after calling his broker last week to find out if he could make a claim. The father-of-two now faces a repair bill of up to £45,000. ‘I’m devastated’ says the 56-year-old. ‘The floors, the brand-new carpet, the boiler, the furniture — everything will need to be replaced. The flooding is bad enough, until you find out about all of this and realise you’re on your own.’
Others are still in limbo. Philip and Lu Waite say they still don’t know if they are covered for flood damage to their farm. If they are not, they face a bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds to replace waterlogged machinery. ‘We’re hoping we’re covered, but we just don’t know yet’ says Lu, 68. ‘You’ve got to be concerned. Stress is an understatement. Everybody is bad-tempered, it’s horrendous.’
Insuring the insurers
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2015, Cumbria, Lancashire and parts of southern Scotland were hit by the most extreme flooding on record in the UK. It was the latest in a series of floods that left many homeowners unable to insure their properties or facing unaffordable premiums. Insurance service Flood Re was introduced in 2016 to fix this. It is designed to help insurance companies offer cheaper quotes and cover those who previously could not get insurance in flood-risk areas.
Insurers can pass on the flood risk part of a customer’s policy to Flood Re once the cost has exceeded a certain level. When a policyholder makes a claim, they will still have it managed by their insurer, but the insurer will be able to recover its costs from Flood Re. The initiative is funded by a £180 million-a-year levy from insurers, for which regular policyholders pay through slightly higher premiums. It means most households should be covered for flood damage as standard if they buy insurance.
But businesses are not eligible for the scheme, and this is thought to be why Pam’s premises, which includes her home upstairs, is not covered. Homes built after 2009 are also excluded, as the Government does not want to encourage developers to build in high flood-risk areas knowing they would be backed up by Flood Re.
That means more than 1.7 million UK households are ineligible. Flood Re says 94% of UK insurers have signed up. The remaining 6% are smaller firms, which may have decided the administrative costs of joining the scheme are too high for the low number of policies they hand over. It is expected around 350,000 properties will meet the eligibility criteria, although there is no cap. So far, around 250,000 policies have been signed over. Ultimately, however, it is still down to the individual insurer to decide the details of each policy.
Cheap policies that don’t pay out
The Beagleholes’ bungalow was built in 1970. Their insurer, Ergo, is signed up to Flood Re, but their broker, Fresh Home Insurance, is not, meaning their policy wasn’t eligible for the scheme. It begs the question as to why Fresh still sold them such a policy when they live in a known flood-risk area. Andy says he does not recall the issue ever being mentioned over the phone. But Ergo says there are call transcripts proving he was informed.
Ergo says that Fresh raised flood cover during the sales process, but Andy turned it down. The flood exemption clause is written at the top of one of three attachments that were sent in an email alongside his policy statement after he’d paid.
Fresh’s website states that it was launched in 2010 to offer buildings and contents insurance for non-standard risks, such as ‘homes that are considered to be in a flood risk area’. Before Flood Re was set up, new insurers found a gap in the market by offering cheaper policies to homeowners in flood-risk areas by excluding flood cover.
Most established insurers, such as RSA, do not offer policies if they cannot provide flood cover. Flood Re was set up in part to plug this gap. Pam is similarly bemused by her predicament. She says her broker insists it had notified her of the exemption, but feels it should have done more.
‘Even if it was completely my fault and I have been negligent, there are still questions to be asked of the broker as to why it offered me that in the first place’ she says. ‘Why didn’t it say ‘If you accept this one, you should maybe take out a premium to cover yourself’ ‘?
The Financial Conduct Authority requires insurers to ascertain if a customer needs flood cover before a policy is sold. Roger Flaxman, a specialist in insurance claims disputes, says he has heard similar stories. He adds that it is ‘morally indefensible’ for insurers to offer policies to homeowners living in flood-risk areas that exclude flood cover. He says ‘Fundamentally, it is misleading to offer insurance which most people would assume to be comprehensive, but actually excludes one of the risks to which they are most vulnerable.’
Mr Flaxman adds that insurers will always know whether their client lives in a flood-risk zone and that they have ‘a duty’ to bring this to their attention. ‘It’s a moral responsibility, if not a legal or regulatory one — although you could argue all three. ‘I would say it should be a red flag on the policy, right up front ‘You’re buying a policy without flood cover, are you sure about this?’
‘If the insurer does not wish to accept the flood risk then morally it has no right to accept the premium for the homeowner’s insurance. Rather, the insurer should leave the business for insurers that will offer flood cover, it being an essential protection for their customer.’
What you need to know about flood cover…
Can I still get cover if I live in a flood zone?
Flood insurance is widely available to homeowners. Check policy details, and do not simply buy the cheapest one. You can see if you live in a flood zone at www.gov.uk/check-flood-risk.
How might an insurer try to catch me out?
The Financial Ombudsman says disputes often arise over whether a flood is the cause of the damage, as most policies don’t define what a flood is. Other common areas of dispute include insurers offering compensation that does not cover a total repair bill, or offering an unsatisfactory replacement item, and homeowners not giving an accurate valuation of home contents.
What should I do if I am flooded?
Do not throw away damaged property, keep receipts for any emergency repairs, and do not rush to redecorate, as drying out can take many months. Ask your insurer about any flood prevention measures that can be taken. This can also speed up the time it takes to repair after a flood.
Will my premium jump if I claim for flood damage?
Costings include multiple factors — not just flooding. The Flood Re joint initiative between the Government and insurers is designed to keep premiums affordable. Those eligible also see their policy excesses — the amount they have to pay towards a claim — capped at £250. Previously, some people had to pay several thousand pounds for repairs.
What can I do to lower the cost of my premium?
Homeowners in areas at risk of flooding should shop around and contact brokers directly, using price comparison sites as an aide. Homeowners can invest in flood defences, and businesses can reduce potential damage by putting stock high up and using tiles on the floor. Yesterday, the Government announced flooded homes and businesses will be able to receive up to £5,000 for flood defences.
Victims fear a hike in premiums
Flood Re insists its scheme is working. It says four out of five people with previous flood claims have been able to get quotes that are more than 50% cheaper than they could have done before the scheme was introduced. Research by data firm Consumer Intelligence shows 93% of householders whose properties have been flooded can now find quotes from five or more insurers, compared with none before Flood Re was set up.
A spokesperson says ‘Insurers set the terms, conditions and prices for policies, not Flood Re.
Flood is standard cover within a buildings and/or contents policy, so any policy sold to a customer with a flood exclusion needs to be clearly highlighted to the customer. If the customer is purchasing insurance through an intermediary, it is the broker’s responsibility to clearly advise the customer what is and isn’t covered.’
But people are slipping through the net. In Fishlake, there are reports of a man said to have lost £50,000 worth of antiques from his home. Another homeowner, who did not wish to be named, says she called her insurer on Monday to put in a claim for her flooded bungalow, only to be told she wasn’t covered. She says it was only after reviewing her documents she noticed a clause saying flood cover was excluded. ‘I think they should have made it clearer’ she says. ‘All the furniture is ruined, all the floors are going to have to come up. But we’ll sort it, even if it takes us two years.’
Even those who are covered still fear their premiums will rocket if they make a claim — exactly what Flood Re was designed to stop. Ian Holliday, 77, up to his waist in water outside his front door, says ‘It’s bound to rise. Insurance firms will take advantage.’ One man says he is so concerned about rising premiums that he is not even making a claim, despite being covered for flooding, which has wrecked the furniture and flooring at his home in Stainforth, a village two miles south of Fishlake.
As an engineer, he thinks it will be cheaper to do the work himself.
Meanwhile, his neighbour says he is putting in a claim as he believes his premium will go up anyway due to the floods. A claim for a waterlogged home can be up to £45,000, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI). A spokesperson says: ‘Flood insurance remains widely available to flood-risk homeowners, thanks to the Flood Re scheme. Homeowners should always ensure that their home insurance meets their needs, especially if at risk of flooding. If necessary, shop around for the right insurance and don’t simply opt for the cheapest policy on offer.’
But the warning will be of little comfort to those who are already up the creek without a paddle. Andy and his wife, Christina, 47, are living in a friend’s caravan two miles down the road, but have been separated from their two sons, Oliver, 17, and Harry, 12, who are having to stay with school friends in neighbouring villages. ‘You feel your family has been split up’ says Andy. ‘Just the other day, Harry was asking when his older brother would be coming back.’ It will be months before they can return home.
[Source: Daily Mail Online, 19 November 2019]
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