Alan Titchmarsh Show / Legal Topics

Storms, floods, wind and snow: how to survive the winter weather

flood-e1353691579168Britain’s bad weather caused misery for thousands of families and households over the Christmas period and into 2014. With the weather forecast to become even more extreme in the coming months and years, there are some things that everyone should be aware of, before the storms come and after.

Already this winter, over 2,000 homes in England have suffered from flooding as a result of the storms with 1 in 6 still at risk of flooding. However, despite much publicity and what seems like blanket news coverage, fewer than 40 per cent of those at significant risk are believed to be aware of it.

Even if you do not believe your home to be at risk, you should check out the Environment Agency’s online flood warning map, which shows the locations where Flood Alerts, Flood Warnings or Severe Flood Warnings are in force and is updated up to four time each hour.

WHAT TO YOU DO IF YOUR HOUSE HAS BEEN FLOODED?

Safety first:  If water is still coming into your home switch off the electricity supply as quickly as possible (even if the storm has passed).  Always use rubber gloves when handling any of your possessions as the water may be contaminated.

Dealing with insurers:  Don’t touch anything until the flood is reported to your home insurer.  Take photos of any damage.  Mark the height of the flood water on the walls so that insurers can see where it reached if it has since receded.  Keep the wrappers from food you’ve had to throw away as they’re accepted by most insurers as evidence of the loss.  It is always sensible to keep a record of all phone calls with your insurer because you may need them if there are any problems with the progress of your claim.  You should seek clarification from your insurer as to what further costs will be covered before you incur the costs, wherever possible.  Emergency helplines will often be provided so make the most of the advice they can offer.

Is it always worth claiming?

IMG_2527We pay for insurance to cover any financial loss in the event of an emergency, so you should feel that you can claim for damage caused by floods.  If you don’t claim you should still declare the flood damage to your insurer at the time of renewal.  If you don’t, that can be considered a non-disclosure and the insurer may void your policy.

You should check with your insurer what exactly you can claim for.  Although it will change between policies, you can usually claim for the following things:

  • Plants in tubs may be covered, but garden plants typically will not.
  • The costs of staying in temporary accommodation where it is necessary, plus additional costs such as transport to say a child’s school or the policyholder’s work.
  • Ruined clothing and other goods caused by water coming into the home.
  • Contents of outside sheds – things that may not seem particularly valuable may still cost something to replace.
  • Trauma caused by the flood – including damage to possessions of a sentimental nature, having the home in feet of water with a smell and dampness that may take months to erase
  • Favours to repay – all those hot meals and free accommodation given by neighbours during the crisis may be recoverable costs.

Home insurance will generally cover damage caused by freezing temperatures or storms, including burst pipes.  If a roof tile comes off, or a tree falls and causes damage to somebody else’s property, then you should contact your insurance company to alert them to the damage and to seek further advice as soon as possible.

“Acts of God”

Home and travel insurance policies often contain clauses which refer to an ‘Act of God’, which are used by insurance providers to protect themselves from hefty payouts usually associated with unpredictable events.  In the event that your property is damaged or you suffer other financial loss as a result of an ‘Act of God’, you may find that your insurance provider refuses to pay out.  You should know exactly what constitutes an ‘Act of God’ in the eyes of your insurance provider. Don’t get caught out by vague wording.  If the situations which constitute an ‘Act of God’ aren’t specifically defined in your policy, then request clarification from your insurer, so they can’t hide behind something loosely defined in the event of a claim.

Is the cost of my insurance going to go up?

If your property has suffered from flooding, it is more than likely that your insurance premium will rise.  Although an agreement between the government and the insurance industry guarantees that you will be able to get cover, there is no cap on what a provider can charge.  As the cost of paying out to insured households increases, so will the cost of all insurance policies, but especially those in flood risk areas where it already costs approximately 25% more to insure a property.

Statistics suggest that at the present time, 200,000 homes in Britain may struggle to afford the flood insurance they are offered, but there are ways to reduce the cost to make it more affordable.

Getting a better insurance deal

The insurance industry is competitive, so you may be able to get a deal by shopping around, or using a specialist flood insurance broker.  Home owners who take steps to protect their home from flooding may also have better negotiating power with insurers, as well as protecting themselves. Flood prevention measures can be expensive though, so take time to consider if they are worth installing.

From summer next year, a new agreement between the government and the insurance companies will come into force which will cap the price of flood insurance for most homes at a price between £210 and £540. The cap will depend on your council tax band.  However, insurance for some houses will not be capped. This includes the most expensive houses (those in the highest council tax band) and those built in the last five years (to deter developers from building in high flood risk areas).

Other worries

Of course, severe weather causes much more disruption than closed roads and soggy carpets. The knock-on effect of flooding, snowstorms and hurricanes can stretch around the world and the aftermath last for weeks, months or even years.

For some, there are immediate concerns, such as getting to work or taking a flight. Employers will often be sympathetic to employees who have been affected by serious incidents, however there is no obligation on them to be so.  Although some will allow you to work from home or take the day as holiday if  transport links are affected, others may consider it to be unauthorised absence or force you to take the time as unpaid leave.

If your holidays or travel arrangements are affected by severe weather, you may be entitled to a refund from the operator, but not always.  Similarly with claiming on your insurance, an ‘Act of God’ may exclude you from making a claim, but it always worth checking and voicing your complaint.

Finally, if you live in an area which is susceptible to flooding, you may find it difficult to sell your property.  With the latest freak wether still fresh in many people’s minds, and more on the way, further checks are being made by buyers and mortgage companies in potential flood areas, meaning you may be there for a few more years yet.

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