The torrential rain that has battered the UK this week has seen hundreds evacuated from their homes with thousands more at risk as the downpours are set to continue.
If you've not yet been affected by flood waters then you'll want to know how to minimise the risk of damage, particularly if you live in one of the 56 flood warning areas of one of the 105 places that are on flood alert.
And, should the worst happen, you'll need to know the next steps to take with regards to clearing up your home and the insurance claims process, whether it's your home, belongings or your car that's been damaged.
There is also action you can take once the waters subside to help minimise any increase in premiums and policy excess at next renewal.
'Flood-proof' your home to minimise the damage
As the old saying goes; 'prevention is better than cure' and it certainly makes sense to prepare for the worst to minimise the damage should you fall victim to flood waters.
Regardless of whether or not you live in a flood-risk area, you should always try to stay ahead of the game by checking the flood alerts on the Environment Agency website or by calling 0845 988 1188.
Pack a 'survival kit' in a waterproof container; including items such as a torch, radio, fully charged mobile, food, drinks, blankets, warm clothes and any useful phone numbers you may need, such as family, friends and the number of your insurance company – you'll need it!
Use sandbags to block any places where water can get in, such as doors, windows and airbricks, and move as many of your belongings as possible upstairs where the flood water is less likely to reach them.
Unplug all electrical items, disconnect your downstairs landline phone and turn off electricity, gas and water supplies if you're about to be flooded.
Next steps to take if your home is flooded
If the floods have arrived you need to be vigilant as there are many dangers present. So never enter fast flowing water and never enter standing water if there's a chance that an electricity supply could be on.
Contact your insurer as soon as possible – most will have 24-hour helplines – to find out what to do next and to arrange repairs. If you require emergency repairs, try to contact a trusted, local tradesman, inform your insurer you're getting the work done and keep receipts for the work carried out.
Wait for the all-clear before drinking from the water supply – it may have become contaminated with sewage – and have any gas and electricity supplies checked by registered engineers if you think they may have been damaged.
If your walls are damaged and soaked through, this can take months to properly dry out so install dryers and dehumidifiers to speed up the process – your insurer may be able to supply you with these.
Don't forget your car
Your home is not the only thing at risk; your car could be damaged, or even swept away, by flood waters so if floods are imminent, you should consider moving your car to higher ground.
Never attempt to drive through flood water as this can damage the engine – particularly if it is a diesel or turbo-charged engine – and many car insurance policies do not cover for electrical faults so you could be left high and (not so) dry.
If your car has been submerged, remove as much water as possible and allow the car to dry out before trying to start the engine.
Contacting your insurer
As mentioned above, contact your insurer as soon as possible and tell them about the damage that has been caused. If you need to make a claim, compile a list of the damaged items and try to include value, dates of purchase and receipts if possible. It's also a good idea to take photographs of any damaged items or property as this may help speed up the claims process.
And, unless they are a health risk, don't throw away any damaged items as they may not be beyond repair. If in doubt, consult your insurer.
You will then be given a Proof of Loss form to make an official damage claim and you'll need to file this with your insurance company within 60 days (around two months) of the flood occurring.
If you need to stay in temporary accommodation while your home is repaired, this should also be sorted out through your insurer – and remember to keep receipts for everything in case you need to claim money back.
Once you have agreed with the insurer a suitable amount for damages you will receive your insurance claim payment and the length of time this process takes depends upon the size of the claim, how detailed your claim is and also upon the insurer in question – so you may need to be patient.
If your car has been damaged by flood waters you will need to contact your car insurance company as soon as possible and explain the damage. Again, it's a good idea to take pictures if possible.
It's also worth noting that there's a good chance that you'll only be covered for flood damage to your car if you have a fully comprehensive policy so if you have a third party only or third party, fire and theft policy then it may be worth upgrading – you can compare a full range of policies here.
The cost of the floods
Current estimates put the cost of claims relating to these latest floods at somewhere between £10million and £15million, while if the summer floods are also taken into account then the total bill is thought to be nearer the £500million mark.
And things could be set to get even worse for homeowners as its feared that hundreds of thousands of homes could become uninsurable, and therefore unmortgageable, by the end of June next year.
This is because the agreement between the insurance industry and the government, which saw insurers guarantee that they would still insure homes in the most at-risk areas provided the government increased spending on flood defences, ends on June 30, 2013 and, as yet, there is little sign of a replacement deal being struck.
This means some homes will be deemed uninsurable or, at best, they could face a price hike of on the cost of their annual cover.
Facing a premium hike?
Claiming on your home or business insurance will probably result in a substantial premium increase when you next come to renew your policy. You will also see an increase in the excess – the amount you have to pay towards the cost of any claim. One business in Lancashire saw its flood excess rise from £2,500 to £25,000 following a claim for flooding.
When faced with a hike, your first response should be to shop around to see if you can find an insurer who will cover you for less. But in some extreme circumstances, where the flood risk to homes and businesses is particularly severe, other insurers might refuse to quote.
Your existing insurer would be obliged to offer cover under the industry-government agreement mentioned above. But what if the premium were simply unaffordable?
If you're in this situation, engage with your insurer at the earliest opportunity – tell them about your concerns about the potential renewal cost and ask what steps you can take prior to renewal to reduce the scale of any price increase.
Actions that could be taken include:
- replacing wooden floors with concrete floors
- removing downstairs carpets
- fitting uPVC doors and windows and using waterproof sealants
- raising electric plugs to higher up the wall than the anticipated flood water level.
All these measures would cost money, so you could ask your insurer to reward you for the investment you are making in your property.