The cost to insurers dealing with that awesome crack in the wall has risen in the past year or two - but is still nowhere near as bad as it was at the start of the decade. More to the point, it is now easier than it was then to squeeze payment out of your insurer if it should happen to you.

After a period in which angry home-owners were pushed from pillar to post in their increasingly desperate efforts to make their insurance companies accept responsibility for a claim, a settlement system is now up and running.

In 1991, says the Association of British Insurers (ABI), its members were forced to shell out more than pounds 540m to settle subsidence claims. A year later, the number of claims notified to insurance companies still ran to more than 45,000, but the figure claimed for was pounds 259m.

Since then, after a period of relative calm, claims have started to mount again, from pounds 125m in 1994 to pounds 326m the following year. So far in 1997, the number is higher than in the first six months of last year. Given that far more claims are made in the second half of the year, after dry spells show up those cracks still further, the signs are ominous.

But anyone affected by subsidence should not despair, even if insurers have changed after the purchase of a new house. In a deal brokered by the ABI, any claim notified within eight weeks from the date the current company assumed the risk will be dealt with by the former insurer.

Claims that are notified more than eight weeks and later than one year after the current insurer sold the policy is dealt with by that firm. It then splits the cost of dealing with the problem with the old insurer.

Claims made a year or more from the date the risk was accepted by the new insurer are deal with exclusively by that firm.

An ABI spokesman says that makes claims acceptance easier for many home- owners. But he admits that subsidence can be wearying for many people who can forced to wait many months before their problem is dealt with, especially if they are hoping to sell their house in the meantime.

"One of the more demoralising things can be if a company says that it is necessary to wait a few months to check whether it is subsidence and how it should be dealt with," he says. "It is very hard to do anything about that.

"But the important thing is not to panic. The problem will be dealt with. Having an assessor from the company on site to deal with many of the technicalities is also helpful."

- Nic Cicutti