Householders living on a knife edge: Sue Fieldman describes the problems of families threatened by coastal erosion

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The Independent Online
JACK and Dorothy Meggitt live in a clifftop house at Mappleton in Humberside - an area with the worst coastal erosion in Europe and possibly one of the worst in the world.

When they bought their terraced house 38 years ago it was was about a quarter of a mile from the cliff edge. It is now just 60 yards away and the erosion is accelerating.

The couple have been insured for many years with Royal Insurance. Their buildings insurance premium is not loaded because of the location of the property.

Mrs Meggitt said: 'If the house goes over the cliff, that is the end of it. Our neighbour had to take his bungalow down - it had got right to the edge. No one will insure us for coastal erosion.'

The couple enjoy living in the property and are therefore prepared to accept the limitation on the insurance cover.

A spokesman for Royal Insurance said: 'We do not deem coastal erosion an insurable feature. It is not something that you can buy back, so there is no loading for it.'

The Association of British Insurers has for some time had a committee looking into weather problems and coastal shores. However, it has not yet reached any conclusions.

The dramatic downfall of the Holbeck Hall Hotel at Scarborough has caused a wave of concern that insurance companies will push up the buildings insurance premiums for people who live too close to the edge.

The likely cause of the Yorkshire clifftop crumble was landslip after heavy rain in the wake of recent dry summers.

Landslip, subsidence and heave are covered in the standard domestic buildings insurance. Coastal erosion - a gradual process as opposed to the full-scale drama of a landslide - is excluded.

Ray Morley, a spokesman for Commercial Union, said: 'If lots of houses were falling into the sea we would obviously be sorry, but it would have no effect on us at all.'

Commercial Union does not load the premiums on clifftop properties because of the coastal erosion exclusion.

The ABI says that coastal erosion is excluded from policies because insurance companies are not happy to insure against a certainty.

Some parts of the British coastline are being eroded at the rate of six metres a year.

Mr Morley is concerned that people near the coast might be shocked to realise that coastal erosion is excluded from their cover.

A spokesman for Sun Alliance puts the hotel collapse down to exceptional circumstances. He also denies any premium increase for other clifftop dwellers.

Norwich Union says there will be no premium rise for existing clifftop policyholders. However, other high-living residents may be waved away.

James Duffell, a spokesman for Norwich Union, said: 'If you are a new customer whose garden shed fell into the sea last year and you know the sea is encroaching, we will not insure you at any rate. If you are already insured with us and the sea has got 50 yards closer we will not decline to renew the policy.'

At Norwich Union every property is looked at on its merits considering the type of cliff and the distance from the edge.

There is no blanket loading for clifftop properties.

(Photograph omitted)

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