If the waters rise, will you be ready?

Millions of UK households at risk of flooding are doing too little to protect themselves
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The Independent Online

South-west Scotland, north-west England and parts of Wales were hardest hit, and people were forced to flee their homes.

Those families who now face months of mopping up and repair work have had an all too stark reminder of the threat of flooding in the UK. But too many continue to ignore this risk.

Two million, in fact.

Figures from the Environment Agency (EA), which last week launched an awareness campaign, show that five million properties in England and Wales lie in flood-risk areas. Yet the EA found that two-fifths of these homeowners were unaware of the threat, and more than two- thirds unlikely to protect themselves.

Despite the well-publicised devastation caused by flooding in Boscastle, Cornwall, in the summer of 2004, and earlier this year in Carlisle, people still think "it'll never happen to me", warns the EA.

But with an increase in both the severity and frequency of extreme weather conditions widely predicted in the coming years, this is a risk you can't ignore. You can check your own home's flood risk at www.environment-agency. gov.uk/floodline or by calling 0845 988 1188.

Adequate building and contents cover is an absolute must. But those who live in or next to flood-risk areas will face higher premiums; others in areas prone to flooding could find it difficult to get cover at all.

"In high-risk areas without adequate flood defences and where none are planned, insurers cannot guarantee cover," says Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers. In these cases, homeowners must try to agree a compromise with insurers. For example, cover might be provided if temporary flood defences were to be installed.

Most homeowners will be protected by the "industry statement of principles". Under these rules, insurers must provide cover to homes at risk of flooding no more than once in 75 years, or those in areas where improved defences are planned for no later than 2007.

The insurers Norwich Union and More Th>n have, along with the EA, sophisticated technology that can assess the risk of flooding to individual properties, not just to a postcode group. This is often a fairer way of categorising homes, and may lead to reduced premiums for those previously considered to be in vulnerable areas.

Once an insurer has provided a policy, most will continue that cover even if you later find that you are at risk from flooding. In this case, however, expect an increase in your premiums.

"If you live in a flood-risk area, don't close your eyes and hope for the best - prepare a 'flood plan'," says David Pitt of More Th>n.

And if the worst happens, follow these guidelines:

* Turn off gas, electricity and water supplies and move possessions upstairs.

* When you and your household are safe, call your insurer's 24-hour helpline.

* Make a photographic or video record of the damage.

* Keep receipts from any emergency repair work undertaken.

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