Don't fall under the insurance waterline - protect your home

James Daley offers advice on how to get even the most vulnerable, frequently hit buildings insured
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The Independent Online

Thousands more people were left facing hefty bills to repair their homes and replace their possessions this week after parts of the UK were heavily flooded for the second time in a month. The majority of households do have some form of insurance. But this week's flooding, which hit hardest in the West Midlands, affected areas of the country that are no stranger to floods. As a result, many people will already have large excesses on their insurance policies – in some cases several thousand pounds – leaving them to pay for much of the damage out of their own pockets. Others may not have any insurance at all, either because the premiums were unaffordable or because they were turned down by every provider they asked.

Theoretically, there is no such thing as uninsurable. For the right price, there will always be someone who will offer you cover. However, for those properties which find themselves underwater every year, it is highly unlikely that any of the big names will want to offer you a policy.

A few years ago, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) promised that its members would continue to renew the policies of existing customers in high-risk flood areas on the condition that the Government invest in flood defences in those areas. Malcolm Tarling of the ABI says that there are now some 570,000 homes classified as "high risk". He claims that the major insurers will look at most of them, but concedes that others are just too risky. "We believe there are very few properties that are totally uninsurable," he says, "particularly as insurers will look at each case individually."

This, however, is only true if you've already got insurance. If you're looking to buy cover for the first time, and you're in a high risk area, you'll have to turn to a specialist underwriter, such as Bureau Insurance, to have any chance of getting accepted.

Bureau will individually assess properties for a fee of £175, of which it will reimburse £150 if it decides it can't offer cover. In many cases, Bureau will agree to insure a property if the owner takes some steps to mitigate the damage from future floods.

Chris Jordan, the managing director of Bureau, adds that if his company is willing to insure a property, the premiums won't necessarily be extortionate. "Big premiums don't work," he says. "What we would say is 'OK, you've done all this work – we'll insure it, but we'll put a £2,000 excess on it and give you cover at an affordable price'."

Jordan warns that making your property insurable is essential if you ever want to sell it. "You won't be able to get a mortgage if you can't insure a property, which means you'll only be able to sell your property to cash buyers," he says.

Simple flood defences can make an enormous difference in helping to get insurance. For instance, the company Floodguards (www.floodguards.com) sells a plastic guard that helps keep water from seeping through doorways and other openings in the house. It is kitemarked by the British Standards Institute, and is recognised by most insurers.

Gavin George of Floodguards says it typically costs between £2,000 and £3,000 to kit out a house with these defences. The investment will pay for itself as soon as another flood hits your region, and will help your insurance premiums and excesses to be more manageable in the meantime.

Floodguards also offers more heavy-duty flood products, including a canvas flood defence that can be placed round the perimeter of your property. These can be several feet high, protecting your property from even the worst inundations.

Tarling points out that there are a number of other steps you can take to make your home more insurable: rewiring your property so that the sockets and light fittings are all above the potential water line, installing tile rather than carpet floors, and putting legs on your kitchen units. Making all these changes can often cost a five-figure sum, but should save you a similar amount of money the next time your house is hit by a serious flood.

A few households may find themselves rejected for home insurance simply because of the postcode they live in, even though their property may be on a hill and would never be flooded. Over the last few years, however, companies such as Norwich Union and More Than have invested in new, sophisticated mapping systems that rate houses on a much more detailed basis that previous systems. So it's worth shopping around if one or two underwriters turn you down.

For more information about getting insured against flooding, visit www.abi.org.uk/floodinfo. The Environment Agency website, www.environment-agency.gov.uk, also has lots of useful information about how to prepare and protect yourself, and what to do after your area is flooded.

Ten tips if your home is hit

* Contact your insurer as soon as possible – they will be able to give helpful advice.

* Don't touch the electrics.

* Listen to the local radio for any evacuation notification and information.

* Take photos of the damage as evidence for the insurer.

* Once the flood has subsided, open all the windows in the day when the air is less moist, and close them in the late afternoon, and turn on the heating (but only if the gas and electrics are safe).

* Be careful what you touch – the flood water could have been contaminated.

* Let items dry out gradually. Exposing them to intense heat can damage them more.

* Remove all soaked fitted carpets, and put them in the garden. These will need to be replaced. Leave Hessian-backed carpets on the floor to dry – they will shrink if lifted.

* Do not redecorate straight away. It may take months for the surfaces to dry out.

* Use a dehumidifier to help dry out the walls.

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