Cracks emerge in buildings cover

Insurers fear increased weather-damage claims as our climate changes, writes Tom Tickell

On 15 October 1987 - 10 years ago on Wednesday - Michael Fish, the TV weatherman, had words of comfort for Britain's television viewers. "A lady rang to say she has heard a hurricane is on its way," he announced. "Well, don't worry, there isn't."

A few hours later the worst storm in 300 years struck the South of England, leaving thousands of trees uprooted, cars overturned and roofs smashed or badly damaged. Many roads were impassable, and telephone and power lines went down.

The Great Storm may have been a dramatic one-off disaster, but certainly Britain's weather seems to be changing. Climatologists may argue over whether storms are more ferocious than they used to be, but the South- east certainly seems to be drier and hotter and to have more dramatic weather. That has had a knock-on effect on buildings insurance claims, particularly for subsidence.

The change seems to have gathered pace this year, with one of the 25 warmest summers since the days of Oliver Cromwell. Rainfall in September was only 30 per cent of the normal level. Another long dry winter is what insurers are praying to escape, as it could create another wave of claims for structural damage to buildings from subsidence.

Subsidence plagues many parts of London and the South-east, though if you draw a line from Bristol in the South-west to Hull, properties below it may be at some risk, depending on the soil. "Clay soil won't cause the problem on its own," says Tim Wilmshurst of Guardian Insurance. "But trees spreading their roots to suck up water can precipitate it. Full- sized oaks and sycamores can soak up several tons of water a day, though it's not just the giant trees which are a hazard. People planting rows of small pines and poplars can run into trouble."

Certainly insurers have toughened up in a number of ways. The premiums themselves may not have gone up that much. In some cases they will even be lower than 10 years ago, and rates are now much more geared to individual properties, reflecting not only the underlying geology of an area but also the chances of storm and flood damage. Higher risk properties are the losers in this increased rate differentiation. But whatever the rating of your property, you may now also have to pay the first pounds 1,000 rather than pounds 500 of any claim - the excess.

When you do claim insurers will send in loss adjusters whose job is to work out if subsidence is responsible, and to plan repairs. Most, but not all insurers pay for this investigation. Butthey may describe their job, loss adjusters work for the insurer and will be keen to keep costs down. Complete underpinning of houses hit by subsidence is much less common than it was, partly because it is so expensive.

In subsidence claims, loss adjusters may recommend a surveyor, but any policyholder wary of what is going to be a big claim will be better off getting his own surveyor. "Loss adjusters will often go for the surveyor they know, who will be relatively sympathetic to them," claims Malcolm Harvey of the Loss Recovery Group, a company that works for policyholders in complex claims.

Penalties for switching insurer are less than they were, however, and it is worth shopping around, particularly if you took out your policy through your mortgage lender. There may be an administration charge of up to pounds 25 for switching, but companies new to this market will in many cases pay this charge for you.

Telephone insurers such as Direct Line now sell buildings as well as contents cover. But they are acutely aware of the rising tide of claims and are choosier in deciding which properties to insure. Even so, Direct Line has had over 15 per cent more claims in the first nine months of this year than it did in the same period last year. A dry winter, like the last two, would almost certainly make matters worse next year.

What can you do to reduce the risk? One answer is to get professional advice on cutting back large trees. Another is to keep a weather eye out for cracks down the side of the house, particularly those larger than the width of a 10p coin. Reporting suspicions to insurers as early as possible can ensure that problems do not get worse.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat