Flood victim still in caravan two years on

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The Independent Online

A farmer is still living in a caravan two years after his home was decimated by the worst flooding to hit the UK in 60 years.



Phil Benson, 48, has to drink bottled water and use a portable toilet after flooding hit west and central England on July 20, 2007.

Heavy rain led to flash floods and saw river levels rise, forcing thousands of people out of their homes, causing £3 billion of damage and leaving 13 people dead.

Mr Benson's Victorian farmhouse and land in Thrupp, between Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, was besieged by water as the River Thames swelled and rainwater ran off from the towns around him.

Before his house was flooded, he came to the rescue of farmers nearby by providing forage and transporting livestock to clear ground.

But the home he had lived in for 15 years is now a building site after everything had to be stripped out.

Mr Benson said delays with his claim being finalised has left him struggling to run his business as an agricultural contractor from his caravan at the back of his land.

His insurers Legal and General say that they are awaiting the outcome of a planning application for an extension to the house to complete the claim.

"There are 80 acres around the house and you could sail a boat on it," he said.

"Just a couple of inches came into the house but because the walls are so old they soaked up the water up to about four feet.

"The furniture and carpets were ruined, everything had to come out and we had to dig up the floors.

"The entire house is now damp and as we have just had the coldest winter and no heating we had a burst pipe in the roof."

Mr Benson and his son Sam, 15, stayed in the upstairs of the house for a while until Sam suffered a viral infection from the damp.

Mr Benson decided to buy the mobile home in February 2008 and Sam now sleeps on the sofa when he is not at boarding school.

"I am just have a telephone and a fax machine, no internet, which makes it difficult to run a business," said Mr Benson, who hopes that he will be back in his home by Christmas this year.

"All the way through I have been on the promise that I would be back in the house in a few months.

"At the time I understand that insurance companies were finding it difficult to handle the volume of claims, but I have been left in disarray, in the short term you can cope but two years later there is still a long way to go.

"It's difficult living in this small space, in the summer it is extremely hot and over the winter it was like an igloo and we had no running water as it froze.

"It has hampered my business and devastated my personal life."

A Legal and General spokesman said: "We have been in contact with Mr Benson to get regular updates on the progress of the building work for the proposed extension and the required planning permission.

"Our loss adjuster recently visited the property and found that work on the extension had stopped because the planning permission is still awaited."

Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire was one of the worst affected areas with most of the town flooded in July 2007.

Now Tewkesbury Borough Council say that there are still 10 families not living in their homes, two of them are staying in caravans.

The council said: "There are various reasons why households are still displaced, some households have chosen to undertake the repair work to their homes themselves, meaning that the process has taken much longer.

"One common theme is that, due to the demand for local builders, many insurers appointed builders from Bristol or Wales.

"This meant that while the bulk of the work may have been carried out satisfactorily by contractors, it proved very difficult to get them to travel to undertake smaller works and to complete 'finishing off'."

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