Sandbags at dawn: are you covered for a flash-flood revival?

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The Independent Online

Joyce and Bill Lawson have only just moved back into their property - a whole year since a flash flood washed them out of house and home.

"We had never seen rain like it before - it came and went so quickly," says Joyce, 61, from Newcastle. "But the drains failed and I found myself walking around up to my knees in water.

"While we tried to move as many of our belongings as we could upstairs, all the carpets and big items of furniture were written off." Their insurer, Royal & SunAlliance, has paid out tens of thousands of pounds.

Other properties in their street had been flooded before, but this was the first time it had happened to them in 35 years.

Thanks to climate change and rising sea levels, the couple's experience is becoming increasingly common. More than half a million homes (570,000) are now at a high risk of flooding - up from 220,000 in 2002 - says the Environment Agency.

It has just issued a warning that higher-than-normal "spring" tides are expected from 7 October; homeowners, particularly in coastal areas, should be on the alert if the tides are exacerbated by stormy winds and heavy rain.

"We should be prepared for these events as a matter of course, as climate change makes the incidence of severe weather more common," says Nigel Snell of insurer Liverpool Victoria.

"Off the back of a long, dry summer, we'd urge people not to forget to prepare for flash floods."

With the floods that devastated the Cornish village of Boscastle and parts of Carlisle still fresh in the memory, it's clear that adequate buildings and home contents cover is vital.

While insurers aren't obliged to provide protection in all circumstances, the industry says it is committed to honouring the "statement of principles" introduced in 2003. This stipulates that insurers must offer cover to homes at risk of flooding no more than once every 75 years, and to those where improved flood defences are planned for 2007.

Cover cannot be guaranteed in those high-risk areas without adequate defences - or where none are planned. But insurers will look at homes on a case-by-case basis.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) recently warned that government spending on defences had to increase by 10 per cent a year to £750m by 2011 to deal with the heightened risk. Last month, though, the Government said it would reduce its budget for this by £15m this year.

"We hope this is just a short-term [spending] blip," says the ABI's Malcolm Tarling.

But there is speculation that the spending cuts could carry on, with the knock-on effect of higher insurance bills or even uninsurable homes.

This is a big concern: lenders will advance money on a property only if buildings cover is in place. "No insurance means no mortgage - making it hard to sell a property on," says Melanie Bien of broker Savills Private Finance.

You can check your flood risk at www.environment-agency.gov.uk/floodline or by calling 0845 988 1188. If you already have a policy with an insurer, it will probably continue with that cover even if the risk grows in the area where you live - though you may face higher premiums.

Flood claims have risen as high as £30,000 in the past, so make sure you have enough buildings and contents cover in place to be fully reimbursed for any losses. Many people underestimate the cost of repairs and replacing goods.

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