It has been just over a month since flooding devastated the city of York, the worst of its kind for decades. Residents are now trying to get their homes and lives back to normality, but what is the real damage to their properties and subsequently, their home insurance premiums?
On Boxing Day, heavy rainfall hit the country. Combined with the Environment Agency’s controversial decision to raise one of York’s major flood barriers, around 600 homes and businesses became submerged in contaminated water for 48 hours.
With little warning, these residents were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night by Mountain Rescue teams. Water was rising rapidly.
Days later, homeowners and business owners returned to their properties to find them dark and cold, with their contents covered in mud and silt. Many property owners have been left with thousands of pounds worth of damage.
The lucky ones who have insurance have started the cleaning up and drying process straightaway. For those that do not have contents insurance, most of their possessions have been written off. And for the unfortunate residents that were refused buildings insurance due to living in a flood-risk area, many have become homeless.
Amy Ellis, 31, and her husband Peter, 33, could no longer afford contents insurance on their three-bedroom Victorian mid-terrace house after flooding in autumn 2012, which saw their premiums surge.
In the early hours of 28th December, the couple and their three children were evacuated again from their home. Up until last week, when a cleaning firm began decontaminating their basement, the Ellis’s home was cold, damp and empty.
The family are living in nearby rental housing, as they have no mains electricity or any heaters or dehumidifiers to start the long drying process.
“We hadn’t time to move any of our stuff upstairs, so we left everything,” Amy says. “Everything was ruined – it wasn’t like our house any more.”
The floods were even more devastating for the family, as they’d only just got the home back to a decent standard after the last flood.
“We don’t have contents insurance,” explains Amy. “It was much too expensive because our house is in a flood-risk area. We do have buildings insurance and have had a builder out – his estimate off the work to be done is £26,000, so we are hoping our insurance will cover that cost.”1
Actor and poet Stuart Freestone, 30, and his wife Hannah Wallace, 29, also discovered that they do not have contents insurance.
The pair has rented their two-bed mid-Victorian terrace property from Stuart’s aunt and uncle for over two years. They were under the impression that the property hadn’t been flooded before.
When Stuart received a call from Floodline on 26th December saying it was a possibility, he and Hannah spent the evening moving their belongings upstairs.
A month later, they’re staying with a friend and the drying process has begun, but it will be up to six months before they can go back home.
“Luckily we had managed to put everything of value, or sentimental value, upstairs, but we hadn’t been able to move couches or our dining room table,” Stuart remembers. “It’s hard to put a value on what we lost – everything downstairs had to be skipped.”
And although the couple found out that they do not have contents insurance with their bank, Stuart remains positive: “Although we felt gutted when we found out we weren’t covered, and there are things we weren’t insured for, it could have been a lot worse.”1
But the floods have left others will many questions. Alison Taylor, 46, is a secondary school teacher and lives with her partner Peter Hope, 67, in a two-bed Victorian terrace.
She wonders why residents weren’t warned about the lifting of the Foss Barrier sooner and why there wasn’t a plan in place to protect homes across the river.
Her property flooded on 27th December. She is now living upstairs in the only habitable room of the house, while the driers make a racket downstairs.
Alison says: “I feel a bit lost – it’s hard to get in contact with the insurance company. We’re waiting for the restoration people to get back to us to tell us how the drying process is going. We are ready to do the repairs, but can’t until the insurance company, Churchill, approves the plans.”
She believes that she has lost around £6,000 worth of possessions, plus a further £4,000-£5,000 in damage.
“We are very worried about whether we’ll get insurance again and what the premium or excess will be if we do,”1 she adds. She has also been informed that there may be an initial house price drop in her area.
Around 16,000 homes and businesses suffered flooding in England over December – the wettest ever month on record. Some of these property owners are now likely to be told their insurer has decided not to renew their policy.
However, there is some hope. From April, more insurers will be able to offer these residents an affordable home insurance policy under the Flood Re scheme.
Flood Re, the flood re-insurance scheme, is an industry-wide initiative aimed at the 350,000 UK households at serious risk of flooding and who struggle to access affordable cover.
Insurers will be able to pass on the flood risk element of policies to Flood Re, which will charge the insurers a premium for each policy, based on the property’s Council Tax band.
The scheme says: “There should be a greater choice of home insurance policies for customers at risk of flooding, and those policies should be more affordable.”1
To be eligible for the scheme, your home must have been built before 1st January 2009, be used for residential purposes, be insured by the individual homeowner and have a Council Tax band.
Property types excluded from the scheme include bed and breakfasts paying business rates, blocks of residential flats and farm outbuildings.