Flood Risk – Everything you need to know
We have all seen the headlines and watched as devastated homeowners try to salvage their belongings from their flood engulfed home. Not only that, but flooding can also ruin your property. In some cases, it can even force people out of their home for months on end while it is drying out and undergoing repairs. Homes with a known flood risk could also face higher insurance costs.
Knowing about flood risks before you buy a property enables you to make a decision with all the facts to hand.
The main causes of flooding
Flooding can come from several sources. A river bursting its banks is an obvious one, but heavy rain can also cause surface water flooding. Sometimes water from beneath the ground comes up to the surface. This is known as groundwater flooding and can be just as devastating.
According to the Environment Agency, 1 in 6 properties are at risk of flooding. In 2021, 974,310 properties were sold in the UK, meaning that around 162,385 of the properties sold were likely to be at risk from some sort of flooding.
What you can do about flood risk
The most important thing when purchasing any property is to go into it with your eyes open. However, there are also some practical steps you can take to ensure you have all the facts before you decide whether to buy:
- Check the flood risk in the area you are thinking about buying. This can easily be done by searching for the postcode on the Environment Agency’s flood map. You should check both the risk from sea and rivers and also the risk from surface water flooding.
- You should ask the estate agent if they are aware of any history of flooding at the property you are interested in. Sellers have a duty to disclose if they are aware of any previous flooding affecting the property, whether that was before their tenure or during it.
- Consider asking local residents and neighbours if they have experienced any problems with flooding in the past.
- If you have decided to purchase the property, check your conveyancer carries out a search as part of their Environmental Data Search on whether the property is at risk of flooding. The conveyancer should make sure they are using a search that identifies the risk at the particular property being purchased and not merely the postcode or general area.
- If the search highlights a risk of flooding, even if it is low, you should think about commissioning a full risk report. This will provide you with full details of the risk.
- Your mortgage provider will probably require you to have buildings insurance from the exchange of contracts, so it is a good idea to get an insurance quote at the start of the buying process as this may identify any risk.
- If you find out the property has suffered from flooding in the past, investigate whether it has been protected by a Flood Defence Scheme, which may have reduced the risk.
Flood Defence, or Protection Schemes, are put in place to protect properties, businesses and any other key assets from the risk of flooding from rivers, surface water and coastal impacts. Designs vary depending on their location and the type of flood risk. You can check whether the property has any such schemes in place by commissioning a flood risk search.
Flood risk searches
A flood risk search is not mandatory but it will alert you to the risks of not being able to secure insurance from flooding, amongst other things. It has been estimated that around 200,000 homeowners could find it problematic if not impossible to secure flood protection insurance.
As stated above, the flood risk search should be ordered as soon as you appoint your conveyancing solicitor. As a minimum, Land Registry, Local Searches, Water and Drainage Searches, and an Environmental Search should be carried out.
Depending on the type of search ordered, a flood risk search or report will advise on:
- The risk of flooding from the sea and/or rivers
- Historical flooding events
- The risk of flooding from ground and/or surface water
- Its insurance rating/insurability
- Expert risk assessment
- Any flood defences
Different types of flood risk report
The three main flood risk searches/reports commonly used are:
- Landmark Flood Report
- Groundsure Flood Report
- Future Climate Info Flood Report
The Landmark Flood Report includes:
- Expert risk assessment
- Insurability statement
- Data on coastal, river, groundwater and surface water flooding
- An insurance statement detailing whether there may be issues obtaining insurance
- Next steps recommendations
- Environment Agency Data stating whether the property is within 250m of areas affected by flooding, or flood defences
- National Flood Risk Assessment
- British Geological Survey Groundwater Susceptibility Data
- Risk model
The Groundsure Flood Report includes:
- Surface water (pluvial), fluvial and tidal flood risk data
- Groundwater flood susceptibility
- Flood defence details and insurability data
- £10m Professional Indemnity Insurance
Future Climate Info Flood Report includes:
- Analysis of impact key flood risks, including from the sea and rivers, surface water and groundwater
- Flood insurance guidance
- Professional opinion on the impact on property value
The costs of flood reports vary and depend on the type of search you have ordered. That said, the costs are around £20 – £25 plus VAT. These costs increase if you want to search an area bigger than 0.25 hectares.
Your solicitor must follow The UK Finance Mortgage Lender’s Handbook when acting for you regarding the purchase of a home. It states that searches must be no more than six months old when the purchase is completed.
Flood risk insurance
Flood insurance is usually included as part of a standard buildings insurance policy, however, this does not include your furniture or personal belongings. If you want the contents of your home to be protected in the event of it flooding, you will need to take out contents insurance too.
If you live in an area considered a possible flood risk, you may need to take out flood insurance if there is a possibility of:
- A river or canal bursting its banks
- Seawater flooding because of a high tide or storms
- Rapid groundwater or surface flooding because of a burst pipe or heavy rainfall
The Flood Re Scheme
If you live in a flood risk area and you are finding it difficult to get affordable flood insurance, the Flood Re scheme may be able to help you. Flood Re is a joint insurance industry and government initiative which aims to help insurance providers offer more affordable policies to homeowners living in eligible property affected by flooding.
There are some properties which do not qualify for Flood Re assistance, including farm outbuildings, certain residential buy-to-let properties, and homes built after 1st January 2009.
Reducing the risk
There are some practical steps you can take to reduce your flooding risk, including:
- Signing up for flood warnings
- Joining a flood action group
- Installing products in your home such as air brick and floorboard covers that can help keep water out of your home
- Consider raising the ground floor of your property and waterproofing so any water flows beneath and does not penetrate the property
- Move electrical points and boilers, as well as valuables and important documents, to a higher point above likely flood levels
- If you have the time, become a campaigner for improvements to flood defences in your local area by working with your local authority and getting involved in public consultations.