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Flood Insurance

The storms that have battered Britain in recent months and years have caused misery for hundreds of thousands of households. Some experts forecast that the frequency and intensity of storms is likely to increase further, so it's important to protect your home against possible flooding.

Millions of homes at risk

More than 5.5 million homes are at risk of flooding. You can check whether your property is on the potential hit list by looking at the Environment Agency's flood maps, which assess the likelihood of flooding from rivers and the sea, reservoirs and surface water.

Flood insurance

It is essential to have both buildings and contents insurance to provide financial cover if you are flooded. If you are a tenant, your landlord should have buildings cover in place.

If you own your home and need both types of cover, consider buying both types from the same insurer as doing so will probably earn you a discount on the premium.

It is essential to have both buildings and contents insurance to provide financial cover if you are flooded. If you are a tenant, your landlord should have buildings cover in place.

If you are flooded, contact your insurer as soon as possible if you want to make a claim as the company will be able to offer some advice - and might even have a dedicated helpline for flood victims. If possible, take photos of the flood damage and do not remove any items from the property before the insurer has assessed the claim.

The company might recommend tradesmen and specialists to carry out repair work and to dry-out the property, so take advice on how to proceed. If you need to get urgent work done to prevent further damage or reduce risk, you should keep receipts and claim back your outlay as part of your claim.

Cap on flood premiums

Flood insurance claims cost insurers billions of pounds, and this puts pressure on premiums. In some instance, insurers would rather not insure the most at-risk properties at all, but that would leave beleaguered homeowners stranded, in more ways than one, especially as it is virtually impossible to obtain or maintain a mortgage without having buildings cover in place.

With this in mind, insurers and the government have for some years worked to devise schemes that ensure at-risk homeowners can at least get cover for their homes, preferably at affordable premium levels.

Flood Re

The insurance industry has recently reached an agreement with the government to cap flood insurance premiums, which should bring down the cost of cover for high risk homes. Under the terms of the deal, the flooding element of household insurance premiums will be capped at £210 a year for homes in council tax bands A and B, rising to £540 a year for homes in band G. Homes in band H and properties built after 2009 will not be covered by the cap.

Flood Re will be funded by a charge on all insurers of a total of £180 million, which equates to a levy of £10.50 on everyone's annual household premiums. However, the Association of British Insurers claims that consumers will not notice any difference as the levy represents the estimated level of cross-subsidy that already exists between lower and higher flood risk premiums.

Statement of Principles

The cap on flood premiums is not expected to come into force until the summer of 2015. In the meantime, insurers will continue to abide by the so-called Statement of Principles, which was drafted in 2000.

The Statement guarantees that insurers will continue to cover existing customers whose properties are not at 'significant risk' of flooding. But they will also continue to insure existing customers if the property is at significant risk, as long as the government has plans to reduce the flood risk within five years.

The Statement of Principles does not, however, cover new customers, which can make it difficult for high risk homes to switch insurers. It also excludes homes built after January 2009 - the insurers say this is a disincentive for developers to build on risk flood plains.

Premium discount

You might be able to negotiate a discount on your insurance premiums if you install permanent flood proofing measures in your home. For example, you can fit flood-proof doors and windows as well as non-return valves to drains and water inlet and outlet pipes to stop wastewater flowing back into the property through the sewerage system - never a happy experience.

Other measures include sealing wooden floors, or better still replacing wooden floorboards with a concrete floor. You should also aim for water-resistant materials in the kitchen and bathroom, so plastic rather than chipboard or MDF. It's a good idea to make sure that electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring are at least 1.5 metres above floor level. As a precautionary measure, you can also fix your TV to the wall, again about 1.5 metres above floor level.

Free flood alerts

When it comes to a properties' propensity to flood, there are four categories of risk: high, medium, low and very low. If your property is deemed high risk, there is a 1 in 30 chance of flooding in any given year. A very low risk home, on the other hand, has a less than 1 in 1000 chance.

If you find out that your property is medium or high risk, it's a good idea to sign up for free flood warnings, though you might also want to keep an eye on weather forecasts and news bulletins. The flood warnings link on the environmental agency's website should take you through the process.

there are measures you can take to protect your home in case of floods
there are measures you can take to protect your home in case of floods

Minimising flood impact

When a flood is forecast, experts recommend that you take steps to minimse the damage to your property and possessions by implementing the following measures.

-  Use sandbags or flood barriers or boards to hold back the flood water. Bear in mind, though, that sandbags aren't much use in the case of groundwater floods, when you really need a pump.
- Put flood resistant covers on air bricks.
- Roll up carpets and rugs.
- Take down curtains or loop the ends of the curtains over the rail.
- Cover large electrical goods and furniture with large, sealable bags.
- Take any valuable or sentimental items such as photographs upstairs, or place in water proof containers on high shelves. It's also a good idea to keep important documents, such as passports, away from flood waters.
- Your car is at risk of flooding, so move it onto higher ground. And don't forget your pets. You should take them somewhere safe if flooding is forecast.
- A flood kit can prove a lifesaver so pack the following items in case of an emergency: food, bottles of water, torch, fully charged mobile phone, waterproof clothing, blankets, some form of ID and any medication. You should also keep emergency numbers for your insurer, local authority and utility companies to hand.
- When the flood is imminent, switch off the water, gas and electricity at the mains. Put toilet bungs in the downstairs loo and plugs in sinks and baths. Also, disconnect any appliances that use water such as washing machines.
- If you are leaving your home, make sure it is locked and secure. Take care, too, when driving or walking through flood water as it is not easy to judge its depth and flow. Bear in mind that flood water can be contaminated, so pay attention to personal hygiene.

Evacuation plans

In extreme weather, you might be told to evacuate your property, in which case you should follow the advice of the emergency services. You will normally be taken to a centre run by the local council where food and bedding will be provided. But you might be glad of your survival kit, as well as a change of clothes.

Clean-up

When the storm has passed, you will probably want to get started on the clean up operation. But you should still take precautions as the flood water could have caused structural damage to your home. Do not enter your property until it has been declared safe and never enter flood water unless you are certain the electricity has been turned off. Likewise, do not touch any source of electricity while standing in flood water.

If you have not already turned off your gas and electricity at the mains, it should be done by a qualified engineer. It should also not be turned back on until it has been checked by a professional. Finally, always wear gloves and wellingtons when clearing up floodwater as it could contain sewage, chemicals and animal waste.