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The UK's Growing Rat Problem

How you can fight the increasing risk of rat infestations

Alicia Hempsted
Written by  Alicia Hempsted
Updated: 27 Feb 2024

If you live in the UK, you may be aware that the rodent population is rising, especially in places like London. Rats can cause a lot more destruction than you think, so are you prepared for the risks?

What’s the big deal with UK rats?

In 2023, many places across the UK saw a noticeable increase in rat infestations. The south London borough of Southwark, for example, saw an infestation increase of 90%, with Sunderland facing a similar increase of 85% .

The British Pest Control Association also reported in January this year a 115% increase of people asking about rat control from October last year. While this number is pretty shocking, it follows the general trend of an increase in pest issues during the winter months.

During cold weather, it’s normal for pests like rats, mice, and foxes to look for shelter. It just so happened that winter conditions in 2023 helped drive even more rats than usual into residential areas. Increased flooding, cold weather, litter, and overflowing bins all helped to lure rats out of the cold and into people’s property.

But it’s not just the number of rats that UK residents have to worry about. Let us also not forget the super rat scare of 2023: the appearance of rats that are bigger, smarter, and immune to poisons. The UK rat problem seems to have gotten bigger, so it may be time to take it more seriously if you haven’t yet thought about how you would tackle an infestation.

Rat on kitchen table

What damage can rats do to my property?

As it turns out, something as small as a rat can do a lot of damage, even if you don’t have a full-blown nest of them on your property.

Rats don’t just gnaw on things as a means of making pathways through your home. Gnawing keeps their teeth in shape, so they have no problem gnawing on anything and everything, which can cause all sorts of damage around your property.

According to the BPCA, rats can gnaw through almost anything, including concrete and metal. They’ve been known to cause flooding by chewing through pipes and can even nibble their way through a car engine if they fancy turning your vehicle into a shelter.

And it’s not just structural damage you have to worry about when a family of rats find their way into your home. Due to the number of potential diseases they carry and their generally unsanitary way of life, they represent a serious public health risk. Evidence of rats in your home, and especially areas where you prepare food, is a matter to take very seriously.

But let's not forget where most of the damage is done when you have a rat problem: your wallet. Checkatrade in 2023 found that the average cost to remove rats in the UK was around £120 to £260, but removal is only one part of the cost.

In 2023, RAC found that rats had caused 51% of all animal damage incidents to UK vehicles, mostly by infesting engines, gnawing fuel hoses and damaging headlights. This can add up to hundreds and potentially thousands of pounds' worth of damage.

If rats manage to get into your car and chew through the engine, a full replacement can cost anywhere between £1,500 and £5,000 according to Motorway, and that doesn't include the cost of clearing out the mess, nor anything else they managed to chew through.

Spot the signs of a rat infestation

If you spot any of these signs around your home or vehicle, you might have a rat or two hiding on the property:

  • Rodent droppings

  • Foul or unusual smells

  • Gnaw marks

  • New holes in floors, walls, and cupboards

  • Rat footprints and smudge marks on surfaces

  • Rubbish and wrappers being disturbed or moved

If you’re looking for evidence of rats on your property, you need to be thorough and search your home from top to bottom. These rodents can be very smart and squeeze through even the tiniest cracks, so there really is no place that’s off limits to them.

The BPCA advise that you don’t forget to check your loft if you suspect you may have a rat infestation in your home. Points of entry can also be at any level of the house, and rats are excellent climbers. Journalist Catlin Moran wrote in The Times earlier this year that rats broke into her home through the chimney. All it takes is for one rat to discover a way in and it’s game over.

If you suspect that you may have rats on your property, the UK government provide some useful advice for controlling pests on the Gov.uk website.

Will my insurance cover a rat infestation?

The insurance coverage you can get for rat infestation can differ depending on the type of insurance and the add-ons you chose when you applied for the policy.

Will home insurance cover rats?

Standard home insurance doesn’t typically cover pests, which means it won’t cover the cost of removal of rats or mice nor repairs for any damage caused by them. However, home emergency cover, an optional add-on for home insurance, can cover the cost of emergency pest removal.

Most insurance providers offer 24-hour assistance with this cover and a helpline to get you in touch with the right professional ASAP. The only downside to this add-on is that it doesn't include cover for the damage caused by pests and rats, so you will have to pay for repairs without the help of insurance.

It’s also important to note home emergency cover doesn't usually cover infestations in outbuildings, like sheds and garages. If you have any outbuildings on your property that you are worried may be susceptible to an infestation, you should check the details of your policy to confirm what cover you have.

Will car insurance cover rats?

As for car insurance, if your car has been damaged by or is infested with rats and other pests, a fully comprehensive policy will usually cover any repairs. It should be noted, however, that you will have to pay your chosen excess if you make a claim for damage caused by pests and your no claims bonus will be affected.

On the other hand, if you have third-party, fire and theft or third-party only car insurance, your policy won’t cover the removal of or any damage caused by pests.

How do I protect my property from rats?

Defending a property against rats and other pests isn’t as simple as just closing windows and filing cracks. Rats can be incredibly smart and if just one finds its way into your home, its capable of remembering that route and leading other rats to it.

So, if at any point you do find rats on your property, it is important that you find out exactly how they got in and make sure that point of entry is sealed off for good.

How to protect your home from rats

The BPCA provide the following advice to protect your home from rats:

  • Remove potential hiding spots for rats, which includes debris, discarded furniture, or dense plants or shrubs

  • Trim back any tree branches that are close to your home. These can be used by rats to jump to open windows and rooftops

  • Seal any cracks, gaps or holes in your property

  • Secure your bins and rubbish. Keep the lids closed, put food waste in a bin bag and not directly into the bin, replace broken bins, and clean them out regularly

How to protect your car from rats

The London Network for Pest Solutions offer the following advice to protect your car from rats:

  • Park your car far away from potential rat hotspots, like rubbish bins and other food sources

  • If possible, park your car in a garage and keep the door closed

  • Illuminate the parking area. Rats prefer to hide in the shadows

  • Keep your car interior clean and avoid leaving any food wrappers or containers in the car

  • If you aren’t using the car daily, move it regularly to keep pests from taking up residence