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  Category: Articles » Finance » Insurance » Article

Insurance providers weather the storm while consumers flounder

By Richard Green

We have just had the first year's anniversary of the flash flooding which occurred at Boscastle in Cornwall. The floods saw some of the worst damage wrought by sudden rainfall in the UK for many years.

The flood was caused by the remains of a hurricane which crossed the Atlantic, collecting vast amounts of water crossing, and was then pushed high above an area inland of the village depositing around 1,500m litres (330m gallons) of water within two hours.

At the time insurance companies were estimating the bill for commercial damage to local businesses, would be as high as £15m.

There is perhaps some comfort for insurers in that it could have been worse. Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida around the same time, cost over an estimated £6bn.

In August this year, just a week after Birmingham was battered by a tornado, residents in Bristol witnessed a twister which was up to 1,000 ft (300metres) long sweeping across the skies over the southern suburbs. The twister swept across a 15-mile area, including the suburbs of Whitchurch, and came close to causing widespread property damage.

Both government organisations and insurers have admitted that with global warming increasing, they have seen an increase in the number of serious weather related incidences.

The Governments environment agency has stated that, "climate predictions also indicate that Britain will be windier. One study suggests 30 percent more gales in Wales and southern England in winter, increasing the risk of another storm like that in 1987, which left £2 billion of damage in its wake."

According to the environment agency, "current estimates are that peak river flows in Britain could be 20 percent higher by 2080. This could have important implications for the flood zones of rivers - in a review of flood defences last year, the Environment Agency found that a tenth of the population in England and Wales now lives on flood plains… The combination of sea level rise with high tides and changes in winds could increase the frequency of extreme water levels—and hence risk of flooding—in some east coast locations by ten, or even, twenty-fold."

The Association of British Insurers support this view stating in a recent report that, "in the UK, climate change could increase the annual costs of flooding by almost 15-fold by the 2080s under the high emissions scenario, leading to potential total losses from river, coastal and urban flooding of more than $40 bn (£22 bn)."

Some insurers had threatened to start cancelling high risk policies unless the Government invested heavily in providing improved flood defences. As part of cost benefit studies, the Government has introduced new flood planning procedures, which mean that highly-populated flood plains like the Vale of York will receive additional help with defences, but less populated areas may end up with nothing. These measures go some way to helping some of the more highly populated areas against flooding, but do nothing for regions with lower population densities, and provide no protection against other costly emergencies such as hurricanes or acts of terrorism.

A recent report by the insurer Axa warned that fewer than 50% of small firms do not have a plan in place to ensure that their business could survive should they be hit by an emergency or disaster. Axa highlighted that many businesses, especially in the South East, are not covered against environmental risks such as fire and flood, and fewer have any protection against the now high profile terrorism threats. Following a claim, such as for a fire, or flooding, most household insurance policies will cover the cost of alternative accommodation, if the property is uninhabitable; likewise, many companies have business interruption cover, which will pay the cost of alternative accommodation, however this is not always guaranteed and you need to carefully check the policy wording.

Even if you do have insurance, you need to ensure that it is suitable for your needs. Wherever you obtain your insurance, whether it is from a direct insurer such as Norwich Union, brokers like Endsleigh, or through comparison sites such as moneynet, it is vitally important to check all your coverage details. Many people in Boscastle believed that they were completely protected, only to discover after the floods that they had become victims to under-insurance. If the level of cover obtained is not adequate, then insurers may only pay a proportion of a claim, taking the view that you have been under-paying on premiums. Several residents in Boscastle faced insurance shortfalls of up to 50 per cent.

Thankfully in the Boscastle flooding, despite fears from the emergency services, there was no loss of life; however as the fire fighters union fears following the London bombings, exclusion clauses placed into life insurance policies could mean that many individuals do not currently have any cover for certain unpredictable emergency events which are out of their control.

The upshot appears to be that the current situation is one of caveat emptor, or "let the buyer beware". A situation that is likely to get worse with global warming causing increased extreme weather conditions, and rising terrorism threats. At the end of the day, for consumers to ensure they have the correct financial protection, they must actually read all the official cover documents, check the details, and examine all the clauses, when they take out any financial product, if they are not to find themselves out of pocket when a claim needs to be made.
About the Author
Richard lives in Edinburgh, occasionally writing for the personal finance blog Cashzilla, and reciting Vogon poetry.

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