Flood damage – what can I do?

Flooded HomeThe UK is slowly emerging from its wettest winter since records began. Many people have had their homes and lives ruined by flood the unprecedented flood waters.

Damage from flooding can be devastating, with the financial loss representing just a fraction of the misery and heartache that victims suffer.

So what are your options if the worst happens and your property floods? More proactively, what can you do to minimise the risk and impact in advance?

What should I do if my property is affected by flooding?
Homeowners are responsible for any repairs that are necessary as a result of flooding. You are also responsible for replacing any belongings that have been damaged as a result.

Following flood damage, you should contact your insurer as soon as possible. All insurance companies keep records of customers, so losing your insurance policy documents in the flood should not prevent you from making a claim. If it's possible, taking photos of the damage (property and belongs) is a very good idea. Contemporary evidence tends to prove invaluable when making an insurance claim.

Your insurer should take care of any repairs that are necessary, as well as making arrangements to replace your damaged belongings. Keeping records of conversations, quotes and the work done by the party making repairs is always a smart move.

If your property is too badly damaged for you to remain there while repairs are made, your insurance company should relocate you to alternative local accommodation (such as B&B or a hotel), although this is dependent on the terms of your insurance policy.

I rent my own property from a private landlord. What are my rights?
Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 ("the Act") states that it is the landlord who is responsible for most repairs.

Under the Act your landlord must:

  • Keep the property’s structure and exterior in a good state of repair. This is the case even if the property was in a poor state of repair when the tenancy started.
  • Repair the property when damage has been properly reported.
  • Make sure that the property’s supply of gas, electricity and water is maintained.

Aside from the statutory protection, your tenancy agreement may also include other obligations of maintenance and/or repair that your landlord must comply with. Check your tenancy agreement carefully and take legal advice if in doubt. If your landlord fails to carry out their obligations you may be able to bring legal action against them for breach of contract.

I am a Council or Housing Association tenant. What rights do I have?
Local authorities and housing associations (private registered provider of social housing ("PRPSH") or registered social landlord ("RSL")) have a legal duty to repair damage and disrepair in your property. Section 11 of the Act, discussed in outline above, also applies to PRPSH / RSL.

It is dangerous to remain in my property. What can I do?
Guidance on potential health and safety hazards for tenants is available. The 'Housing Health and Safety Rating System - Guidance for Landlords and Property Related Professional' sets out what is classed as a hazard. You can view this information here.

If you believe remaining in your property represents a hazard but your housing provider will not move you to alternative accommodation, you should contact your local environmental health department. They, with the help of the guidance, will determine if they need to take enforcement action against your landlord.

In the case of Council and Housing Association tenants, your housing provider should provide you with suitable alternative accommodation if you are unable to remain in your property whilst repairs are being carried out.

There is no such right for private tenants. If you have to leave because you cannot safely remain in the property, you should ask your landlord to terminate the tenancy agreement or to suspend the rent on until you can move back in.

If you are forced to leave your property and you have nowhere else to stay, you may be able to make a 'homelessness application' to your Local Authority. If you are considered to be in serious need, you should qualify for suitable accommodation until you can go back to your own property.

In addition, you may be entitled to claim a crisis loan. Crisis loans are interest-free loans from the Department of Work and Pensions (offered on a discretionary basis) and intended to help with expenses in emergency situations. For flood victims, crisis loans can be used as advances on rent for alternative accommodation or for everyday necessitates such as clothing and toiletries.

Crisis loan applications can be lodged, and in urgent circumstances approved, over the phone.

Good preparation can make all the difference when flood waters start to rise. Here are some points to bear in mind.

Insurance
It is highly advisable to have appropriate insurance on your property and the contents. Make sure you read your policy carefully! If in doubt, seek legal advice as to the policy's suitability for your circumstances. Sometimes the policy small print excludes certain types of claim. For instance, if you live within a certain distance of a river or flood plain your policy may not cover you for flood damage. Keep your insurance policy documents in a safe place, preferably in a waterproof folder. It's also a good idea to have copy securely backed-up online.

Take steps to protect your home
There are numerous practical steps you can take to help protect your home from flooding. The Environment Agency ("EA") website features a ‘flood plan kit’ which you can download. Tips include ensuring your gas and electricity supply is safely turned off and thinking in advance how you can best save as many possessions as possible (such as taking items upstairs or safely stacking smaller pieces of furniture on larger ones). Ensuring you have a safe means of escape should the flood waters rise is vital, too.

Stay Informed: get to know the flood warnings
The EA might issue one of three different warnings when an area may be affected by flooding:

1. Flood alert. This is the lowest grade of warning and means that flooding is possible and residents should be prepared.

2. Flood warning. The intermediate grade. Flooding is expected and immediate action by residents is required.

3. Severe flood warning. This is the most serious grade and means that severe flooding is expected and there may be a danger to life.

Sign-up for flood warnings
If you sign up to the free Floodline Warnings Direct, you can be sent a direct message when flooding is expected which may affect your property.

Social media may also prove invaluable in staying up to date with flood warnings for your area (assuming it is safe to either use your smartphone or some other appropriate communications device).

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