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Flood insurance for hillside properties - the issues

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Devon property with no flood risk was refused flood insurance

Recent news of a hillside home in picturesque Salcombe, on the Kingsbridge estuary in Devon, has once again raised the issue of flood insurance in the UK.

The story concerned a property owner whose elegant home stands halfway up a lush, tree-clad hillside overlooking the sea. Standing several tens of metres above sea level, it shares the location with several other attractive residential properties.

Too high up to be threatened by coastal flooding, too far from the nearest rivers to be at risk from them and protected from surface water flooding by an abundance of trees and vegetation, why was the property owner refused flood insurance? This question was put to Jill Boulton, Director of JBA Risk Management, the leading provider of flood data to the UK insurance industry.

Her answer is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer where flood insurance is concerned. She explained, “There are two issues that are relevant to the Salcombe case. The first is this: houses on hillsides can and do flood. People often think that such locations are free from flood risk but that is not necessarily the case. We saw several occurrences of hillside flooding in the Hebden Bridge floods in the summer of 2012 and more recently in the UK winter floods, 2013/2014.

The second issue is one of granularity or resolution of the flood data being used. JBA’s UK flood maps provide flood information at property level so that insurers can get an immediate insight into flood risk at every individual address in the UK.  Where things can go wrong is if flood cover is granted or refused on the basis of postcode-level data. Take the example of a postcode which includes a hill, as in the Salcombe case. If most of the properties in that postcode were at the bottom of the hill, near to the sea, and maybe also close to a river, the postcode would be classified as having a high flood risk. One house on the hillside high above the at-risk properties might have no flood risk at all but be refused cover just because it is in the same postcode. This is why we always stress the importance of using the highest resolution data possible to ensure valid and fair flood cover.”

Flood claims from the succession of events that hit the UK between October of last year and February this year are likely to be added to in the coming days. The Met Office has issued yellow warnings of severe weather likely to cause flooding particularly on the east side of the country. We are almost getting used to the increased frequency of extreme weather events but their impacts on both the insured and the insurer are long-lasting.  Adequate property protection along with high quality and expertly interpreted flood data, are both essential in seeking to reduce these impacts.

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