JBA Director Jane Toothill saw the human cost of flood first-hand, after her elderly parents’ Kendal bungalow was hit badly during Storm Desmond. One year on, Jane’s Mum and Dad are finally back in their home and trying to look ahead. But work continues trying to get things back to normal. Jane tells us what it’s really like re-piecing together your home after a flood.
Day 365: A year after Desmond
Monday 5 December is a normal working day for me. I might even spend some of it looking at claims data from Desmond to see if JBA’s vulnerability functions have done their job. For my parents, it will be a not-quite-normal day… if they can define a normal day now. They are back in their house and have been there for just over a month; it took until 1 November, 330 days after Storm Desmond, to move back in. Things are not complete yet though. And it’s taken its toll on my parents – who are both in their seventies. My mum has found it particularly difficult. She says the process of refurbishment is more stressful than the flood itself.
The main problem at the moment is that the people who stripped the house out took away the entire telephone line and the people who put it back together plastered over the old entry point. So, my parents have a house with no phone and their phone line suppliers are not very happy about the thousands of pounds worth of work that will be required to fit a completely new phone line in the house, including digging a trench across the garden to the nearest pole.
When that’s eventually done, life will be close to normal again. But for the time being, a lack of phone line is slowing down the other outstanding jobs. I guess my parents have a pretty peaceful life as no-one has a number to call them on and they’re not really mobile phone users. But this can feel very isolating for them too.
On the plus side, the pub next door has re-opened and is under new management. Many of the properties in the streets around them are occupied again so it’s not like living in a ghost town. But by no means is everywhere complete and there are still skips and work vans in the streets.
Here’s what I’ve learned about sorting life out after a flood:
Immediately after the flood, the biggest stress is accommodation. Will it be possible to find somewhere, whose responsibility is it to find somewhere, will the insurer agree to pay for it? My parents have broadly been lucky. Thanks to friends they didn’t have to spend a night in an emergency centre. Thanks to me they weren’t homeless over Christmas. And thanks to friends and connections they found sensible accommodation (rather than a hotel room) throughout their time away from home. But it’s still disruptive. They have stayed in six different places in the past 12 months – some close to home; others much further afield. Some places were stop gaps for a couple of nights; others became their homes much longer-term.
For those who do not manage to move their car to dry land, cannot drive, are sick, or do not have friends and family, basic living arrangements must be a complete nightmare.
Whilst the flood is often over and done with in a day, the refurbishment process is unbelievably lengthy. So far, it’s taken 364 days – and we’re still counting. That’s a huge chunk out of normal life – especially if you’re in your seventies. The refurbishment story goes:
The insurer puts a loss adjustor in charge of taking the house to bits and putting it back together again. The loss adjustor contracts work out to a number of different companies. No-one appears to manage this work overall. Some of the work the companies do has an obvious order (strip plaster – take out plasterboard walls – dry house – re-plaster). Some of it doesn’t and the companies have to work in parallel. And sometimes it just happens in the wrong order.
So it’s possible for the carpet fitter to lay the carpet the week before the floor length windows and doors, meaning the new carpet has to be taken up again and a load of work quite likely to damage it is done on top. Or for the external windows to be fitted with untreated wood and the painter of those windows to take so long to show up in a period of bad weather that the homeowner ends up doing the painting themselves to ensure they don’t immediately get soaked through in the rain.
The lack of management and organisation gets worse if the house needs sorting during the summer, when the person in charge changes every couple of weeks because everyone goes on holiday. Despite early reassurances, the homeowner inevitably gets dragged into sorting out what’s a major and very stressful reconstruction project.
Some of the companies are ok, turn up when they’re supposed to, are pleasant, and do a good job. Some aren’t ok and do work that’s wrong, don’t turn up when they’re supposed to, ignore everything they’re asked to do (or not do), cause an incredible amount of stress to the people who own the house, do a terrible job and damage some of the previously okay stuff in the house.
Some work hard; others sit in the van and play with their phone for four hours a day, after they’ve spent two hours driving 60 miles to get here. Some workmen…. well some of them have done things that are so poor I’m not going to write them here, and some of them have made my parents as angry and stressed as I’ve ever seen them or they’ve ever seen each other. I should balance this by adding that some other perfectly lovely people have gone out of their way to help and done far more than necessary.
At the end of it all, the loss adjustor comes and looks round and checks it over… and is reasonably thorough, but sometimes the job that’s been done is so terrible it can’t easily be put right and sometimes it could be put right but they have caused so much stress to the people whose house it is those people can’t face fixing it.
So, as well as no phone line, my parents have ended up with a microwave installed so high that it can’t be reached safely by a six-footer, never mind someone in their seventies who is 5’1”. And a kitchen that’s decidedly poorer quality than the original one that’s not been fitted properly and an oven hood that’s upside down.
The insurers may have the best intent in mind for their clients and may pass the project on to a perfectly reputable and competent loss adjustor who is pleasant to deal with. But at the point that the loss adjustor puts the work out for tender, it can end up with anyone and often the cheapest bidder will win the work… and when the work starts it will become obvious to the homeowner that they are cheap for a reason and this is not a company they would ever, ever, have let loose in their home of their own choice. The insurer doesn’t appear to get involved, or have much control, over the work done; and this doesn’t seem to be a company-specific problem; I haven’t heard of a case where it’s been different.
Flood Re is there to help homeowners at risk of flood get affordable flood insurance. As most insurers didn’t consider my parents’ property to be at risk, it’s not something they’d ever really thought about. But it’s worth knowing if Flood Re would cover you following a flood. If they can’t, it’s highly likely that your flood insurance costs will go up significantly – and to potentially unaffordable levels.
My parents have had mixed fortunes with their new insurance policies. They have renewed their contents policy with their original insurer (who treated them very well) for close to the original rate; the policy will go into Flood Re and the quoted rate is a Flood Re rate. However, their buildings insurance is provided by a commercial company, which is the owner of the freehold of their property. My parents pay for this part of their insurance via their ground rent (along with service charges and the like). Because the insurance is provided by a commercial company, Flood Re can’t be used and the buildings premium has shot up to a level that many would consider to be unaffordable. Purchase of the freehold is an option but is also very expensive.
As a new year approaches, my parents are trying very hard to put the past twelve months behind them. But the joy of finally returning home has been tarnished by their experiences. And the refurbishment continues around them as they try to make their house a home again. Meanwhile, with no phone line for the immediate future, they’re trying to come to terms with a quiet – and somewhat lonely – existence!
Some before and after photos to follow once we’re finished…