The issue of flooding is a widespread national issue and one that requires a joined-up approach. More than 5.2m properties, or one in six buildings in England, are at risk of flooding according to the Environment Agency (EA). In a recent report to the government, the EA urged ministers to invest early in climate resilience rather than live with the costs of inaction.

Following a warning by the EA that the UK must ‘adapt or die’ to climate change, one insurer – Zurich Insurance UK – has transformed the way it handles flood claims to help property owners ‘build back better’ after they are hit by extreme weather.

A new approach

Over the last two years, the company has been working collaboratively with Defra and the EA to influence change and has launched an industry-first drive to help homeowners and businesses better protect their properties from repeat flooding.

Earlier this year, it announced that it would provide free counselling to policyholders and their families when they become victims of flooding. Under the initiative, customers who are forced to make a claim can access five counselling sessions with a qualified mental-health expert. The benefit also extends to their immediate families over the age of 18.

Zurich also wants to break the cycle by using the property-repair process to make buildings more resilient. The aim is to reduce both the disruption faced by households and businesses and, ultimately, the cost of repeat flooding. Currently, when a flood occurs, most insurers look to reinstate properties on a like-for-like basis, potentially leaving them vulnerable to flooding again.

In an industry-first move, Zurich will also inform flood-hit customers of simple changes they could make to reduce their vulnerability to future flooding. The company will signpost customers to specialist advice on flood resilience, available grants and other resources.

Property flood-resilience measures include ‘cost-neutral’ changes such as moving electric plug sockets higher up a wall. With other modifications, homeowners and businesses may themselves look to invest in installing air brick covers, sump pumps and flood doors or barriers.

To support this initiative, Zurich has launched its ‘Flood Resilience Toolkit’ which sets out a formal process for loss adjusters to follow to ensure resilience is considered as part of every flood claim.

Added benefits

The new way of handling flood claims also aims to reduce the carbon footprint involved in replacing and reinstating damage. This includes things like the waste generated by stripping out buildings, and the energy expended in drying.

In communities where flood risk and poverty levels are high, Zurich is calling for the government to make flood-resilience grants available up front. The grants – which offer homeowners £5,000 to help defend their properties – are currently only available after a serious, widespread flooding event. Ministers should ensure the grants are available throughout the year to help people in the poorest parts of the country proactively protect their properties and businesses.

Paul Redington, Zurich’s Regional Major Loss Property Claims Manager, said: “We need to ‘batten down the hatches’ and prepare for a future where extreme weather fuelled by climate change is commonplace. Although we can’t prevent flooding, we can ensure properties are better protected. We’ve transformed the way we handle claims to help flood-hit customers build back better. This will mean every claim is a potential opportunity to make homes and business more resilient and reduce the misery and disruption of being flooded time and again. The government needs to look at what it can do ahead of floods to encourage the uptake of flood resilience. With climate change bringing more frequent and severe weather, ministers need to consider a permanent grant scheme to incentivise flood resilience.”