Most residential and commercial buildings and contents insurance policies include flood cover. This is designed to cover circumstances where water has entered or built up in a property, causing damage to contents, decorations or to the building itself. If you have a complaint about an insurance claim following a flood, we may be able to help.
Types of complaints we see
We see a range of complaints about flooding. For example, consumers contact us to complain because:
- the insurer disagrees there was a flood
- the insurer disagrees a flood caused the damage that's being claimed for
- repairs done to a property aren't good enough, or haven't put the property back to its original state
- the insurer says the repairs being asked for are preventative and not covered by the policy
- a dispute about whether the repairs to a property will be 'lasting and effective'
- flood damage being discovered long after flooding, usually during renovations
- the insurer has stopped paying for alternate accommodation, but the property is still not safe to live in
- the consumer isn't able to live in the property but the insurer won't pay for alternative accommodation
- the consumer not being happy with the alternate accommodation provided for a variety of reasons
Gradual flooding in properties
We also see cases where a consumer has noticed that a basement or ground floor room, which was previously watertight, has started to let water in.
There are many reasons why water might start to build up in a basement or the lower floors of a property, a flood isn't necessarily a sudden event. Flooding can also be caused by or include:
- a leak from the insured property or a neighbouring property
- a rise in the water table
- damage to drains or underground pipes below the property
- an underground stream
- failure of tanking in the property
How to complain
Talk to your insurance company first. They need to have the chance to put things right. They have to give you their final response within 8 weeks for most types of complaint.
If you're unhappy with their response, or if they don't respond, let us know.
Bringing a complaint to us is straightforward and won’t cost you anything. We'll check your complaint is something we can deal with, and if it is, we'll investigate to understand what happened and what went wrong.
Find out more about how to make a complaint.
What we look at
To help us consider a complaint fairly, we’ll ask you to provide some information. We’ll make our decision about what happened using evidence provided by you, the financial business and any relevant third parties. When we look at complaints about flood damage, we expect insurers to treat their customers fairly, and to take into consideration the customer's specific circumstances.
Below we've provided some information about our general approach to some of the more common complaints we see.
Defining what a flood is
If an insurance policy doesn't define "a flood", then it's likely we'll need to consider and decide whether a flood occurred.
Floods often happen suddenly, particularly when caused by a natural event such as a river bursting its bank or during heavy rainfall. But that's not the only situation in which flooding can occur. A flood doesn't have to be a sudden or violent event. It can occur when water enters (or builds up) in a property slowly and steadily, and this doesn't necessarily have to be caused by a natural event. The key factor is that water built up, regardless of where the water came from.
Flood damage can also be caused by flooding outside the property. For example, if the property is surrounded by floodwater which leads to the walls becoming damp, we're likely to say that consumer has a valid flood claim, if the damp has caused damage to the property.
Similarly, we might say that damage has been caused by flood even if the water itself hasn't damaged the property. For example, if floodwater washes away enough earth to make a building unstable, we're likely to say that damage to the building was caused by the flood.
Where damage is caused by a build-up of water which has escaped from a pipe or domestic appliance, there may also be cover under the "escape of water" section of the policy.
Waterproofing rooms below ground level ("Tanking")
Tanking is a heavy-duty form of waterproofing often used in buildings with rooms below ground level, or in areas with a particularly high water table.
We see cases where there's a dispute about whether tanking is needed, and also sometimes see cases where the insurer has said that the reason the property is no longer waterproof is because the tanking has failed due to lack of maintenance.
If it's clear that any repair carried out would only be temporary and likely to fail in the short term if tanking isn't installed, we may ask the insurer to install tanking. For example, if we are satisfied that an "un-tanked" room was watertight before, but it's flooded due to a rise in the water table.
If the insurer says that tanking failed because of a "gradually operating cause" and damage caused gradually is excluded by the policy, we'll decide on balance how the damage is more likely to have occurred, and if it's fair not to pay the claim on this basis.
We sometimes see cases where the insurer argues that the property wasn't waterproof before the damage, so making the property watertight wouldn't be covered by the policy. This is sometimes called "betterment".
Your insurance policy is intended to put you back into the position you would have been before the damage happened, and although this is often on a "new for old" basis, we don't expect your insurer to put you into a better position than before or include any preventative protection on your property that you didn't have previously. However, any repairs that your insurer makes should be effective and lasting.
If we think that your property is at a significant risk of flooding again if preventative measures aren't put in place, we might say that repairs without preventative measures would require more work after a short period of time, or on a regular basis. In this case, we may ask the insurer to repair more than just the insured damage, by adding preventative measures.
We also see some cases where it isn't reasonable to decide if an insurer's proposed method of repair is effective, until it has been carried out and tested. In such circumstances, we may decide it's reasonable for an insurer to attempt its preferred method of repair. However, should it not succeed, we would expect the insurer to put matters right.
Allowances for temporary accommodation or disturbance
Whilst repairs are carried out, it may not be safe to stay at your property, or there may not be access to essential amenities, so you'll need to move into alternative accommodation. Many policies will cover the reasonable extra costs of temporarily living somewhere else because of damage to your property caused by a flood.
When we look at these types of complaints, we'll look at the accommodation you were offered and if it was suitable for your needs, and if any additional costs incurred were reasonable and in proportion to your claim. We'll consider things like:
- when your property was considered unsuitable for you to live in
- how long is reasonable for your insurer to cover these costs
- what your policy says about alternate accommodation, and if there are any limits
- if you incurred any additional expenses because of the alternate accommodation
Generally, we'd expect these costs to be covered until the property becomes habitable or safe again subject to the limit in the policy, which could be part way through the repairs. If you need to relocate for a few days or a week, it might be reasonable to stay in a B&B or hotel. But if it's likely to be for a longer period of time, it may be better to relocate to private rental accommodation or serviced apartment. If the options for alternative accommodation near to you are limited, we'd expect your insurer to work with you to find a reasonable solution or compromise.
When finding alternative accommodation, we'd expect insurers to consider things like:
- the distance from work and school
- the distance from family and friends
- the number of bedrooms
- disabilities or medical conditions
- pet-friendly properties, if you have pets
There may be other extra costs incurred whether you stay at home or have to relocate temporarily. In insurance policies this is sometimes referred to as a "disturbance allowance".
This only refers to monetary costs incurred, and won't include the inconvenience to you living somewhere else.
We'll consider what's fair and reasonable in the circumstances of your claim, but reasonable extra costs may include things like:
- extra food expenses, such as buying ready meals or eating out
- laundry fees if washing facilities aren't available
- travel expenses, such as taking children to school or commuting to work
- rehousing pets if the alternate accommodation isn't pet-friendly
- additional council tax if living at a different property (your local authority may agree to freeze the council tax at your insured property if it's going to be unoccupied for an extended period)
Putting things right
If we decide you’ve been treated unfairly, or there’s been a mistake, we’ll ask the business to put things right. Our general approach is that the customer should be put back in the position they would have been in if the problem hadn’t happened. We may also ask the business to pay you compensation you for any distress or inconvenience experienced as a result of the problem. The exact details of how we’ll ask you to put things right will depend on the nature of the complaint. The following gives an overview of our approach.
When looking at a complaint, we have to consider the policy definitions and exclusions. In each case we'll look at what caused the damage, and whether it's covered by the policy. If an insurer has relied on an exclusion to refuse or reduce payment, then we'll look to see whether it has applied this fairly.
If we consider that an insurance policy's definition of an item or contents or buildings was unreasonable, and led to an unfair result, we may ask the company to settle the claim. Usually that's done by:
- repairing the damage
- replacing something lost or damaged
- paying cash to cover the cost of repair or replacement
Find out more about how we award compensation.
Customer complains after basement flood, because insurer will only pay for damage caused not for making the basement watertight
A customer complains his insurer won’t pay to repair water damage in his living room, because the circumstances weren’t covered by the policy
Here are some online resources and websites that you may find useful:
- Association of British Insurers (ABI) information on flooding, including assessing your flood risk, preparing for a flood and recovering from a flood
- Flood Re - a scheme to help those living in flood risk areas to get affordable home insurance
- The Environment Agency's flood map (for England and Wales)
- The Scottish Environment Protection Agency's flood map (for Scotland)
Detailed information for businesses
Financial businesses can find out more detailed information on handling complaints about flood damage in our dedicated information section.