UK floods: Insurers' group hails 'strong' response

Flooded house About £14m in emergency payments has been made since 23 December, says the ABI

The insurance industry has insisted that it was quick to help homeowners hit by recent floods after meeting ministers to discuss its response.

Following the meeting, the Association of British Insurers' (ABI) Otto Thoresen said the industry had paid out "millions" in emergency payments.

The summit came after the prime minister urged insurers to deal with flood claims as quickly as possible.

Two severe flood warnings remain in place for the South West.

There are also about 250 less serious flood warnings and flood alerts in place for England and Wales.

However, a yellow warning for rain, previously issued for Tuesday, is no longer in force.

Analysis

Insurers know their way around the corridors of power.

For months last year their representatives were locked in talks with the government over the future of flood insurance. Eventually they came up with a deal that means an industry levy, rather than a general rise in premiums, will be used to insure high flood-risk homes. The cost of insurance for most of these homeowners, but not businesses, will be capped from 2015.

But that's for the future. Politicians have primarily asked insurers to attend talks to make sure they are pulling their weight now.

Insurers will want to show how their rapid response to a crisis has improved immensely since the heavy criticism they received during the 2007 floods.

Proving they are dealing with claims quickly and efficiently will lift some of the dark clouds from the lives of affected residents. Now everyone wants those dark rain clouds to move away too.

Forecasters are predicting a drier week across the UK - but warned of further heavy rain and high winds in some parts on Thursday.

Ahead of the meeting, consumer advice company Which? raised concerns that insurance claimants were often forced to call numbers that cost up to 41p per minute.

Floods minister Dan Rogerson said the insurance firms who attended the meeting had "got the message" about the use of the premium-rate numbers and were "taking that back to their members to deal with".

Labour leader Ed Miliband, who had been visiting flood-hit areas of Somerset, said the government had to help people who had been affected by floods.

"What we can't have is the anguish of people being driven from their homes being made worse by insurance companies dragging their feet," he said.

"That's why the government has to force the insurance industry to set a clear standard for people having their temporary expenses covered and for how quickly they can expect to get the help so they can get back into their homes."

Thousands of properties have been flooded in the UK since the severe weather began, with the cost to insurers expected to amount to more than £1bn.

Costs compared

Since December 2013

£1bn+

projected cost to insurers

£14m

emergency payments from insurers

  • £24m paid out for temporary accommodation

  • £3.2bn estimated cost of 2007 floods

Getty Images

About £14m in emergency payments has been made since 23 December, according to the ABI, with individual households receiving between £500 and £3,000.

And about £24m has been spent on hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and rented homes, it said, with an average estimated cost per affected household projected to be £16,500.

A man walking across a flooded garden in Chertsey, Surrey The cost to insurers is expected to amount to more than £1bn

The ABI added that more than 2,000 loss adjusters were "ready and waiting" to assess the damage when flood waters had subsided sufficiently, and 1,800 staff had been reassigned to deal with customer queries.

Financial help for flood victims

  • Council tax suspension: Some councils will consider a refund if properties are empty
  • Mortgage holidays: Lenders have said payments could be suspended for some
  • Overdrafts: Banks will consider waiving fees for businesses affected
  • Tax: HMRC has said businesses affected will be given special treatment
  • Energy: Flood victims can ask their supplier for leniency with bills

Mr Thoresen said: "There is some very clear evidence of a strong response, initial response from the industry. We have been paying out millions in emergency amounts to people to get them over the immediate problems they face in terms of alternative accommodation and the like."

He said the insurance industry's continuing response was important "because the repairs have to be properly delivered and they have to be sustainable for the quality of life for people in their homes in the future".

Aidan Kerr, who is the ABI's head of property, said following the meeting that there should be a "zero-tolerance" approach to building on flood plains.

"As a country we need to look at how we provide flood insurance but also how we build flood defences, how we maintain them and where we build our new properties," he said.

Jeanette Shipp shows the BBC the damage to her house in Fetcham which she says will not be covered by her insurer

Jeanette Shipp, from Surrey, says she has been told by her insurer that it will not be covering the damage to her property - a decision she is disputing.

She said the insurance company would not cover her because she lives within 200m of the River Mole. She said the damage to the building alone would be around £40,000.

Weather information

Volunteers fill sandbags

"They were aware of the geography of the location when I chose to place my insurance through them about four years ago," she said. "I paid a substantial premium for my cover and expected to get a service from them."

Malcolm Tarling, of the ABI, earlier told the BBC that in future, some premiums may have to rise.

He said: "Insurers will change premiums to reflect the flood risk. If the flood risk goes up then for businesses, that may have to be reflected in the cost of insurance."

On Monday, the prime minister unveiled a £10m fund to help businesses recover from the floods.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin chaired Tuesday's meeting - which is set to be repeated monthly - and was joined by Mr Thoresen, Mr Rogerson, communities minister Brandon Lewis and Conservative MP Jo Johnson, from the Downing Street policy unit.

Also attending were the chief executives of Aviva, Direct Line Group, Axa, Lloyds Banking Group and Ageas and the claims director from RSA insurance. Those companies represent 60% of the insurance market.

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There were some heavy showers in south-east England, southern Scotland and the far north of England on Tuesday morning but the weather will turn drier in the evening for much of the country.

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BBC Weather's Chris Fawkes said this week's weather was looking "nowhere near as stormy" but more rain and high winds were expected later in the week.

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