Hundreds of home owners were still waiting to receive interim damage payments from insurers in December, as the industry struggled to cope with the aftermath of the worst floods for decades.

Richard Hanson-James, managing director of independent loss adjusters Claims Ex, said that although insurers had managed to maintain their service standards in the immediate wake of the floods, the levels of after-care service had steadily deteriorated.

The former board director of loss adjusters Graham Miller said: "It is an open secret that the claims industry had been left undermanned, and the recent floods have tested its resources to their limits."

He said that as a result, many homeowners in the areas worst affected by flooding were still living in temporary accommodation at the end of 2000. His firm had handled a rising number of complaints relating to delays to interim compensation payments.

Hanson-James continued: "Many householders want certainty about when they will be able to move back into their homes, but they have gone from severe trauma into a void of uncertainty."

He gave the example of one client, a pub in Hampshire, which was hit by rising flood waters.

Despite being appointed to the case two days later, Hanson-James said that, more than 48 hours later, he was still waiting for the insurer to notify him which loss adjuster would be dealing with the case, .

Frustrated by this delay he has stepped in and instructed a disaster restoration company to begin removing the pub's carpets.

He said: "It may be three to four weeks before the pub can open again, which means that it has missed most of the Christmas and New Year trade."

A spokeswoman for Norwich Union, the UK's largest insurer, said that it did not make interim payments to policyholders. Instead, it pays contractors directly for policyholders' repairs.