Affordable home insurance is ’essential to public trust’ in insurance and is impossible without ‘drastic improvements’ to flood resilience, says CII director of policy and public affairs

The UK government last week (25 August 2022) revealed changes to its Flood risk and coastal change planning guidance, with the aim of better protecting new homes from flooding.

The document was first published by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in partnership with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on 6 March 2014 and was updated on 20 August 2021.

It provided official guidance on how to take account of and address the risks associated with flooding and coastal change in planning processes. 

The latest amendments include:

  • Improved planning guidance to help councils consider future flood risk, as well as ensuring new homes meet recommended standards on flood prevention measures before they are approved. For example, this includes reccomendations for using flood resilient building materials such as water resistant insulation or moving plug sockets higher up walls.
  • Providing more support to ensure homes are built in low-risk areas with sustainable drainage – including guidance on local biodiversity, how to control surface water run-off and the use of natural flood management techniques.
  • Helping communities mitigate the future impacts of climate change.

Implementing the changes builds on the UK government’s promise to invest £5.2bn in the creation of 2,000 new flood defence schemes by 2027, as highlighted in a policy statement published in July 2020.

Greg Clark, secretary for levelling up, housing and communities, said: “We have all seen how flooding is becoming all too frequent. This new guidance will strengthen councils’ ability to require better flood resilience in new developments. 

“Councils will need to demonstrate that the development will be safe from flooding for its lifetime, will not increase flood risk elsewhere and, where possible, will reduce flood risk overall.

“This will help make sure our homes and neighbourhoods are built to last for generations to come.”

Calling on collaboration

According to LV= General Insurance (LV= GI) claims director Martin Milliner, the recent amendments to guidance are timely.

This is especially true, he said, because a recent report commissioned by the insurer, published 22 November 2021, called attention to the approval of 5,283 new dwellings to be built in the UK’s highest-risk local authorities last year.

The report also found that just 12% of local authorities believed they had the skills and expertise to understand flood risk when making planning decisions.

Milliner said: “Flooding is an extremely traumatic event, which has a devasting impact on a person’s life – both physically and mentally. By different sectors working together, we can ensure homeowners are better protected for the future.”

Executive director of Biba Graeme Trudgill echoed Milliner’s sentiments and welcomed the government’s changes.

In fact, the need for the UK government to tighten rules and regulations around building properties in flood risk areas was a key point in Biba’s 2022 Manifesto, published in January.

Trdugill explained: “The availability of suitable and affordable flood cover is important for the financial resilience of consumers and businesses.

“As the impacts of climate change affect the profile of rainfall and consequent flooding, it is vital that progress in these areas is made to maintain a competitive market and we hope this new guidance can reduce the number of inappropriate and unsuitable new builds in flood risk areas.

Protecting future generations

Despite acknowledging the changes are a step in the right direction, specialist insurer Ecclesiastical Insurance, the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) and insurer Axa all told Insurance Times they remained sceptical about the developments.

Dougie Barnett, director of mid-market and customer risk management at Axa, said: “While [the] announcement is a welcome step in the right direction, the government needs to ensure much-needed affordable housing is not built in areas at risk of flooding.

“It should also immediately implement legislation requiring the inclusion of sustainable drainage systems in new developments to better protect communities from flood risk.”

Meanwhile, Dr Matthew Connell, director of policy and public affairs at the CII, said: “Affordable home insurance is essential to public trust in insurance and this cannot be delivered over the long term without drastic improvements to flood resilience.

“These proposals are an important step in the right direction, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done to mitigate future climate change and some of the poor planning decisions of the recent past.”

A spokesperson for Ecclesiastical Insurance added that until the firm sees how the changes are “applied by councils in the planning process, it is too early to say how effective it will be”.

They continued: “Climate change is impacting us all so it is vital that any planning consent given to new developments takes into account both the historical threat of flooding, but also the risk of flash flooding in areas where there is no history of previous problems.

“Planning departments [must] prioritise preventing water from entering homes but must also take into account all other factors such as the local infrastructure, flood plains, drains, gullies and sewers.

“Only by putting robust new measures in place can we have more resilient and sustainable development for future generations.”

Thinking ahead, one welcome development for UK government-backed flood reinsurance scheme Flood Re will be the introduction of Flood Performance Certificates (FPCs), which will “provide reassurance and understanding of the risks posed to properties and the steps taken to mitigate them”, said Flood Re communications and transition director Dermot Kehoe. 

He added: “We must also drive take-up of property flood resilience measures and maintain our civil flood defences.

“The recent heatwave in the UK and incidents of flooding that followed straight after are a reminder of the more extreme weather we can expect as the overall climate gets wetter and warmer. Adapting to this reality with urgency and pace will help avoid the damage and distress that accompanies flooding.”