Although some residents reported their houses were shaking as a result of last Tuesday’s quake, insurance professionals are taking a more sceptical view of property claims due to ‘very minor’ tremors

Insurance professionals “do not expect to see any claims” arising from last Tuesday’s earthquake in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, however any domestic or commercial property claims that are made – including on home insurance policies – may be investigated as fraudulent due to the “minor nature of the tremor”.

On 8 September 2020, residents took to Twitter to confirm experiences of the quake, which included windows and doors rattling as well as a loud bang, according to the Daily Mail. One social media user, Dean Gray, shared a video on Twitter of the earthquake scaring his pet dogs; he captioned the clip “Actually thought my house was falling down”.

The British Geological Survey (BGS) formally recorded the event on 13 September, confirming that the earthquake had a depth of 10km. The incident was reported to measure 3.3 on the Richter scale, which is used to define earthquake magnitude.

richter scale

Richter scale

Dr Richard Luckett, seismologist at the British Geological Survey, told the BBC: “It was very minor on a global scale, but still quite large for the UK. We get about two of these a year.”

Level three on the Richter scale is defined as a small earthquake; a moderate earthquake usually measures at around six on the Richter scale, seven is defined as a strong earthquake and eight is classified as a major earthquake. The Richter scale progresses to a severity level of 10.

Fraud potential

With this in mind, Dan Simson, head of home insurance at Direct Line, said: “We do not expect to see any claims following the earthquake felt in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire on Tuesday morning. Although a 3.3 magnitude earthquake is quite strong for the UK, this is very minor in terms of severity and comparable to the vibration felt by a heavy vehicle passing by.”

He added that any claims received may be investigated as fraudulent as insurers guard against the possibility of scammers using the quake to cash in on home insurance policies.

“We would be surprised to see any claims for property damage, as this is fairly improbable given the minor nature of the tremor. We would therefore need to investigate any claims thoroughly to ensure this damage was not caused by underlying structural issues in the property or an attempted fraudulent claim,” he continued.

Limited damage

Alison Unwin, head of domestic major loss and ARN at Sedgwick International UK, agreed with Simson’s perspective, however she added that her firm has “received just two claims for property damage” because “there was limited damage from the earthquake”.

She added: “The UK is not generally associated with earthquakes, but according to the British Geographical Society there are approximately 20 to 30 earthquakes each year that are strong enough for people to feel the effects. However, most of these earthquakes only cause minor or no damage at all.

“The earthquake [last week] was centered around the town of Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire and measured 3.3 on the Richter scale. Reports were received from residents who felt their houses ‘shaking’, or that it was like a large explosion.

“UK general insurers, both household and commercial, usually provide cover under standard policies for damage attributable to earthquake. The severity of earthquakes in the UK would normally present as minor cracking to plasterwork or decorations, or perhaps the odd chimney or roof slate that is unseated.

“We are not expecting to see any significant numbers of claims, nor any significant reports of damage attributable to the earthquake in Leighton Buzzard, although minor internal damage is possible.”

The ABI also concurred that “earthquakes that result in insurance claims in UK are pretty rare” and that “insurers will deal with any claims for property damage in the normal way”. Simson agreed: “Typically earthquakes are covered as standard on home insurance policies, including any fires which may be caused by a tremor.”