Subsidence claims hit three-month high, finds ABI

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More than 10,000 households made claims worth a total of £64 million to deal with the impact of subsidence in just three months of this year, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has found.

The figures for July, August and September 2018 are the highest level of subsidence claims since the record-breaking heatwaves of 2006 and 2003, according to the ABI. The hot weather of 2018 saw some UK regions experience the driest months on record, particularly in the southeast, which is also well-known for building on subsidence-prone clay soil.

From the previous quarter, the number of claims jumped from 2,500 to 10,000—rising in value from £14 million to £64 million. This increase of 350% is the highest quarter-on-quarter jump since records began more than 25 years ago.

ABI senior policy adviser for property, Laura Hughes, said: “Thousands of people across the UK are now suffering because we experienced such an unprecedented period of dryness this summer. Insurers understand that this is a stressful time for affected homeowners and are providing widespread support to help with repairs.”

“Our advice is don’t panic if you spot a crack in your home—there are many other reasons why these may have occurred. Get in touch with your insurer if you believe your home is experiencing subsidence and they’ll be on hand with the best expertise and the best technology. Insurers and their appointed loss adjusters are very well equipped to deal with these types of complex claim.”

Responding to the ABI’s announcement, Dominic Bird, CEO of AA Underwriting Insurance, the AA’s in-house insurer, said: “I’ve not seen such a high level of subsidence claims for many years and I am concerned that we may in future, see more frequent long, hot summers which may make this a more common type of claim from home owners.”

“Subsidence is a particular problem for properties built on clay soil substrates and our experience suggests that those built in late Victorian years are more prone to the issue. Of course, homes of any age could be affected although with modern building methods, more recent homes appear to be much less likely to be subject to subsidence.”

“At a time when more and more homes are being built, we are seeing some long-established properties that have never have suffered subsidence problems being affected. Neighbouring building works and trees—particularly willow and oak, which can take up to 200 gallons of water out of the ground every day, especially in hot weather—affect the moisture content of the soil, leading to the possibility that it becomes more likely to dry out and thus shrink, leading to foundations settling.”

The AA says that if cracks big enough to insert a pound coin develop in walls, around window and door frames and gaps appear between the damp proof course and the first course of bricks above it, then subsidence is almost certainly the cause.

Bird added: “Happily, subsidence is a standard risk covered by your home buildings insurance. You should contact your insurer as soon as possible if you see such issues developing. They will arrange for a survey to be carried out and if subsidence is the cause, will appoint contractors to put the problem right.”

“However, I should point out that there is no instant solution. It can take several months to identify the cause, take remedial action (such as removing nearby trees) and undertake possibly extensive repairs such as underpinning as well as restoration of the damaged building works.”

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk