ABI confirms summer heatwave caused record-breaking subsidence surge


The third quarter of 2018 saw a 350% surge in subsidence claims – the highest since records began 25 years ago – figures from the Association of British Insurers reveal today.

In July, August and September 10,000 households made claims worth £64 million overall, compared to 2500 claims worth £14 million in the previous three months. This volume of claims has not been seen since the heatwaves of 2003 and 2006.

The numbers confirm a story from Post last week, in which in the heads of subsidence at claims managers, Sedgwick and Crawford, both said they had seen subsidence claims jump more than 300%.

The surge comes as a result of the long period of hot and dry weather experienced in the UK this summer. This in turn caused the ground beneath many homes to lose moisture and shrink, leading to structural damage above ground.

Subsidence is a risk ordinarily associated with the South East, where many buildings are built on clay. However, a report by Crawford found: “This year’s extended dry spell affected large areas of the South West, Midlands, North West and North East, which are producing notable spikes in subsidence claims for the first time in a generation.”

Laura Hughes, the ABI’s senior policy adviser for property, 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 figures, Dominic Bird, CEO of the AA Underwriting, said: “The ABI’s figures reflect our experience. 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.”

Though both the ABI and the AA assured homeowners that subsidence is a risk routinely covered by buildings insurance, both warned that that in instances where claims are made there may not necessarily be a quick fix.

In some cases buildings may require long-term monitoring and people may need to be moved to alternative accommodation.

Bird said: “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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