PROSPECTIVE homebuyers and tenants in flood risk areas of Dorset should do all they can to understand the likelihood of their properties being affected, a leading residential property lawyer has warned.
The call from Sarah Ford of Battens Solicitors follows one of the wettest summers on record with many householders in the region coping with the stress of actual floods or the worry that they may be next.
It also comes as the government and the insurance industry continue to finalise a long-term cross-subsidy agreement for policy holders facing significant risk of flooding. A current ‘statement of principles’ on this issue expires in June 2013, less than a year away.
Miss Ford, who also advises clients in the commercial property sector, said: “It is important for people to recognise that while insurers can help to manage the financial risk of flooding, they do not control the level of the physical risk itself. When you are looking for cover or thinking of buying or renting a new home or business space that may be affected by flooding, it is more important than ever to have a detailed flood search carried out. Many conventional law firms tend to leave insurance to the client and only carry out very limited flood searches, if any. The time has come to look in far more detail.”
Flood searches vary from desktop analysis based on data from only a few sources, such as the Environment Agency website, through to actual site visits. Searches can involve river, coastal, groundwater and surface water flood risk and take into account current or proposed defences and extensive statistical modelling.
Miss Ford said: “Prospective owners and tenants who are worried about flooding should demand that their legal consultants do a full flood search as part of standard due diligence. This way they will highlight any potential issues sooner rather than later. The worst case scenario is that they will be unable to obtain insurance cover for flooding. This is something the government and insurers are trying to address in their discussions but as matters stand, after June 2013, more properties could be left without cover. That impacts on the use and value of the property and could even rule out securing a mortgage.”
The government’s advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, say that the number of homes at risk of flooding nationally in the next 20 years is set to quadruple. At the same time, however, economic pressures mean funding for flood defences has been cut in some areas while others have been prioritised. The Environment Agency says funding for the Wessex region has been cut by 32% since 2008/09, from £28m then to £19m in 2011/12.
“We are likely to see flooding that is more frequent and severe due to climate change,” added Miss Ford. “This is bound to have an impact on the use and costs of both residential and commercial properties. Hard choices are being made at government level about where and how much to spend on flood defences. The more informed people are about their own properties, the better.”
For more information, contact Battens on 01305 216216. Battens is a Legal 500 firm with four offices including Sherborne, Dorchester and Weymouth.