Subsidence is likely to be the nightmare of any property owner. But with appropriate subsidence insurance for protection, it need not be the case.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions about the cover.
What is subsidence?
A helpfully concise definition of subsidence is offered by the Association of British Insurers (ABI), which explains that the phenomenon occurs when the ground bearing a building’s foundations shrink and the building collapses with it.
What causes the ground to shrink?
There are a number of reasons why the foundation-bearing ground may shrink and there is probably no consensus about the principal cause.
Nevertheless, certain conditions have been identified as major faults:
- prolonged dry spells, during which the natural water table falls, the ground loses its moisture, and therefore shrinks; and
- the growth of trees and large shrubs adjacent to the walls of the property which absorb water as the roots grow and spread – trees such as willows, poplars and oaks, for example, have root networks stretching for 30 metres or more and have been found to absorb a very significant volume of water from the ground or as much as 50,000 litres a year.
Some areas of the country may be at greater risk of subsidence because of the nature of the underlying soils – chalk, sand and clay soils are considered by many experts to pose greater risks.
Although subsidence may develop in buildings in practically any part of the UK, geological maps prepared by the website Geobear, showing those which might be especially vulnerable because of the predominance of problem soils.
What protection does subsidence insurance give?
Repairing and rectifying the loss and damage to a building caused by subsidence may prove very costly – especially if it is necessary to excavate, underpin and backfill the foundations.
Subsidence insurance is designed to indemnify you against such expense (less any policy excess), typically covering the costs involved in investigating the possibility of subsidence – which may include monitoring over an extended period of time – and making whatever remedial works may be necessary.
Does my building insurance incorporate subsidence insurance?
Although some property insurance policies – for residential, buy to let or commercial properties – may include cover against subsidence as standard, this is by no means always the case. In an effort to reduce the cost of premiums, for example, some insurers may exclude the potentially expensive costs involved in providing such cover.
It is important to check your building insurance very carefully, therefore, to ensure that you are covered against the risk of subsidence – especially if your property is located in an area known to be vulnerable to such threats.
Do I need to pay an excess on any subsidence insurance claim?
The excess on any subsidence insurance claim is typically in the region of £1,000 – probably the highest excess you are likely to pay on your property insurance claims.
The sum reflects both the relatively high value of most subsidence claims – the current average is some £13,000 per claim, according to a recent report – and an attempt by insurers to lower the cost of premiums by reducing the amount that needs to be paid out on each claim.