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Insurers know the answer to Irish flood cover problem

States, including the UK, the US, France and Germany, have a variety of formalised scheme to cover flood damage

Even ahead of Storm Ciarán, homeowners in Cork, Wexford, Louth, Down and Armagh were counting the cost of catastrophic flooding over recent weeks.

For anyone with flood insurance, there was at least the security of cover. But for an increasing number of victims, insurance is not an option. Either they have been flooded previously or they live in a known flood risk zone.

In a by now familiarly depressing ritual, homeowners were directed to the means-tested Humanitarian Assistance Scheme while businesses were promised financial support would be forthcoming – inevitably with figures steadily increased as Government tests the limits of local tolerance.

Meanwhile, even Taoiseach Leo Varadkar concedes that flooding is becoming more frequent and severe. And after every flood, there is a clamour over what to do to protect people who have nowhere left to go.

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To which the easy answer is why not simply look at schemes already established across Europe and even in the United States. Many countries either have specific funds in place to meet the costs of flooding, such as Germany and France, or state-supported insurance cover, such as in the UK and the US.

The UK’s Flood Re scheme aims to make flood cover available to all homeowners, regardless of flood risk, at an affordable rate. It is effectively a reinsurer but one that acts on a not-for-profit basis.

It collects £180 million (€207 million) through a levy on all insurers in the market – most of whom also operate in Ireland and are therefore familiar with the concept. It also charges insurers a fixed premium based on the property UK council tax band, not the actual flood risk, when they take on a vulnerable property. There is also a £250 excess per policy. Over 350,000 properties are covered.

Critically, to disincentivise building on flood plains, homes built after 2009 are not covered. The US scheme has a qualification along the same lines. Similar nudges for planners and developers in this State – with appropriate warnings to prospective buyers, would not go amiss.

It is no use the State and the insurance sector throwing their collective hands in the air when disaster strikes. There are answers to hand if only we wish to look for them.