Q&A: What to do if your property has been flooded

From cleaning up to future insurance policies here is how to deal with the damage

Tom Quinn with his flooded house in the backround at the townland of Caherfurvaus near Craughwell. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Tom Quinn with his flooded house in the backround at the townland of Caherfurvaus near Craughwell. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

My property has been badly flooded? Where do I start?

In the immediate aftermath of any serious flooding some clear steps must be taken. First power and gas have to be disconnected and cracks and bulges in walls and ceilings have to be carefully assessed as wet plaster can threaten a property’s structure. Standing water can hide hazards, and rats’ urine causes the potentially fatal Weil’s disease so broken skin cuts must be kept out of water and hands carefully disinfected.

Already done, what’s next?

All damage has to be recorded with both stills and video and insurance companies contacted. If cover is in place they will fund the cost of clearing up, cleaning and sanitising and will pick up the tab for home and business contents damaged.

And if I don’t have insurance?

You have to pay to repair the damage yourself although the Government does have a fund to offer relief to those affected by flooding. However, a small portion of more than €20 million has been distributed since 2009 leading to concerns about its effectiveness.

As a homeowner, are there other avenues I can explore?

The Department of Social Protection has an assistance scheme to provide “emergency financial assistance to households not in a position to meet costs for essential needs in the period immediately following flooding”. It is means-tested but it covers emergency income support and offers funds to cover the cost of damaged carpets, flooring and furniture.

What about businesses?

Storm Desmond’s timing, just three weeks before Christmas – a period that is supposed to help retailers return to an even keel after more than six years of austerity – could scarcely be worse. Bandon suffered its second serious flood in six years, while Crossmolina suffered its worst flooding in more than half a century. Even getting their doors open, will for many retailers, be a challenge. Replacing millions of euro of stock destroyed by flood waters will be insurmountable for many.

They can be helped, right?

Existing legislation may make it difficult to help them out. “It is not straightforward because in terms of the legislation that is connected to flood relief compensation or humanitarian payments or so on – it specifically talks about supporting households and not businesses,” the Minister for Defence Simon Coveney admitted on Monday. “We have had this before in terms of some businesses in Cork city and in Blackpool and Douglas and we were not able to get them money in the end.”

So what is the Government doing?

It is holding meetings. It is to examine ways of providing support for businesses who have suffered huge losses. Enda Kenny met with Simon Harris, the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW), on Monday and Cabinet will discuss the possibility of emergency funding being made available when it meets on Tuesday morning.

Why aren’t businesses given any protection from the State?

Generally speaking, they have not been assisted because governments have been fearful of doing anything to incentivise businesses not to get flood insurance.

My property was flooded and I have insurance. Will I be able to get it again?

Probably not. While domestic and commercial insurance policies routinely offer flood protection, renewing a policy after a flood becomes much harder. Last year the National Consumer Agency asked eight insurance providers to quote for a property in an area prone to flooding, which had a flood damage claim in the last five years. None of the providers was willing to offer a quote.

What happens if I switch provider and do not disclose the facts about a flood?

It is a material fact. If you do not disclose it then – effectively – you invalidate your insurance policy.

My property was not flooded but my neighbours’ were. Am I alright?

There is a good chance you’re not. Many insurers exclude properties based on flood-mapping services which highlight areas which have been traditionally vulnerable.

If an investment has been made in flood protection, can I get flood cover?

The Office of Public Works spends about €40 million a year on flood protection with the Government pumping millions more into flood defences. An additional €1 billion, will be spent over the coming years as part of the Government’s recent capital development plan. Extensive flood-relief work has been carried out in towns such as Mallow, Fermoy and Clonmel and the risk of flooding has been reduced dramatically which means flood insurance has become available there again.