Subsidence, insurance and how to navigate the common issues. Amy Shields, our in-house expert, takes us through the detail
When it comes to completing proposal forms for buildings insurance, insurers will always ask if there has been any history or signs of subsidence, landslip, movement or heave within the past five years. Of the above, the perhaps most prevalent is subsidence.
What is Subsidence?
The official definition of subsidence is ‘the gradual caving in or sinking of an area of land’. When this happens to a property, the consequences are often devastating and it has the ability to cause problems such as damage to foundations, buildings and infrastructure. It is normally caused by two main issues;
1) Subsidence caused by tree roots
The roots suck up the moisture out of the ground resulting in the soil becoming hard. This causes shrinking and cracking. The main culprits are Willows and Poplars.
2) Subsidence caused by clay soil
In this type of soil an effect called ‘Shrink-Swell’ happens as a result of the changes in moisture content. It often occurs alongside changing weather conditions such as dry summers or wet winters. Shrink-Swell behaviour refers to the pattern of hardening (when the ground becomes very hard when dry resulting in shrinking and cracking) and softening (when the soil absorbs large quantities of water after rainfall, becoming soft and heavy).
How Subsidence affects insurance:
From an insurer’s perspective, subsidence is a big risk – especially if there has been previous history or if the property is old (and built on clay soil). This is because subsidence claims can be really expensive as it will nearly always involve the property being fully underpinned which can cost thousands of pounds. It is also why we would always recommend having subsidence cover in place even if there is a higher excess placed on subsidence claims – this is a particularly common response from insurers.
If your property has had previous signs or history of subsidence, we would always recommend a survey is carried out to assess the current situation. Whilst it is harder to obtain insurance if there has been history, it’s not impossible by any means. Many standard insurers and even some higher level ones take a strong stance against any previous subsidence cases or high-risk areas (for example North London) and will not provide any cover for subsidence at all.
However, there are a number of insurers who will provide cover but they will require up to date surveys and reports to confirm the current state of the property and confirm if there is any risk. Whilst the age of the property might mean there has been some movement, if this is reported as being consistent with the area and non-progressive, insurers will usually offer cover without anything further. If there has been previous subsidence and underpinning has been done, insurers like to see recent reports (from within the last few years) that confirm that the issue has been resolved, if there is monitoring in place and/or confirmation that there is no further risk.
Often after work is done, a Certificate of Structural Adequacy is produced and issued to the current owners of the property. This is especially important for obtaining future insurance quotes especially if you decide to sell your property as the new buyers will need to show this in order to obtain insurance including subsidence cover.
For more information or to discuss you individual subsidence issues please contact Amy Shields, Insurance Tailors.