‘Small army’ of insurers rush to Cumbria to help deal with Storm Desmond floods

Insurance companies are “mobilising a small army” of claims teams to work on rescue and recovery in the flood-damaged towns and cities in the wake of Storm Desmond.

Malcolm Tarling, of the Association of British Insurers, said “quite a few companies had booked claims reps into the area as early as last week when there were predictions of this, so they were almost ready to move before it started raining”.

The last time Cumbria faced floods of this scale, in November 2009, the total bill for insurers came to £174m, according to the ABI.

The early stages of response to the storm have seen claims teams help find short-term accommodation for customers in the hotels and B&Bs clustered in Kendal, which has seen almost 1,400 homes flooded, and Carlisle, where an estimated 2,300 properties are affected.

Direct Line’s fleet of Land Rover Defenders were dispatched over the weekend to assist in the area, supporting the emergency services, who have brought in rescue equipment from as far away as Lincolnshire.

Field staff have also set up a customer meeting place in Kendal’s town hall.

“With the water still being so high there might be customers who have not managed to get to see us yet, but we’ll be here as long as it takes. As a rule you’d have a couple of weeks in this scenario,” said Liam Farnell, a field operations manager for Direct Line.

The firm has also driven Charlie, its mobile office, up to Carlisle to act as a hub, although the high winds and standing water meant the lorry-mounted office had to wait a few days before heading north. It was last used during the Maidstone floods in 2013.

Aviva and RSA, meanwhile, are among the firms sending teams to knock on doors of insured homes to offer immediate assistance.

Their first goal is to find alternative accommodation for customers, with partnerships agreed in advance with hotel chains to try to ensure beds will be available. However, claims staff have also found themselves fielding requests for advice from other residents whose homes have been damaged, said Mr Farnell.

Once the immediate danger has passed, the slow business of rebuilding will begin.

“Many flooded homes are under standing water, which means that once the floodwaters have receded, the property will have to be decontaminated, all affected fixtures and fittings stripped out and the dry-out process completed,” said Amanda Blanc, UK head of Axa. “This obviously takes some time and we are getting customers into alternative accommodation as a priority.”

About 60pc of flood claims were fully settled within six months of the storms in 2013-14, while almost three-quarters were concluded within nine months and most people were home after a year, according to the ABI.

The 2005 floods in Carlisle were among the most costly of recent times, with an insurance bill of £272m. Faced with the rising cost of weather disasters, insurers and the Government are forming a new reinsurance pool named Flood Re, which is designed to ensure households living in flood-prone areas can continue to access home insurance.

From next year, insurance companies will take out reinsurance with Flood Re for an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 homes they deem to be in risky areas. The scheme should lower insurance premiums in these areas, which will be based on council tax bands and is only available for residential property, not businesses.

Brendan McCafferty, chief executive of Flood Re, said he was keenly watching how the floods unfolded, and will write to MPs and local authorities to remind them that the Flood Re scheme will be available from April.

“With the fiscal constraints that the UK government currently faces, the role of the private sector has never been more important,” said Jon Williams, a partner in PwC’s sustainability and climate change team.

“Whether it is financing flood defences or innovative insurance solutions, such as Flood Re, cooperation between public and private institutions is needed to accelerate overdue action to protect assets and communities from the impacts of extreme weather.”