Tenure was also important in affecting insurance take-up. In both surveys those not owning or buying their property were less likely to have insurance of all kinds. Tenure affects insurance since mortgage lenders require their clients to have insurance cover for the buildings they lend on. Landlords should take responsibility for building and structure insurance on properties they rent out. Thus, in the Intangibles Survey, 94% of those owning or buying their property had building and structure insurance compared with 21% in other tenure groups. In the Warnings Survey, the proportions were 93% and 33% respectively. However, there were significant differences in ‘new for old’ contents insurance between owners and other types of tenure. For example, for the flooded in the Intangibles Survey, 85% of those owning or buying their homes compared with 50% in other tenure groups had such cover. For the Warnings Survey, the proportions were 80% and 60% respectively.
A small category in both surveys who were generally less likely to have insurance cover, were those people living in ‘vulnerable’ housing such as basement, ground floor flats or mobile homes (i.e. without an upper floor). In the Warnings Survey, a lower proportion of those living in vulnerable properties had building and structure insurance against flooding, however the difference was not significant. Households living in vulnerable properties were also less likely to have ‘new for old’ contents insurance, (63% versus 79%). In the Intangibles Survey, a similar picture emerged, 64% of those in vulnerable housing had buildings and structure insurance compared with 87% of those less vulnerable. For ‘new for old’ contents insurance, the contrast was as marked with 64% compared with 82% having such insurance. This may reflect high age, low income and the type of tenure of residents in such property. However, it does mean that those who are most vulnerable in terms of their housing, who had little scope to save their property and indeed household members by moving upstairs, were the least protected by insurance.
5.2.3 Preparedness measures taken before the event: Warnings Survey
Increasingly in England and Wales, property owners are being encouraged to take some responsibility for protecting their property in the event of flooding so as to increase its resistance and resilience (Defra, 2004). The Environment Agency, government departments and the ABI have produced advice for residents on what to do to prepare for a flood (e.g. EA/CIRIA, 2001; DTLR, 2002; ABI, undated). These developments are fairly recent and their impact may not be fully reflected in the Warnings and Intangibles Surveys since the respondents in those surveys had been affected by flooding dating back to January 1998. The National Flood Forum, an organisation that represents all the local citizens’ Flood Action Groups set up in England and Wales, has promoted devices such as flood gates through Flood Fairs and the Environment Agency has backed a kite marking scheme produced by the British Standards Institute, to indicate reliable flood proofing devices. A list of Kitemark products is available on the Agency’s website.
The next section of this report examines a wide range of preventative measures that residents may take before a flood event happens. The questions on which this section is based were only asked of the 278 respondents in Phase 2 of the Warnings Survey. Respondents were asked two questions in which they were presented with a list of preparedness measures. First they were asked “While living at your current address, have you done any of the following?” and shown a list of preventative measures. The first list included mainly structural options to protect the property, such as installing water pumps or floodgates and also included taking out insurance (Figure 5.5 ). The second question asked respondents “Have you acted to reduce the damage that water would cause if it got into your home for example by” and they were then shown a second list of options designed to protect the furniture, valuable and sentimental objects and household fittings (Figure 5.6). Respondents were asked in relation to each item “Was this before or after your recent/most serious flood”. Figures 5.5 and 5.6 show the different actions and the percentages of respondents that undertook any of them before the last/worst flood event:
The data (Figure 5. 5) indicate that although most of those interviewed were within known flood risk areas and only a minority were affected by extreme events or floods from very small watercourses, that might be unanticipated, few residents had taken measures to protect the structure of their property prior to the recent or last flood event. The only preparatory action taken by more than half of the respondents was taking out insurance. Two other actions, keeping ditches and drains clean and obtaining sandbags and sand were taken by sizeable minorities. Very few residents in the warnings survey had made structural alterations to their property or had bought expensive items such as pumps or flood gates.
Figure 5.5: Structural preparedness actions taken: Warnings Survey Phase 2
Figure 5.6 shows that only minorities had adapted their behaviour and the way they lived in their homes in preparation for flooding before the recent or worst flood. All 16 options presented in Figures 5.5 and 5.6 were combined into a ‘preparedness before or after the flood’ score (scored 0 to 16). This, of course, gives equal weight to each of the items. It does not take into account either the potential cost, degree of adaptation or potential impact on structural or property damages that might follow from the actions (which can be significant). However, this flood preparedness score provides a simple, if crude, measure of how proactive residents were in advance of a flood and afterwards. Figure 5.7 then, presents the overall scores on the preparedness actions before and after flooding.
A number of variables were examined in relation to the ‘flood preparedness score’ in order to throw light on the drivers for taking action before a flood. The number of floods experienced was significantly correlated with the number of flood preparedness actions undertaken before the flood ( r = 0.368, p < 0.001, number of cases = 251). Those who were aware of the risk of flooding in the area had undertaken a significantly higher mean number of preparedness actions prior to the flood than those unaware. Similarly, longer-term residents had undertaken on average a higher number of preparedness actions before the last/worst flood. This may simply reflect the fact that they had had more time to make preparations or more experience of flooding (Table 5.2).
Owner occupiers had on average taken more preparedness actions than those in other tenure groups. Owners have responsibility for their own property and also the power to make structural changes which those in other tenure groups may not have. Vulnerable households had on average undertaken fewer preparedness actions before the flood. However, neither of these differences was statistically significant.
Furthermore, there were no statistical differences in the average number of preparedness actions undertaken by social grade groups or according to income. Since those in higher income and socio-economic groups have access to more financial resources, these groups could be expected to be more active in preparing for flooding, but this was not found to be the case in this study.
Figure 5.7: The number of preparedness actions taken before and after flooding: Warnings Survey Phase 2
Table 5.2: Awareness of flood risk and length of residence and number of preparedness
actions undertaken: Warnings Survey Phase 2
Aware of flood risk
Mean number of actions
(standard deviation, n=)
2.8 (2.7, 134)
t (221) = 4.4, p < 0.001
1.6 (1.7, 139)
Length of residence
Mean preparedness actions undertaken before the last/worst flood
Less than 1 year <10
1.8 (2.3, 148)
F (2, 261) = 3.2, p = 0.041
2.3 (2.3, 68)
20 and over
2.8 (2.4, 48)
Age also did not emerge as a factor in the number of preparedness actions taken before a flood. Even when we took the extreme case of households in which a very elderly respondent (over 75) lived alone, there were no differences in the number of actions taken.
Like registering on the AVM system, most of the listed actions required the individual householder to take the initiative before a flood event and there were few institutional pressures on residents to make these preparations. Their readiness to do so appeared, like signing up for the AVM, to be influenced by flood awareness and experience rather than by socio-economic factors and resources.
5.2.4 Preparedness measures after the flood and for a future event: Warnings Survey
In Phase 2 of the Warnings Survey, respondents were asked whether they had taken any of the same actions since the recent or worst flood, if they had not done so before, to protect their homes and belongings from future flood events. Here, it should be noted that 94% of the Phase 2 respondents had experienced flood waters inside their homes, basements or cellars. Despite this spur to action, the proportions taking structural actions to protect their property after the event were not high (Figure 5.5). The most common post-flood action taken by the respondents was the traditional and not necessarily very effective one of obtaining sandbags or sand to prevent flood waters getting into the property in the event of flooding. Respondents also reported keeping ditches and drains clean in readiness for flooding post flood. A few additionally took out flood insurance. Only a small proportion bought floodgates to protect their property, or took the more expensive measures of installing water pumps or building flood walls or drains to protect against flooding. The inexpensive purchase of air brick covers was also undertaken by very few residents.
Behavioural and other adaptations to the home to reduce the potential for flood damage were more common than structural changes post-flooding (Figure 5.6). Some had changed they way they lived in their homes after the flood. The most frequently reported adaptations post flooding were to move items of sentimental or monetary value off the ground or upstairs and laying floor tiles or replacing fitted carpets with rugs or unfixed carpets. More residents took these actions after the flood than before.
Most of those interviewed in Phase 2 of the Warnings Survey will have had to undertake some decoration and building works to restore their properties after flooding. However, only minorities appear to have taken the opportunity to make their properties more flood resistant and resilient by, for example, moving electricity sockets, using flood resistant plaster or replacing kitchen units with more flood resistant ones after the flood. Again, it was more common for residents to take some of these actions to make property more resistant and resilient after the flood than before. There have hitherto been no requirements on householders to refurbish their flooded properties in such a way as to make them more flood-resilient and resistant, although insurance companies do encourage this. However, it has also been noted that there is an institutional barrier to making such adaptations because insurance companies will only pay to put property back into its prior condition and therefore will not pay for adaptations that represent changes and additions to restoration costs. Furthermore, it has been suggested by some observers that some householders are reluctant to make changes such as raising electric sockets because they do not wish to have their property identified as in a flood risk area for fear of the effect this might have on future resale value.
Overall, as Figure 5.7 shows, even after the flood over a fifth of the respondents had taken none of the 16 actions to prepare for flooding. Residents were somewhat more active and took more actions after the flood as compared with before but the number of flood preparedness actions taken after the flood event remained small.
5.2.5 Preparedness measures taken at some stage: Intangibles Survey
In the Intangibles Survey, respondents were asked whether they had undertaken any of a list of flood prevention measures (Table 5.3). The question did not require respondents to specify when they had undertaken the measures in relation to a flood event. Most of the respondents had undertaken at least one of the measures. Although the kinds of preventative measures taken by the flooded and those at risk were similar, not surprisingly the flooded had been more active either before or after the flood and over a quarter of those at risk had not taken any action. When the prior flood experience of those flooded in the recent or a worst flood was considered, there were some significant differences between those who had been flooded in just the one recent event and those who had greater experience. Those with prior experience of flooding inside their home were more active in keeping drains and ditches clear and they were more likely to avoid buying expensive downstairs furnishings. Significantly more of those with prior experience of flooding, particularly those flooded three or more times altogether, had built walls around their property and taken other preventative measures such as buying flood boards.
Table 5.3: “Have you undertaken any of these flood prevention measures?” according to
A small group (78 or 8%) of the flooded had incurred expenditure to build walls or install pumps at their property and of these 62 provided cost estimates. The average expenditure was around £1,750. A very few (19 or 4%) of the at risk sample had also undertaken these works and 13 provided cost estimates with the average expenditure at about £2,050.
5.2.6 Preparedness measures taken at some stage: Lower Thames Survey
A similar pattern emerged in the Lower Thames Study. In this, all but 24 of this sample had not been affected by a recent flood event. Only 44 had ever been flooded at their current address to some degree. So this study was mainly of people at risk and for almost all, actions were taken before any recent flooding inside their property but with recent evidence of the potential for flooding in the area shown by the January 2003 flood event. Respondents were shown the list of actions given in Figure 5.8 which also indicate the percentages taking these preparedness measures involving physical adaptations to their property or the way they used it. A small proportion (6 respondents, 3% of the sample) did not provide answers to this question and in this instance the proportions are calculated with those who did not respond included.
Only one preparedness action, checking on insurance cover, was taken by nearly half of residents and only two other actions were undertaken by significant minorities
In this survey, it was possible to examine the way risk was constructed by the residents and the actions taken. However, when those who considered flooding to their home to be certain, very or fairly likely were compared with those who did not think flooding likely both for the likelihood in the next five years and 50 years, no relationship was found between how residents in the Lower Thames viewed the likelihood of flooding at their property, and the proportion taking the measures listed in Figure 5.8. Of course, the influence there might be in both directions: some of the measures taken, in particular raising the property, putting up walls around the property and purchasing flood boards might be seen as reducing the risk of flooding happening inside the property. Only one difference emerged: those who considered flooding in their home likely in the next 50 years (107) were significantly more likely to have undertaken at least one of the measures listed than those who thought flooding unlikely (70% compared with 52%, chi-square; p< 0.05). However, the smaller group (51) who considered flooding of their home likely in the next 5 years were no more likely to have taken action than others who thought flooding unlikely in that time period.
Residents in the Lower Thames survey were also asked about behavioural preparations and change. They were presented with a list of possible actions to respond on as shown in Figure 5.9.
Figure 5.9: Behavioural preparations for flooding: Lower Thames Survey
The main behavioural adaptations reported were in terms of keeping alert to the possibility of flooding through a variety of means. Very few reported more elaborate planning for flooding. The Environment Agency suggests that households and families in flood risk areas should prepare their own ‘flood plans’ to ensure that they know whom to contact and what to do in the event of a flood. The evidence of the Lower Thames Survey suggests that very few do so. The low percentage signed on to the AVM system is also notable and contrasts with the results from the other surveys and areas. Recruitment to the AVM system has until the introduction of the new Floodline Warnings Direct System been the responsibility of the Environment Agency at area level and it is possible that staff in a densely populated area such as the Lower Thames have not had the resources to undertake the required recruitment.
There were some significant differences in behaviour according to the residents’ views on the likelihood of flooding with those considering flooding likely mainly reporting themselves to be more watchful for the possibility of flooding but not much else. They had not taken more active steps to prepare. For example, those who thought flooding likely in either the next five or 50 years had not signed onto the AVM system in greater proportions than other residents nor were they more likely to have prepared flood plans. Those who thought flooding of their home likely within 50 years were more likely to keep an eye on the river level than those who considered flooding in that time period unlikely (61% compared with 43%, chi-square; p< 0.05). They were also more likely to listen for reports of other areas flooding (41% compared with 20%, chi-square; p<0.01) and to keep alert for flood warnings during high-risk months (53% compared with 26%, chi-square; p <0.001).
There were some similar significant differences for those who thought flooding likely to their home within five years compared with those who thought such flooding unlikely. This group were also more likely to keep an eye on river levels (67% compared with 47%, chi-square; p <0.01). In addition, they were more likely to make sure that they were aware of bad weather reports (43% compared with 37%, chi square; p <0.05). Significantly more of both those considering flooding to their home likely in the next five and 50 years compared with those considering it unlikely reported undertaking at least one of the preparatory actions listed. For the likelihood of flooding in the five year period, the percentage taking some preparedness action was 88% for those who thought flooding likely in that time period compared with 65% of those who thought it unlikely (chi-square; p <0.01). For the 50 year period, the percentages taking preparedness actions were 83% for those who thought flooding likely in that period compared with 58% compared with those who thought it unlikely. Thus, viewing the flood risk to the home as more likely had a limited impact on preparatory action and mainly resulted in residents paying more attention to information about possible flooding.