Record numbers of homeowners are expected to file subsidence claims with insurers this year.
Experts say the hot, dry summer means thousands more homes are likely to be hit by problems caused by sinking ground.
This year is likely to surpass 2018’s record total when 23,000 claims were made amounting to £145 million.
This year’s total number of subsidence insurance claims is likely to surpass 2018’s record when 23,000 claims were made amounting to a bill of £145m
Insurance giant LV= saw a 205 per cent jump in claims between June and July, while other firms are reporting cases rising five-fold.
Subsidence strikes fear into many homeowners. The majority of cases are down to soil drying up during prolonged periods without rain.
Subsidence can reduce a property’s value by as much as 20 per cent. Lenders will often refuse to offer a mortgage until it has been resolved.
Most home insurance policies will cover for subsidence, but firms will ask new customers if it has been a problem in the past. If there have been issues, some insurers will refuse cover.
Other firms may charge higher premiums to cover these homes or enforce bigger excess charges of about £1,000 for homes with a history of subsidence.
Subsidence occurs when the ground beneath a building sinks and the property’s foundations are pulled down with it.
Tell-tale signs include diagonal cracks around window and door frames as well as sloping floors.Homes built on clay soils are particularly at risk because the clay expands in wet weather and contracts when conditions dry up again.
These soils are prevalent in London and the South East, where houses are more commonly affected.
England recorded its driest July since 1935 this year and insurers are responding to a rush of enquiries.
Last month, loss adjuster Sedgwick recorded a 480 per cent year-on-year increase in the number of UK subsidence claims. Loss adjusters are the professionals tasked with assessing the cost of damage.
Causes: Subsidence occurs when the ground beneath a building sinks and the property’s foundations are pulled down with it
James Preston, the firm’s technical director, says: ‘The extreme dry weather we’ve had this year has left very little moisture in the soil.’
Insurance claim negotiator, Jeremy Rollinson of Salmon Assessors, says the number of subsidence claims has doubled since the summer. ‘Claims have rocketed since the extended dry period and extreme heat we had,’ he says.
Richard Hazelgrove is alarmed at the cracks that have appeared in his detached home in Fareham, Hampshire, since the summer.
‘Everywhere you look there are cracks, it’s really worrying.
‘They are around every window in the house and most of the doors won’t close properly, including the ones leading onto our patio,’ says the 64-year-old.
The cracks had appeared both on the inside and outside of the house in the summer, Richard says, but they continued to widen following recent rainstorms and are now 5mm to 6mm wide.
Richard contacted his insurance company as he believes his house is built on clay soil and needs underpinning — but has not yet had a response.
Cracks can appear quickly but no repair work can start until the root cause of the subsidence is identified. That can take at least six months to investigate and fully diagnose, Mr Rollinson warns.
Heatwave: People cool off in the sea in Brighton in July. Experts say the hot, dry summer means thousands more homes are likely to be hit by problems caused by sinking ground
‘You have to use lasers to monitor which direction the property is sinking in over time. Only then can it be stabilised.
‘After that we recommend a further five to six-month wait to make sure it has been done properly before the repair work is done inside the house.’
Tree roots are a common cause, as they tend to pull moisture out of the soil below a house.
Leaks from drains or water mains are another — they will soften the soil or wash it away.
Victorian and Edwardian properties are also more at risk of subsidence because their foundations are shallower than more modern builds.
Around 35 per cent of subsidence claims made at this time of year will be refused, according to Mr Preston of Sedgwick.
One of the most common excuses insurers will use for rejecting a claim is that something else has caused the damage — such as wear and tear or poor construction.
Disputes can also arise if subsidence is discovered shortly after a homeowner has switched to a new home insurance policy.
Surge: Insurance giant LV= saw a 205% jump in claims between June and July, while other firms are reporting cases rising five-fold
Trade body the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has an agreement designed to resolve this. For example, if subsidence is found less than eight weeks after someone has switched provider, it is the previous firm which will handle the claim.
Both insurers will share the cost if a claim is made between eight weeks and a year into a new policy. But some cases are dragged out for years as a result of disputes between firms.
Roger Flaxman, of insurance claims advocacy firm Flaxman Partners, says: ‘These cases can be similar to flood claims in that they can be complex, take a long time to resolve and the most extreme claims can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
‘I had one case where a property had to be demolished 14 years after a claim was first made because insurers spent too long arguing what to do with the case.’
Kate Pomfret, a consultancy manager, has spent the past five years in a dispute with Direct Line over a subsidence claim.
The insurer now agrees that some rooms in her four-bed semi-detached home in Birkenhead, Merseyside, are affected by subsidence, but says others are not.
At one point a loss adjuster appointed by Direct Line dismissed cracks in her living room because it claimed they had been caused by ‘vigorous activity’ in the bedroom above.
Kate, 46, says: ‘It has been an unbelievably stressful few years and I just want this whole saga resolved.’
After Money Mail contacted Direct Line it arranged for the loss adjuster’s technical director to visit Kate’s home.
An ABI spokesman says: ‘If a customer suspects their home is affected by subsidence, it’s crucial they contact their insurer as soon as possible.’