Managing flood risk in social housing

Case study

  • Climate change is leading to increased flood risk across the UK
  • The experience of our customer, Aberdeenshire Housing Partnership, demonstrates how severe flooding can occur in areas that have been flood-free for decades
  • We look at what lessons registered providers can learn from how this incident was dealt with

Many communities across Britain have been affected by devastating floods and storms in recent years.

When Storm Frank hit the north-east of Scotland at the end of 2015, one of the worst affected areas was Ballater, in Aberdeenshire.

The town had not been affected by flooding for decades, but on the morning of 30 December 2015, hundreds of stricken residents needed to be airlifted or led by boat to safety as floodwaters rose.

Among those affected were the tenants of 15 two-storey properties belonging to our customer, the Aberdeenshire Housing Partnership (AHP).

The event offers a unique insight into the claims process following a flood, including some helpful tips for customers dealing with flood risk, especially other registered providers of social housing (RPs).

Significant damage to properties

Our partner loss adjuster, McLarens, was on the scene soon after we learnt that homes on the site had been flooded.

Russell Rennie, Executive Adjuster at McLarens, describes how even getting to the affected properties proved to be a challenge.

“One of the main access roads had been washed away. I have a 4×4 so I was able to reach the properties, but a lot of people had to take alternative routes,” he explained.

“The damage varied significantly from property to property. In some, only the basements were affected, in others, the water was up to a metre deep and the properties were clearly uninhabitable.

“In the worst-affected properties, the furniture had been moved about, silt and debris had entered, and there was a thick layer of mud.”

Many of the tenants, who ranged from young families to elderly individuals, decided to stay and use only the upper floors of their homes. But around 20 tenants required evacuation to alternative accommodation.
Emergency shelter was provided at a local army barracks and AHP then arranged accommodation through the LAR Housing Trust, Aberdeenshire Council, a local hostel and a nearby hotel.

Speedy and pragmatic response

By the time floodwaters fell, an estimated £270,000 worth of damage had been caused to the properties – but disruption for tenants had been limited.

“We were able to act quickly and take pragmatic decisions,” says Rennie.

“For example, we agreed early on that because the kitchen units were very basic, we would accept new kitchens as part of the claim. Pragmatic decisions like that helped to keep things moving.

“Also, all of the properties had oil tanks in their gardens, and these tanks had dislodged in the floods.

“We were concerned about the potential for ground contamination, so we arranged for inspections to be carried out. These inspections were completed before the local authority had even thought of doing them.”

Reassuring presence

Colin Hawkins, Chief Executive at Aberdeenshire Housing Partnership, said: “Staff at Zurich Municipal and McLarens responded very quickly and without fuss to the problems caused by the extreme weather – which resulted in the worst flooding in the area for 200 years – and were a reassuring presence for us and our tenants.

“This has certainly been a learning experience for all our staff, but also confirmation that our risk planning and communication plans are robust and effective.

“We have enhanced our flood resilience measures and will now be putting more water-resistant types of flooring and skirting in new developments, ensuring the electrics are higher up and will be using double skinned oil tanks wherever necessary. We’re also looking at our communications systems and investigating the latest technology to prevent as far as possible future recurrence.”

Why RPs need expert support

For RPs, the incident demonstrates the need for an expert support network following a major incident.

Rennie says: “It’s about having the right telephone numbers in place, and the right people to call. The quicker you can get people out after something like a flood, the better, to start the drying out process and limit the damage.

“Because Zurich Municipal deals with so many local authorities and housing associations, its experts know the market and their clients’ needs.”