Homeowners ‘in denial’ about flood risk

Flooding can cost homeowners 30 times more than burglary, yet most people at risk do nothing to protect their properties, the Environment Agency has said.

A flooded property brings around £28,000 in damages and clean-up costs, compared to average losses of £900 for a burglary, the agency pointed out as it launched its national flood awareness campaign this week.

While over 9% of homes in England and Wales lie in flood-exposed areas, with property, land and assets worth around £237bn, most people living in these areas – 79% – are not even aware of the flood risk to their homes. A free flood warning service is available from the Environment Agency but only 10% of people living in flood risk areas have signed up so far.

Flood-related losses cost an estimated £1bn each year, and are likely to increase if risks continue being ignored.

EA chief executive Barbara Young said: “Surprisingly many people take no steps whatsoever to safeguard their home against the increasing risk of flooding. Clearly, some people living in flood risk areas are in denial about the dangers flooding can cause.”

“The £28,000 figure includes losses, recovery, repairs, rebuilding – but what it doesn’t of course cover is the emotional distress, the effect on people’s health and wellbeing, the disruption to people’s lives,” Simon Hughes, flood risk manager at the EA, told edie.

Householders are far from powerless against flooding, the EA said – finding out if their property is at risk is a first step, followed by flood-proofing and insuring the property, as well as learning how to respond to flood alerts in advance.

Such measures can cut flood-related costs by a around third, research suggests. It can also save emotional distress.

Flood warnings and preparedness in case of flooding “gives people some control over what is a very chaotic and devastating incident which enters and ruins their home,” Simon Hughes explained.

Flood risk “denial” could be a response to the torrent of warnings about imminent catastrophes that people receive in everyday life, according to psychology expert Phillip Hodson:

“Flooding is seen as a complex issue that is difficult to deal with and control. That’s why people choose to ignore it. We receive numerous warnings in everyday life yet only have the capacity to deal with some of these. Psychologically, we hope that by ignoring the issue it will go away,” he said.

Last week the Association of British Insurers warned that rising sea levels would substantially increase the losses likely to be inflicted by coastal floods, with potential losses from a single extreme flooding event estimated to reach £16bn by 2030 unless the Government increased flood protection spending (see related story).

With Britain’s flood defence system now facing cuts, there has been concern over funding not keeping up with the rising risks.

But even with unlimited funds it will never be possible to protect all areas, Simon Hughes pointed out:

“There is this strong evidence that flooding is going to get worse, that evidence would suggest we need to increase expenditure.

“But it is never going to be economically or environmentally feasible to protect everywhere.”

Goska Romanowicz

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