Sweltering summer sees soaring subsidence claims

Following Hamilton Fraser’s prediction that the prolonged heatwave could put properties at risk of subsidence, several big-name insurers have reported that subsidence incidents are already up 20% on this time last year. Insurers are bracing themselves for an additional influx in subsidence claims after the holidays when property owners are likely to see fresh damage. This summer’s heatwave has led to cracks appearing in walls across south-east England in particular.

Insurers have placed 226 post codes ‘at risk’ of subsidence, mostly where homes are built on clay. They lie to the south-east of a line drawn across from the Humber down to the Severn estuaries.

Most homes suffering damage are built on clay, with many in London south of the Thames.

In an average year, insurance companies settle £75 million worth of subsidence claims. The pay-out is expected to top £100 million this year. The last heatwave of note was in 2003, when claims of £340 million were settled.

Despite some relief from the baking sun and 30-degree temperatures in recent weeks, much of the country has sweltered in higher than normal temperatures.

The heat has dried up reservoirs and rivers, but the damage has also extended to cracks appearing in homes.

Subsidence is when the ground beneath a home sinks, dragging the foundations down.

The first sign is cracks appearing in plaster inside a home or in external walls.

“Subsidence cracks are quite distinctive from other cracks. They usually appear suddenly, especially after long periods of dry weather,” says trade body the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

“Subsidence may also cause doors and windows to stick as the building’s structure becomes distorted.”

The tell-tale signs are:

  • Diagonal cracks that are widest at the top
  • Gaps thicker than a 10p coin
  • Cracks around doors and windows

Not all cracks point to subsidence as homes naturally shrink and expand in response to weather conditions. Minor cracks are common as new homes settle and in plaster work that is drying out, says the ABI.

Making a claim is complicated and takes time as structural engineers are called in to investigate whether the damage is caused by subsidence.

Engineers will test the soil around the home, determine the cause of the damage and identify a remedy.

The process includes waiting time to monitor and diagnose the problem and can take many weeks or months to resolve.

For more information read our guide on how to minimise the risks of subsidence.

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