Subsidence Insurance Explained by Jersey Mutual

What is the meaning of subsidence?

When you suspect that your home is suffering from subsidence, it is not only bricks and mortar which experience that sinking feeling. It is unnerving to think of your home becoming structurally unsafe, and there is the added concern of how it might affect its market value and appeal to future buyers. You may also worry that your home will become uninsurable. As a homeowner or a first-time buyer, it is important to understand how insurers define subsidence, and what cover is available.

Subsidence occurs when the ground beneath a property becomes unstable, causing its foundations to sink. It is covered by home insurance, but some policies exclude properties with a history of subsidence.

This article serves as a guide to subsidence insurance, including the causes and what to do if you suspect subsidence in your property.

Does home insurance cover subsidence?

The good news is that the majority of home and buildings insurance covers subsidence. If your claim is legitimate, it will cover the cost to repair the damage caused to your buildings and outbuildings, including fees. This is of course after excess, which you can expect to be in the region of £1,000 for subsidence claims. In extreme circumstances where your home becomes uninhabitable, your insurance cover will also include the cost of alternative accommodation.

Subsidence claims – exceptions

As with any aspect of home insurance, insurers may refuse your subsidence claim if it could have been reasonably avoided or if it was the consequence of neglect. The most common exceptions are:

  • Escape of water flooding from within the home caused by faulty appliances or burst pipes
  • Coastal or river bank erosion – in a location where erosion is inevitable over time, home insurance policies are likely to exclude subsidence claims
  • Damage caused by home improvements – for example, the removal of a load-bearing wall
  • Poor workmanship – it pays to employ reliable professionals in your home and to resist the urge to do-it-yourself

If you are looking to buy a brand new property, you should also be aware that a subsidence claim could be refused due to the natural “bedding down” of a new structure. New homes can be prone to cracking early on as they settle on their foundations, so it is wise to invest in a structural survey by a qualified RICS surveyor.

Can you insure a house that has had subsidence?

Some insurance companies will refuse to insure a house with a history of subsidence. So if you have your heart set on a property that has suffered in the past, you will have to do your research to find a home insurance policy that will cover you. If you are taking out a mortgage, do not forget to speak to your lender about the terms of your agreement.

When you have found the right policy, make sure to check the excess, ie. the amount you are required to pay towards a claim. Excess is usually higher for subsidence claims, at around £1,000, and that figure might increase if the property has a history of subsidence.

If you are looking to renew your home insurance following subsidence, your existing insurance company does not have to offer you a renewal, but they are more likely to if substantial repairs have been carried out and preventative measures put in place. If they do, your home will still be considered high-risk and naturally, your premiums will rise.

Do not despair, specialist insurance cover does exist for properties that have had subsidence, but it is a little harder to seek out, and you can expect to pay more.

How to spot signs of subsidence

If you suspect that your home is suffering subsidence, it is best to act swiftly to minimise the potential for costly repairs. It is important to be vigilant and make regular examinations of your home.

Here are some tell-tale signs of subsidence to look out for:

  • Cracks – All buildings are subject to fractional movement and shrinkage, so cracks are not always a sign of subsidence. However, if a crack is more than 3mm wide, diagonal, wider at the top than at the bottom and visible both internally and externally, then subsidence is likely to blame. Pay particular attention to cracks close to windows and doors, and be sure to check the damp-proof course, too. If you have an extension then check the walls where it meets the original building.
  • Sticking doors and windows– This could be due to frames warping as subsidence begins to weaken the structure of your house.
  • Ripped wallpaper – If damp is not the culprit, it could be subsidence.
  • Sloping floors – A real tell-tale-sign that all is not well beneath, and one to be observant about if you live in an older property.

What causes subsidence?

Simply put, subsidence occurs when the ground beneath a property becomes unstable and pulls the building’s foundations down with it, causing structural damage. There are several common causes:

  • Dry, cracked soil – Most often, subsidence occurs when moisture is drawn out of the soil and the ground shrinks and cracks, after a period of hot, dry weather. This is more likely where the foundations are built upon clay soil.
  • Trees and plants – Another culprit of dry, cracked soil can be large trees or shrubbery nearby that absorb a lot of water.
  • Leaks – Conversely, an excess of water, such as from a leaking drain or water mains can cause soil to soften and shift.

It is also worth noting that in older properties, foundations are shallower which can increase the risk. However, if the house is built on soft lime, it can be of benefit as it is more flexible than concrete and can withstand more movement.

How do you fix subsidence?

Every homeowner’s fear when it comes to subsidence is that their property will require work to its foundations, known as underpinning. It is a long, expensive process that requires holes to be dug and filled beneath the foundations to stabilise the building. However, statistics suggest that this is a required course of action in less than 10% of cases, so you shouldn’t automatically fear the worst.

Most repairs involve fixing cracks in the superstructure of a house, and cosmetic work. If trees and plants are found to be the cause, then it can be as simple as removing them to help stabilise the soil. If leaks are to blame, then remedial work can be carried out to drains which will hopefully halt subsidence and limit the damage to your home.

What should I do if I think my house has subsidence?

Subsidence should be treated very seriously and you should take swift action if you spot the signs. Time really is of the essence to ensure that the problem can be fixed before the damage becomes more substantial.

Call your home insurer in the first instance, and they will send a professional surveyor or loss adjuster to assess the damage and confirm the diagnosis. This may be done over a period of weeks or even months to ensure that subsidence is definitely to blame, or if it is something more superficial.

If subsidence is confirmed, your insurer may recommend the services of preferred contractors, or you may have to source your own. You may find that your insurer insists on certain specialist contractors, due to the significant cost of the claim.

Home Insurance with Jersey Mutual

When it comes to home insurance cover, Jersey Mutual can always be trusted to offer honest advice. If you would like to discuss any questions regarding subsidence or any other home insurance matter, do not hesitate to call us. We can guide you as to what type of cover you require for your home, based on our deep understanding of the property market in Jersey.

As a member of Jersey Mutual, you can be certain of a high level of personal care, with no stalling tactics, delays or phone queues. We have a genuine desire to handle your claim efficiently, quickly and above all sympathetically.

Call us today to discuss your requirements.

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