Subsidence – what causes it, and what about subsidence insurance?

Posted: 15th Jul 2019

It is a well-known fact that the roots from trees may cause subsidence in houses. In the battle between nature and the man-made environment where does your allegiance lie? Though most people are likely to say they love to see trees growing, it might be an entirely different situation if it is your own home or let property under threat.

The facts

In December 2018, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) revealed that more than 10,000 households made claims worth a total of £64 million to deal with the impact of subsidence in just three months of the year, suggesting that subsidence claims have quadrupled to highest level in more than a decade.

The hot summer of 2018 – where some UK regions experienced the driest months on record – was part of the cause of these claims.  

The problem

The conflict between trees and property lies mainly in the roots of the former. As they grow – spreading out a considerable distance from the trunk – the roots take up water, causing the soil around them to dry out.

The problems are especially prevalent on clay soils where trees are typically extremely efficient in absorbing moisture and quickly shrinking the clay as it dries out, especially in dry weather and periods of sustained drought.

When there is a particularly dry summer, or a drought, therefore, the soil is likely to collapse and if it is ground supporting the foundations of a building they may be disturbed. Disturbance to the foundations may then cause the building to subside.

Living together

Paradoxically perhaps, trees have a very important role to play in our urban – and rural – environments. Tree planting is widely seen as one of the ways of combatting some of the effects of climate change by helping to regulate the forecast increases in ambient temperatures.

It is widely believed that trees have a very important – and increasing – role to play in safeguarding the environment.

The quest, therefore, is in finding ways that trees and buildings are able to live together. According to a report on the Subsidence Forum, for example, it has been found that not all trees are responsible for causing subsidence. The problem, however, is that it may prove extremely difficult determining which of them might end up causing subsidence problems for nearby buildings.

The Forum mentions advice from certain experts who advise that one of the ways of preventing or limiting the disruptive effect of root growth is to keep trees near buildings regularly pruned. In this way, the reduction in foliage may limit the amount of water taken up from the soil, preventing it from drying out and therefore reducing the risk of collapsing ground and the subsidence of property built upon it.

The future

Most people are likely to find it a much poorer world if city streets were totally denuded of trees because of the potential threat they pose to the buildings on either side.

The damage caused by trees may need to be controlled – and homeowners and buy to let landlords may need to continue to protect their properties with insurance against subsidence – but the longer term solution appears to lie in finding the most appropriate harmonious balance between nature and the demands of the built environment.

Is subsidence covered under my buildings insurance policy?

The answer depends upon who provided your policy.

At Cover4LetProperty, all our policies include subsidence cover as standard for all properties built after 1849 (up to set limits which will be outlined in your policy).

Unfortunately, the policies offered by some other providers might not do so, therefore, it would be in your best interests to check your policy carefully if you purchased it elsewhere.

Some policyholders occasionally express surprise that subsidence isn’t automatically included in all policies. Here is a little history to explain that position.

At the risk of generalising, at one time cover for subsidence would have been typically included automatically in most if not all property cover. It is a fact though that over recent decades, subsidence claims have soared and they have proven to be a major problem for some sections of the insurance industry.

The reason for the increasing claims is not entirely clear. Some suggest:

  • it is due to climate change having a knock-on effect on the geology our properties are built on;
  • properties in the past may have been built with scant regard for foundations;
  • a greater awareness of what subsidence is may have led to an increased tendency to make claims for problems that previous generations would simply have lived with or not noticed.

Whatever the reality is, some buildings insurance providers no longer consider this to be a standard risk – and that might apply just as much to owner-occupier policies as it does to landlords insurance.

The potentially massive costs associated with subsidence might even be of the magnitude of needing to completely demolish the property and rebuild it from scratch. As a result, it might not be a good idea to take subsidence insurance lightly.

If you are not already clear, it might be advisable to check in the very near future just what your current policy is providing.

My property has a history of subsidence – can you provide cover for it?

Our buildings insurance policies can cater for many historic issues your property may have – typically even, in some cases, subsidence.

Should you require a property insurance quotation from us for a property which has previously suffered from a subsidence claim we will ask you for some additional information including:

  • date of claim;
  • cost of claim;
  • full explanation of the cause of the claim;
  • full breakdown of the work undertaken to rectify the problem;
  • current/recent surveyors report following the completion of works.

If you are currently going through the progress of making a subsidence claim against your existing insurance we will always suggest you remain with your current insurer as these risks are almost impossible to replace during the early stages of a claim.

We do understand how stressful having had to make a subsidence claim has been for you and we will do our utmost to find you a competitive landlords insurance quote.

Please note that if you are unable to provide us with any of the above information, then we will not be able to provide terms to you.

The team here at Cover4LetProperty are here to help, contact us and ask away as it is our job to deal with your queries and concerns regarding your property insurance.