The last thing the hundreds of people affected by flooding in the Westcountry need right now is question marks over their insurance cover. Yet, depending on who you believe, failures by either the Government or the insurance industry over continuing cover for those at high risk of flooding, mean that premiums could become virtually unaffordable in the not too distant future. For many who will be anxious to get current claims paid, the possibility that, should their home be flooded again, they might not be covered at all will add extra worry to an already devastating situation. It should not have come to this.
At the crux of the crisis is a safety net deal struck between the Government and insurers that provides protection for those in the worst hit areas for flooding and means they can still get affordable insurance that would otherwise be out of reach. That deal is shortly to come to an end and, according to the Association of British Insurers, proposals put forward by the industry for a replacement arrangement have been rejected by ministers.
Richard Benyon, who has the dubious honour of holding the title "Flood Minister" insisted yesterday the Government remained "really determined" to reach a deal and that the issue was a "priority". That may be true. But insisting you are committed to reaching a solution is not the same as actually finding one. The fact that Mr Benyon also insisted yesterday in a BBC radio interview that he thought it "demeaning" to be talking about the issue when there are "a lot of distressed people with flooded homes" will have suggested to some listeners that there is more than a grain of truth in the insurers' claims that it is the Government that is dragging its feet.
The ABI's director of general insurance Nick Starling said ministers have had more than two years to sort out the issue. If that is true – and no ministers stepped up to deny the specific point yesterday – then it is scarcely surprising it is being raised now and, concerned as they will be about their current problems, most victims of flooding would rather the matter was aired now, even if their homes are under water, than be allowed to drag on until they need to renew their insurance and find they cannot afford it.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was in the Westcountry yesterday to see the devastation for himself. If that doesn't focus his mind on the importance of striking a new deal with insurers then nothing will. On both this issue and the question of effective flood prevention schemes the focus has now switched, here in the South West at least, from the appalling weather to the Government's response to it, both now and in the future. It is not the fault of ministers that the heaven's opened. It is, however, their job to ameliorate the impact.
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