A simples guide

Subsidence insurance

Subsidence can be a home owner’s worst nightmare, but you can protect yourself from some of the financial impact of house subsidence by making sure you have the right home insurance cover. And it’s worth remembering that subsidence can be fixed with the right kind of specialist help too.

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is defined as the downward movement of the site on which a building stands meaning there’s less support underneath part or all of the foundations of a property. This movement is not caused by the weight of the building.

For a homeowner this means that when the ground underneath your home begins to move or sink downwards, the foundations of your house move as well. This can cause extensive damage to your home such as large cracks which can make the building less stable. If you live in an area that’s at risk of subsidence, it is advisable to check what subsidence cover your home insurance policy provides.

Crack in house

What are the causes of subsidence?

One of the most common causes of subsidence is tree roots. They take the water out of the soil and then leave the soil dry. Elm trees and willows are known to be trees that have long roots and search out water at a distance.

Clay-rich soil is particularly vulnerable to subsidence, as it is sensitive to moisture. This makes it expand when wet and contract when dry. Subsidence is therefore far more common in areas with clay-rich soil, like much of south-east Britain. The Subsidence Support website has a useful map of areas at risk of subsidence.

Flooding can also be the cause of subsidence, and with the classic wet weather we are so known for here in the UK some areas are more prone to floods, which might make your home more at risk of subsidence too. If you would like to know if a particular area is at risk from flooding, you can log into the Environment Agency website and use their postcode search.

Other causes of subsidence are leaking drains softening the ground beneath your house, or more unusually, it can be caused by living in an old mining area where there are empty mineshafts below a house’s foundations, making the building more unstable.

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What is subsidence insurance?

Subsidence damage to your property is usually included in your Buildings Insurance, but this normally only covers subsidence damage to the house itself. Patios, garden walls and driveways aren’t usually covered. However terms and conditions relating to subsidence vary from insurer to insurer so you should read the small print in your policy carefully to see what is and isn’t included.

It is also worth bearing in mind that most buildings insurance policies only cover the cost of repairing the loss or damage caused by subsidence. They do not cover the cost of preventing further subsidence.

Subsidence cases are often complex - and involve expert evidence and technical data. They are among the claims that can take the longest time to resolve.

damaged wall

Is subsidence insurance more expensive?

When you take out insurance you will be asked if your home has suffered from subsidence problems in the past.  If it has then you will probably pay more for a property that has never had subsidence problems. If you have never had a problem, then you won’t pay more for your insurance. Look at your insurance policy though because you might find you have got a policy excess, if you make a claim for home subsidence. The excess depends whether you live is a high risk area, it is usually around £1,000, but it can be higher depending on your circumstances.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) can provide further practical advice and can recommend a specialist if you suspect your property has subsidence.

What are the signs of subsidence?

Cracks appearing in your walls and getting bigger. If you can put a coin in between the crack, then that is a good sign that you might have subsidence. The cracks may appear in the corners of doors and windows. You may also see that your wallpaper looks as if it is coming off the wall, like it would if it was damp.

What is the difference between subsidence and settlement?

Settlement is not subsidence. It does though mean that the soil is moving downward, caused by the weight of the building. It is common in new builds, which often move for a few years while the soil is settling down. Water getting into the soil causes settlement too. Small cracks can appear in the walls, but these are normally nothing to worry about.

Can I do anything to prevent subsidence?

You can lower your risk by not planting trees close to your property and have trees that are already there, pruned on a regular basis by a tree surgeon. Take care of pipework and mend any leaks you find straightaway.

How do I find affordable subsidence insurance?

We can help you find the right Buildings Insurance policy for you by comparing home insurance with us.  You just need to answer a few questions and you’ll quickly have a list of insurance companies that cover your home for subsidence damage with prices.