The Environment Agency estimates that one in six homes in England (approximately 5.2m properties) are at risk of flooding. But properties do not need to be near a river or the sea to be at risk of flooding. Flooding can take many forms other than river and coastal flooding:
- surface water flooding which occurs due to the volume of rain overwhelming the drainage system in the area of the property
- sewer flooding, whether by the volume of rain, or simple blockage of the system
- groundwater flooding, where the water under the found swells above the surface
Flood causes physical damage but it also makes it harder for a property to secure a mortgage, buildings insurance and ultimately, sell. Flood risk can therefore severely affect the value of a property.
The Law Society recognise that conveyancing solicitors "are not qualified to give advice on flood risk or interpret technical flood reports". However, the Law Society do consider that conveyancing solicitors can at least pass on information to help clients who are purchasing property to enable them (and conveyancing solicitors should actively encourage them) to investigate whether damage by the risk of flood will be included in an acceptable buildings insurance policy for the property they are looking to purchase before they commit themselves to an exchange of contracts. Conveyancing solicitors should also liaise with clients about which, if any, flood searches or other investigations may be appropriate.
As a result, Law Society provides the following guidance for solicitors to direct to their clients:
Always consider the risk of flood
All property buyers - whether of freehold or leasehold property - should consider the risk of flooding, in its multiple guises above. At the earliest opportunity property buyers should obtain an insurance quotation to determine whether flood risk will be included, and on acceptable terms. And to do this well before exchange of contracts. Because insurers may have investigated the insurance risk of flooding by collating their own data sets, a consideration of multiple insurers may act as one factor to help a buyer assess the likely flood risk. Higher premiums, higher excesses or unusual conditions may indicate a perceived risk.
Some additional steps to take to discover the risk - but never just one in isolation:
1. Make enquiries of the seller, who may have personal knowledge of actual past flooding.
2. Make enquiries of the neighbours and the employees/owners of local amenities (e.g. the local shop or post office).
3. Instruct a valuer/surveyor/flood risk assessor to carry out a physical inspection to provide advice on flood risk. Buyers of a property should always consider having a building survey carried out which should include a valuation.
4. Screening Reports - albeit providing limited non-property specific information, such as:
- the Environment Agency Flood Map which provides a free postcode search for information on flooding from rivers and the sea (including flood defences)
- Land Registry Flood Risk Indicator. This can be purchased online. It is a combination of Land Registry data and the Environment Agency Flood Map. This is again limited to likelihood of flooding from rivers and sea , and is for defined areas, not specific properties.
5. Commercial searches. Whilst such searches can include data - and only data, as no visit is actually made to the property - in respect of all the forms of flooding, the market of such searches is not regulated, so the quality, cost, range and interpretation of the data will be uncertain. The Law Society consider such searches can be "more or less easy..to understand" depending on the means used to describe the likely incidence of flooding. They also consider that such searches can use different data sets, they advise that any limits on the liability of the provider should be considered, and the the accuracy and frequency of updating of their data is not always easy to establish. Conveyancing solicitors are not qualified to advise on technical matters regarding the results, and questions should be directed to your surveyor or the consultant who prepared the data search result.
6. Specialist surveys. In addition to a building survey mentioned in 3 above, buyers may wish to commission a flood risk survey both to assess risk of flooding and measures to take. In addition the Flood Risk Report, which has been developed by government and industry provides an assessment of risk before and after the installation of flood resistance measures. A report which may help to secure buildings insurance.
If you are concerned with the risk of flooding to an intended property purchase, then the above guidance should be considered. But always ask your conveyancing solicitor where they can be of further assistance to you.