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Flooding

This page looks at what you can do if you live in an area prone to flooding. It looks at what you can do to prepare for floods and how to cope if your home is flooded.

What causes flooding?

Flooding can be caused by:

  • overflowing rivers, ditches and drainage systems
  • coastal storms
  • blocked drains, ditches or sewers
  • excess rainfall raising ground water levels or running down hills and slopes.

What damage can flooding do?

Floodwaters can cause serious damage to the structure and fittings and fixtures of your home. The extent of the damage will depend on how high the waters rise in your home and how long it remains submerged.

In addition, flooding can be a very stressful and upsetting experience. 'Side effects' can include:

  • damage or loss of personal belongings
  • loss of pets
  • time and energy expended in cleaning your home
  • stress of organising repairs
  • possible loss of income
  • inconvenience of staying in temporary accommodation while your home is uninhabitable
  • problems with security, if your home is left unoccupied
  • potential reduction in the value of your home.

Is my home at risk?

You may be at risk if you live:

  • in an area that has been flooded before
  • in a floodplain
  • in an area protected by river or coastal flood defences
  • near a stream, river or surface water drainage ditch
  • in an area monitored by SEPA.

You can use SEPA's flood map to identify whether your home is in an area that's likely to flood. Make sure you read the instructions carefully first, as these explain the factors taken into account when drawing up the maps.

How do I find out about potential floods in my area?

Flood warnings are issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), which monitors rainfall, river levels and sea conditions. You can find out if your area is at risk by:

  • calling SEPA's Floodline service on 0345 988 1188 (24/7 and free)
  • checking the live warnings at SEPA's website
  • checking local radio and television bulletins.

SEPA can only monitor conditions and issue flood warnings in areas which are likely to be at risk. To find out if your area is being monitored, call the Floodline service and give your postcode or check the SEPA website.

What kind of flood updates does SEPA issue?

1. Flood alert

This means that flooding is possible in your area during the next 24 to 48 hours, and you should be prepared (see 'preparing for a flood' below).

2. Flood warning

If a flood warning is issued, it means that flooding is expected and you should take all necessary precautions. These include:

  • moving pets, vehicles, food, valuables and other items to a safe place
  • putting sandbags and other flood protection devices in place
  • getting ready to evacuate your home.

3. Severe flood warning

This means that you can expect severe and dangerous flooding. You should be prepared for power cuts and the loss of gas and water supplies, and you may be evacuated from your home by the emergency services.

4. No longer in force

Once flood levels have gone down, SEPA will issue an all clear. If you've had to leave your home, make sure it's safe before you go back. Call the SEPA's Foodline service (0345 988 1188) for further advice.

How do I prepare for flooding?

If you live in an area that's likely to flood, it's important to be prepared. Floodwaters can rise very quickly, so don't wait until a warning is issued - this may not give you enough time to get things ready. Here are some things you can do to prepare.

Get ready

  • Make sure your buildings and contents insurance covers you for flood damage (see 'what about insurance' below). Keep the details of your insurance policies somewhere safe and handy.
  • Keep valuable items and documents in waterproof bags and store them upstairs or in high places.
  • Make sure you know how to turn off the gas, electricity and water at the mains - remember, you may have to do this in the dark.

Protect your home

Invest in some sandbags, vent guards or other flood protection, to help keep water out. Make sure everyone in your household knows where they are stored and how to use them. In areas prone to flooding, your local council may issue you with sandbags, and you can also make them by filling pillowcases with sand or earth.

Make an emergency flood kit

Keep your emergency kit somewhere safe and easily accessible, and make sure everyone knows where it is. Pack:

  • a torch and extra batteries
  • a battery-powered radio
  • a fully-charged mobile phone
  • rubber gloves, boots and warm, waterproof clothing
  • a first aid kit and disinfectant
  • any essential medication you need
  • blankets
  • drinking water and non-perishable food (and remember a tin opener!)
  • a camping stove and kettle, for boiling water, and matches
  • a list of useful numbers, such as SEPA's Floodline service (0845 988 1188), your local council, your insurance company and local emergency services
  • a note of personal information such as your bank details, insurance policies and national insurance number
  • essential items for your children, such as nappies, baby food, clean clothes and toys
  • food and bedding for your pets.

Make an emergency plan

Think about what you would do in an emergency. Discuss the plan with your family or housemates, so that everyone knows what to do.

  • If you have a car, where would you move it?
  • If you needed to leave your home, where would you go and how would you get there? What would you do to secure your home before you leave?
  • What would you need to do before you leave? For example, you may wish to move valuable items upstairs out of the reach of the flood.
  • What would you need to take with you? Make a list of essential items (aside from your flood kit) you'd need to take, such as important personal documents, medication and easily portable valuable items.
  • How would you keep your pets safe? If you had to stay in alternative accommodation, would they be able to stay with you, or would you have to make other arrangements?

SEPA's Floodlne website has more information on how to prepare for flooding. 

What do I do if my home is flooded?

Follow advice

If you're told to leave your home by the emergency services or the council, you must go. If this will be difficult for you, for example if you have mobility problems, get in touch with your local council.

Contact your insurance company

Most companies have a 24-hour helpline you can call. The staff will tell you what you need to do to make a claim.

Clean up

Before you start cleaning up, take photographs of the damage and mark the highest level of the floodwater on your wall. This will help you make your insurance claim.

Floodwater is usually dirty, and can contain sewage, chemicals and other contaminants. You'll need to disinfect thoroughly any areas affected by floodwaters, to avoid infection. Wear protective clothing when you're doing this.

Don't be tempted to throw away damaged furniture, carpets and other belongings until your insurance company has given you the go-ahead.

Dry out your home

Before you can move back into your home and start redecorating, your home will need to dry out completely. This may take several weeks, or even months, depending on the severity of the flooding and the materials your home is made from.

Start repairing damage and redecorating

Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to get a builder, structural engineer or surveyor in to look at your home and advise you on what repair work needs to be carried out.

Make sure you get the go-ahead from your insurance company before you hire any contractors. Most insurance firms have a list of approved builders, joiners and other contractors, but you can choose your own contractors if you wish. It's worth remembering that, in the event of any dispute over the work, it'll be easier to sort things out if you've hired a contractor approved by your insurance company.

Watch out for cowboys taking advantage of the situation and touting for business from door to door in areas hit by floods. It's important that any contractors you hire are experienced in restoring properties damaged by flooding. They will ensure that the work is done safely and hygienically, and can offer you advice on making your home more flood resistant for the future.

Gas and electricity

It's very important that you get the electrical and gas systems checked by a registered contractor before you attempt to use them. Even if they appear to work, they may have been damaged by water or mud, and could be dangerous.

Where can I get help and advice?

Your local council should also be able to offer you help and advice. The Scottish Flood Forum is also a good resource for people who have been flooded. 

What about insurance?

What does my insurance cover?

Most buildings and contents insurance will cover you for flood damage. This should include:

  • repairing any damage caused to your home and to any outbuildings such as a garage or garden shed
  • repairing or replacing any belongings damaged or lost during the flood
  • paying for you to stay somewhere else if you can't remain in your home until it's been repaired.

Your insurance probably won't cover damage to hedges, fences, gates, trees or plants.

Check what your policy includes, and make sure you're insured for a large enough sum to cover all your belongings. If not, the insurance company won't pay out enough for you to replace or repair everything that has been damaged or destroyed.

For more information Floodline have a guide to flood insurance.

How long will it take to get the money?

This will depend on the amount of damage done to your home. If the damage is fairly minor, you'll probably get a cheque within 10 days. If it's more extensive, you may receive payments in instalments. Usually, insurers will settle bills with builders, joiners and other contractors directly.

Will I have to pay a more?

If you live in an area that's particularly prone to flooding, you may have to pay a higher premium. If your home is flooded, your insurance may go up afterwards. Prices will vary, so shop around to find the best deal.

What if I'm a tenant?

If you rent your home, your landlord will be responsible for taking out buildings insurance for the structure and fabric of the property. However, you'll still need to take out contents insurance to cover any damage to your belongings.

What if I'm older or disabled?

If you're older or disabled, you may find it harder to cope with flooding in your home. Contact your local council to find out what they can do to help you in the event of a flood. For example, they may be able to help you evacuate your home, find alternative accommodation and clear up afterwards.

What if I end up with nowhere to live?

If you have to leave your home, you should be able to claim the cost of alternative accommodation (for example in a hotel or bed and breakfast) from your insurer. Often, the insurer will pay the accommodation provider directly. Contact your insurance company to find out more.

If your home is completely destroyed by a flood and you can't return, you should be able to get help from the council as a homeless person. The council should find you a place to stay in temporary accommodation while it looks into your situation to see if you are entitled to permanent housing.

Can I get any financial help if my home is flooded?

In an emergency, you may be able to get a crisis loan from the social fund, to pay for essential things you can't afford, such as:

  • food or clothing
  • rent in advance if you have to move
  • charges for board and lodging or rent in a hostel
  • minor repairs and improvements to your home.

Depending on your circumstances, you may also be able to apply for a budgeting loan or community care grant.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're in England

The important points

  • Flood warnings are issued by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).
  • Call SEPA's 24-hour Floodline service on 0845 988 1188 for information on flood risks.

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