According to the Association of British Insurers, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of subsidence claims since 2002, with UK insurers receiving around 40,000 subsidence related claims every year.
What is subsidence?
Subsidence happens when the ground beneath a property moves or sinks downwards, causing the foundations of the building to move. The most common sign is the appearance of cracks in the walls of the building, although it's important to note that not all cracks mean subsidence.
Look out for small, diagonal cracks that can appear suddenly in brickwork or plaster, inside our out, especially after long periods of dry weather. They often appear around windows and doors and are wider at the top than the bottom. Windows and doors may start to stick when you try to open or close them. Floors may also look uneven or distorted.
What causes subsidence?
- Some soils – particularly clay can cause subsidence. As the soil dries up and shrinks, or absorbs water and expands - this can cause movement in the foundations.
- Trees and other vegetation – larger trees especially take moisture from the soil making it shrink. Roots can grow longer in search of more moisture. Some types of tree are more likely to cause subsidence than others, due to the size they grow to and the root structure; these include willows, oaks and elms.
- Water damage – as a result of burst water pipes or other leaks may cause subsidence by washing away soil from under the house.
- Location – this is less common, but when a house has been built on land that has been, or is close to an area that has been mined in the past.
Is there anything you can do to help prevent subsidence?
- Yes. Trees and shrubs planted close to buildings are one of the most common causes of subsidence. You can find advice on planting distances for specific types of tree on the Association of British Insurers website – protecting your home from subsidence damage.
- If you have mature trees or bushes, regular pruning will help. You should consult an expert (such as a tree surgeon) on how to prune particular trees correctly.
- You should also carry out regular checks to make sure you have no leaking pipework, and that gutters and drains are not blocked or leaking.
Can subsidence be fixed?
In most cases, subsidence can be repaired easily and effectively, and measures can be taken to ensure it doesn't occur again. Rarely will work need to be carried out on the foundations of a property. Early detection is key to minimising the damage and cost.
What to do if you’re affected by subsidence
If you’re a Hiscox house insurance client and you think you have a subsidence problem contact us immediately. If necessary we can arrange for a qualified surveyor to assess the situation and find the cause of the problem.
If you’re thinking about buying home insurance from Hiscox, unfortunately we are not able to provide buildings insurance cover for properties that have previously suffered subsidence, or those that have been underpinned because of subsidence.
If you don’t have Hiscox home insurance, the Association of British Insurers has some useful information on when you should contact your buildings insurer and what will they do >
Association of British Insurers >