Subsidence can negatively impact not only your property, but also your home insurance.
We explain what subsidence is, how to spot it, and what you can do about it if you have it.
What is subsidence?
Subsidence is when the ground beneath a building sinks, pulling the foundations of the property down with it. Subsidence usually occurs when the ground loses moisture and shrinks. This can happen after prolonged dry spells, or the presence of nearby trees and plants causing the soil beneath your property to lose moisture.
Will all buildings insurance policies include cover for subsidence?
No. not all insurers will include subsidence cover as standard in their buildings policies. It is sometimes only offered as an optional extra that can be added to your existing policy.
But a good buildings insurance policy will not only cover repairs to damage caused by subsidence, it will also cover replacement costs for any lost items, and alternative accommodation.
If my insurance covers subsidence, what can I claim?
Generally speaking, most buildings insurance policies with allowances for subsidence claims will only cover the cost of repairing damage caused by subsidence and will not cover preventing further issues from arising.
For example, cracks found in your property’s structure as a result of subsidence will be covered, but taking measures of stopping future movement of the building itself is not.
What causes subsidence?
Subsidence can be caused by a number of factors, including: -
- Mining activity has taken place nearby: Long dis-used mines can cause instability if the fill in material collapses. In these cases, although it would be considered an insured event, there may be instances where a third party can be held liable for any damage to your building.
- Trees and plants: Trees and shrubs planted near your property can be an issue where clay soil is present, as some species absorb more water than others, drying the soil out.
- Clay shrinkage: One of the most common causes of subsidence, clay is made up of between 30 – 35% water, so soil with a high clay concentration can dry out quicker as a result of nearby vegetation (e.g., trees an, shrubs and plants) sapping water. The volume of the soil decreases causing the building’s foundations to subside.
- Escape of water: Escape of water from burst or leaking pipes for example, can wash away the fine particles of the underlying soil. When this happens the volume of soil beneath the building reduces and the foundations subside. Escape of water can also cause the underlying soil to soften, giving it reduced ability to support the weight of the property, resulting in the foundations subsiding.
What is the difference between subsidence, heave, and landslip?
Although similar, there are some differences between subsidence, heave, and landslip.
Heave: occurs when the ground below your property moves upwards, resulting in the walls, floor and foundation of your property to move upwards with it.
Landslip: occurs with a house that is built on or near a slope. The land under or around the property moves or slips sideways and down from underneath your house.
How can I check for signs of subsidence?
There are some visible signs of subsidence you can look for, both in and outside the home, which may help you identify the severity of the problem:
The first sign of subsidence is usually the appearance of cracks in your home’s walls, either in the internal plasterwork or external brickwork. These cracks will likely quite distinctive from other cracks. They will usually appear suddenly, especially after long periods of dry weather and tend to be:
- Positioned diagonally and appear wider at the top and slimmer at the bottom
- Appear around doors and windows
- More than 3mm thick (thicker than a 10p coin)
It is important to remember that a crack does not always mean subsidence. Other common causes for cracks can include: -
- Your property naturally shrinking and swelling in response to changing temperature and humidity. This can lead to minor cracks where walls and ceilings meet.
- Freshly plastered walls can have fine cracks appear as they dry out.
- New homes and recently completed extensions can experience cracking as the structures settle under their own weight.
Usually, cracks will appear narrow (from a hairline crack up to 3mm), and able to be resolved with routine maintenance.
Other signs to look out for
Aside from cracks appearing, other signs of subsidence can include: -
- Wallpaper crinkling: Wallpaper can often wrinkle at wall and ceiling joints.
- Sloping floors: Your floors will slope as one side of your house sinks downwards more than the other.
- Doors and windows not opening: If your doors and windows keep sticking, it may indicate that the frames warping and moving out of alignment.
Will I need to pay an excess?
Yes. Regardless of your provider, most buildings insurance policies will carry an excess for a subsidence claim. Because it can be very costly to repair, the excess on claims is usually £1,000, and sometimes more.
How can I prevent subsidence?
Subsidence can take months or years to actualise. And, although it isn't always avoidable - especially if you live in an area with a high concentrtion of clay soil - there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of it occuring.
- Remove trees and shrubs planted nearby: Trees are a common cause of subsidence, as the roots withdraw moisture from the soil supporting the foundations. If these trees and shrubs cannot be removed, then regular maintenance with pruning can limit their growth and search for nearby waterer sources. For any large and older trees on your property, it’s a good idea to have these surveyed every few years to assess whether they may cause problems.
- Carry-out regular maintenance checks on gutters, pipework and drainage systems: Regularly inspecting drains, gutters and pipes can help prevent leaks and blockages that may lead to subsidence.
How can I fix subsidence?
If you think your property has or is suffering from subsidence damage, you should contact your buildings insurance provider as soon as possible. They will outline the next steps which may include arranging for a qualified structural engineer to visit your property and carry out an inspection. The engineer will issue a report with their findings, including the cause of the subsidence, the damage, and a proposed treatment plan.
If the damage is minor and the movement of your home has stopped, repairs will usually be carried out straight away.
If the damage is severe and ongoing, your home may be monitored for further movement over a period of time. This will enable structural engineers to work out a long-term solution.
In rare but extreme cases
If the subsidence damage is too great, your property may need to be underpinned. This is where a building’s foundations are strengthened or deepened to prevent further subsidence from occurring.
If the damage to your property is severe to the point it's deemed uninhabitable, your insurer may cover the cost of alternative accommodation while repairs are carried out.
What if my property has suffered subsidence damage because of coal mining?
If your property has suffered subsidence damage due to coal mining in the area, the Coal Authority will be responsible for dealing with your claim.
The UK government has highlighted the appropriate steps you should take to make a claim for subsidence damage.
Can I still get buildings insurance if my property has previously suffered from subsidence?
If you've made a claim for subsidence on your property in the past, it can be difficult to get insurance.
Renewing cover with your existing provider
If you want to renew your policy after making a subsidence claim, your existing provider can offer you a renewal, but is under no obligation to do so.
If they offer a renewal, your premiums may go up. Your provider could also exclude subsidence cover from any future claims.
Getting cover from a new provider
If you have a property with a history of subsidence, you may have to pay higher premiums than other homeowners. You also may find switching to a new provider difficult as some may not be willing to offer you cover.
Switching providers and making a claim
In some cases, you may switch to a new insurance provider and then discover subsidence. Your new insurer may claim that the damage caused by the subsidence predates the policy you took out with them and is therefore the responsibility of your previous insurer. However, your your previous insurer may not agree with this.
In these instances, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have devised a Subsidence Claim Handling Agreement. The agreement helps ascertain who will handle your claim, outlining the following: -
- Within eight weeks of switching insurance providers: your previous insurer will handle your claim.
- Between eight weeks and one year of switching: your previous and current insurers will share the cost of your claim.
- More than a year after you switched: your current insurance provider will need to deal with your claim.
It’s important to remember that if you were aware of any subsidence damage when you took out a new policy but failed to disclose this to your new insurance provider, they may be able to void your policy on the grounds of material non-disclosure.
Compare home insurance deals
We find deals from all the top providers and help you switch.