Subsidence is the sinking or caving in of land, and is generally required by people whose property is is built on certain soil types. In a nutshell, damage is caused to the property, (such as cracks in the walls), due to a change in the earth the foundations were built on, which causes the house to slowly sink. Houses built on clay soil are particularly at risk, as the ground has great variations between how moist and dry it can get. Trees also play a part in this, with their roots reaching further and further as they age, they have a greater potential to dry up the soil around your property.
If it affects you badly, you'll need to look for specialist insurance providers to obtain a quote. Subsidence is generally covered as a regular inclusion within building insurance policies if undiscovered. But for existing cases of subsidence you may need to look for a specialist policy which covers properties against unusual and higher bands of risk.
Subsidence, Heaving and Landslip
Heaving and landslide are similar to subsidence, at least with the effects they can have on a property. Heaving is caused by the property moving in an upwards movement, normally due to dry soil being over-saturated with moisture. Landslip, on the other hand refers to a sudden collapse of the land around the property, like you might see with properties which have been built to close to an eroding coastline.
You may have already been in your property for a number of years before any subsidence occurs. There are a few tell tale signs, but you can always call in a surveyor to confirm your fears. Generally speaking, cracks will occur both inside and outside the house, which are narrower at one end than the other, and will sometimes extend out of view, below the damp proof course. Another telltale hint, is if your doors and windows begin to stick, as the house slowly shifts out of alignment.
If this happens to you, you should contact your insurer. Assuming you're already covered under your existing policy, they will arrange for a structural engineer to come out to assess the situation. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may just be advised to monitor the progression of the cracks over a 2 month period. In rarer situations, your property may need underpinning which is a fairly major operation, and would require you to seek temporary accommodation. That being said you should find your policy covers both the cost of the repairs and the additional expense of having to rent somewhere else to stay. It probably goes without saying that if you discover evidence of subsidence or heaving, then you can expect a bit of a rise in your future premiums as this will now be factored into the risk attached to your policy. If on the other hand you decide to try and switch provider, you will probably need to seek a specialist provider who's willing to insure against existing cases of subsidence or heaving.
Excess fees and Exclusions
An excess fee is the amount you pay back to the insurer to cover the admin and processing costs of your claim. You'll normally have to pay a high excess fee for claims regarding structural damage of this nature, but the amount will vary by provider. As a general rule of thumb you can expect to have between £1000 - £5000 deducted from your claim depending on the risk of your particular area.
Exclusions differ between provider, but some common things to look out for are:
- No compensation for any items or structures outside the house building, unless it all occurs at the same time. This might include; fences, sheds, gates, walls, tennis courts, terraces, pathway/driveway and others...
- Caused by compaction of 'infill'. Infill is a term for a different problem, and is not covered as subsidence or heaving
- When damage occurs during any works such as structural changes, or major renovations
- Damage has arisen from defective design, poor materials or bad workmanship