Flooding is a growing risk for property owners and according to the latest information from the Environment Agency, approximately 5.5 million, or 1 in every 6, homes in England is currently deemed to be at risk of flooding. The physical damage caused by floods is obviously costly and time consuming to put right, but it can also leave the owner facing serious issues such as difficulty in obtaining a mortgage or obtaining suitable insurance cover, both of which can affect the current owner and make it difficult for them to sell the property at a future date.
So serious is the problem facing homeowners and insurers alike, that the Law Society has issued a new practice note for solicitors and conveyancers involved in residential and commercial property transactions, to ensure that they are able to advise their clients appropriately of the very real risks that they face in terms of flooding.
A flood can occur at anytime, anywhere and can be caused by rising ground water levels, burst water drains, hillside run-off from heavy and sudden rainfall as well as the more common flooding caused by rivers and the sea.
Although there is no guarantee that any property is safe from flooding, there are steps that conveyancing practitioners can put in place to ensure that (a) their clients are aware of the risks and, better still, protected when purchasing a property and (b) they don’t face a negligence claim later down the line should a client’s new property be flooded and they were not made aware of the risks at the time of purchasing.
Whilst they are not expected to be able to give advice on flood risks or interpret a technical flood report, in much the same way as they are not qualified to advise on a structural engineering report, solicitors and conveyancers are expected to ensure that their clients are at least aware that there may be risks which can be highlighted in more detail by obtaining a flood search report, and should encourage their clients to make sure that acceptable insurance cover can also be obtained. Conveyancers and solicitors should also bear in mind that they don’t just owe a duty of care to a purchaser – they also have to ensure that they protect the lender, if one is involved, in a purchase transaction and therefore obtaining just the bare minimum may not be sufficient to satisfy the different appetites of clients and lenders for risk.
There are a number of options available, and many practitioners opt to explore more than just one of these, which alone may not be sufficient in terms of assessing the risk of flooding. For example, making enquiries with the seller, landlord or borrower should go without saying and there are also screening reports which can be acquired for clients, which provide a snap shot with limited information. They can be used to give an idea as to whether a more in-depth investigation is merited. Two such reports are (1) The Environment Agency’s Flood Map, which provides a free postcode search giving information on flooding from rivers and the sea and (2) The Land Registry’s Flood Risk Indicator, which provides results on a title by title basis for registered properties in England and Wales and combines its results with the Environment Agency’s data.
By far the most reliable form of protection solicitors and conveyancers can advise their clients about is the availability of a commercial flood risk search report which should only be acquired from a reputable search provider. In my view, ordering a flood search is an essential consideration in any purchase transaction and it is a small price to pay to commission such a report, compared with the potential trauma and costs that could be faced by a client if they are not fully informed of the risks. Furthermore, if a report indicates that a flood risk is present, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road for that transaction. With specialist search providers, it is possible to gain further information from expert consultants, who can provide advice to assist in resolving scenarios, as well as advising on insurability ratings.
A flood search from Searches UK can provide solicitors and conveyancers with greater knowledge of any flood risk posed to their client, enabling them to make an informed decision about their purchase before proceeding further. Searches UK is one of the country’s leading search providers, is an associate member of the Council of Property Search Organisations (CoPSO), applies the Search Code in every search it carries out, is a member of the Association of Independent Personal Search Agents (IPSA), has been awarded the Legal Eye Quality Standard
, carries £2m PII cover and has access to the full range of commercial and residential searches currently available on the market today, each of which is supported by a Product Card to help solicitors and conveyancers, and their clients, decide which search is the right one for their particular circumstances.
To find out more about Searches UK and the services and products offered, please visit www.searchesuk.co.uk