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Subsidence insurance

Most home insurance policies include cover for subsidence as standard, so often you don’t actually need special insurance to cover subsidence.

The exception to this may be if your home has a history of subsidence. If you struggle to find quotes for regular home insurance, you may need to contact a broker to arrange specialist subsidence insurance.

Policies can vary, so make sure you check the details to know what cover you have and what excess you need to pay should you have to claim.

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Does home insurance cover subsidence?

Yes, subsidence should be covered by your buildings insurance. Policies with subsidence insurance tend to cover:

  • Repairs to damage caused by subsidence
  • Alternative accommodation if the danger or repair work is too much for you to continue living in your home

Some insurers may not cover damage to driveways, patios or garden walls if the main property isn't affected. And if you’ve claimed for subsidence with your current insurer, you may find future subsidence claims are excluded.

If you're buying a property that has suffered subsidence in the past, you may find prices are higher. It might also be harder to get standard home insurance, in which case a broker may be able to help you find specialist cover.

What is subsidence?

Subsidence is when the ground beneath your house starts to sink. This also causes parts of your house to sink, resulting in misaligned walls, large cracks, and damage to the building.

Is subsidence insurance expensive?

The average annual cost of home insurance for homes with a history of subsidence is £4171.

The exact cost you pay to insure a property with subsidence varies depending on:

  • The type of building
  • How close trees are to the property
  • How close the property is to water
  • Location: Some areas, such as London and the south-east of England, are at greater risk of subsidence, and this could affect the cost of your insurance

The other factors that affect home insurance also apply, such as:

  • The size of the property
  • The property’s rebuild cost
  • Your claims history
  • Any optional additional cover you include

We’ll ask if your home has had subsidence in the past when you start to compare quotes. It often costs more to cover a home with subsidence, and you may also find fewer insurers will cover you.

If you claim for subsidence, your insurance costs are likely to go up when you renew your policy. For more information on the state of the home insurance industry, see our home insurance statistics report.

1Confused.com data Jan 2023 - June 2023.

How much is the subsidence excess?

The excess on a subsidence claim is usually £1,000. As with any home insurance claim, the excess is the amount that’s deducted from the payout from your insurer.

A small number of insurers may offer subsidence insurance with a smaller excess. Check the details carefully before you buy so you know what excess amount you’ll need to pay if you make a claim.

What causes subsidence?

Subsidence is caused by either too much or too little moisture in the soil beneath your home’s foundations. Too little moisture causes the ground to shrink beneath your property, and too much moisture can result in the earth underneath being washed away. Both can result in your property sinking.

Different factors can change the moisture balance and increase the chance of subsidence in a home, including:

  • Nearby trees and shrubs: Large trees and shrubs close to your home can suck up any moisture in the soil through their roots. This could cause the soil to dry up, crack, and sink.
  • Leaking drains and burst pipes: Too much water in the soil around your home, from leaks or burst pipes, can cause it to wash away and sink.
  • Mining: If your house is built over an old mine or near an old quarry, the ground beneath it could be structurally unsound. If you need to claim for coal mining damage, do that through the Coal Authority and not through your home insurance.
  • Periods of intense weather: Flash flooding or summer droughts change the moisture levels in soil. According to ABI subsidence claims data, there were more than 18,000 claims for subsidence after the summer heatwave of 2022, with an average payout of £9,600 per claim.
  • The age of your property: Subsidence is more common in Victorian and Edwardian houses as their foundations are shallower than the UK minimum of 1 metre required for modern houses. As such, they’re at greater risk of damage.
  • Clay: Subsidence is more common in areas with clay-rich soil, like much of south-east Britain, as clay is sensitive to moisture. This makes it expand when wet and contract when dry – not ideal with changeable British weather.

What our home insurance expert says:

"Be aware that you must declare if your property has ever had subsidence when getting quotes for home insurance, no matter the time frame. If you don't, you could invalidate your policy, so any future claims might be rejected by the insurer. You also need to declare subsidence when you sell your home."
Matthew Harwood, Home & lifestyle insurance expert at Confused.com
Home & lifestyle insurance expert Confused.com logo

What are the signs of subsidence?

Cracks in the walls are one of the most common signs of subsidence.

Cracks caused by subsidence usually appear suddenly, often after hot, dry weather. They’re usually:

  • Visible on both the outside and inside of the wall
  • Found around doors and windows, or around a weak spot like where an extension meets the main property
  • Diagonal
  • Wider at the top
  • Thicker than a 10p coin

Don't confuse subsidence cracks with other types of cracks, such as settlement cracks. Hairline cracks are generally not a cause for concern, but you should check out any crack that continues to grow.

Settlement cracks are common in new build houses under 10 years old, or after recent renovation work like a new extension. These are caused by the house settling into its foundations and naturally sinking down a little.

Other common signs of subsidence include:

  • Doors and windows sticking for no obvious reason
  • Rippling wallpaper that isn’t caused by damp or moisture
  • Solid ground floors sloping or dipping where they didn’t before

If you spot any of these problems, let your home insurance provider know as soon as you can. They’ll likely arrange a survey to check subsidence is definitely the issue.

How can you prevent subsidence in your home?

There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of subsidence damage to your home, including:

Plant trees away from your home: According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), tree roots can extend up to 3 times the height of the tree.

The National House Building Council recommends planting trees no closer to a house than three-quarters of the tree’s height when it’s fully grown. Thirsty trees should be planted even further away, at a distance greater than their maximum full height. These include:

  • Oak
  • Poplar
  • Eucalyptus
  • Hawthorn
  • Elm
  • Willow

Clean your gutters and drains: Regular home maintenance is always a good idea, but it’s especially important if your home is at risk of subsidence.

Make sure your gutters are free from debris so water doesn’t overflow into the soil. It’s also your responsibility to make sure your drains are in good condition.

If you’re worried about drainage being a problem, you could get a CCTV drainage survey to make sure your waterworks are in good condition.

Can you fix subsidence?

The potential fixes for subsidence depend on what has caused the problem:

  • Trees: You could have the trees removed. Then, monitor the property to see if taking the trees out has stabilised the soil enough to fix the issue.
  • Leaky drains: Get any broken pipework fixed and monitor the property to make sure the subsidence stops and doesn’t get worse.

Otherwise, underpinning the foundations is the most common ‘big fix’ for subsidence. This involves installing support beams, or a second concrete layer, to strengthen your foundations.

Even if there have been no signs of subsidence since having your home underpinned, you'll likely find your insurance costs more in future.

How much does subsidence devalue a property?

It’s hard to give an exact figure because the amount subsidence impacts on your property's value depends on factors like:

  • The level of subsidence
  • When it happened
  • What action was taken
  • The state of the property

If you’re buying a house with signs of subsidence, get a structural engineer to do a building survey, rather than just getting the standard RICS Homebuyers Report. This report should tell you if there are any structural issues, and if the house has been underpinned – or needs to be.

It may also be sensible to find out how easy the property will be to insure before you put in an offer. When you have all this information, you can then make an informed decision about buying the house.

What's the difference between subsidence and heave?

Heave has the opposite effect to subsidence. It happens when the ground beneath a building becomes saturated with water and begins to swell, moving upwards and often sideways. This can cause similar signs and damage to subsidence.

Sometimes, if you take out a tree to lessen the risks of subsidence, you could then experience heave. This is because the previously dry soil suddenly has no tree roots to absorb the moisture, causing it to become waterlogged, where it swells and pushes at the foundations.

Heave is another problem that's often covered under the same insurance guidelines as subsidence.

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