Shropshire Star

Change of flooding grants policy leaving businesses 'out of pocket'

Businesses have been left out of pocket following flooding after the government changed its flood recovery grant policy without any warning.

Businesses applied for grants in the wake of Storm Babet

That's the claim made by Telford & Wrekin Council which is writing to the Secretary of State for the Environment to ‘express its concern and consternation’ that the government has changed the criteria ‘without due notice’, and requesting that the refusal of grant support for Storm Babet be reconsidered.

Councillor Carolyn Healy said that the flooding is not just from the River Severn but ‘widespread’ from surface water and watercourse across the borough.

The cabinet member for climate action brought a motion to full council last week which she said was focused on the flooding impact on the business community.

“Small businesses in areas of previous flooding can often not afford the very high costs of insurance or are simply refused flood insurance cover,” said councillor Healy.

“Whilst not fully covering the financial cost of being flooded in previous years the government has at widespread flooding across the country provided flood recovery grants, to help cover clean-up costs and replace damaged items.”

Councillor Healy said that these grants were not always guaranteed as they required more than 50 properties in a local area authority area to have ingress.

“For a small geographical area like ours we don’t always meet that threshold,” she added.

“But for storms Babet and Henk we did and we invited effected residents and businesses to apply for their flood recovery grant.”

However, Councillor Healy said that the government has added a new requirement for business to provide written evidence of trying to obtain flood insurance in the last 12 months.

“This has not been a previous requirement previously and most effected businesses only check if they can obtain insurance over the phone so they don’t have that evidence,” she added.

“Had they known of the change then they would of course made sure that they did get that.”

Councillor Healy said that ‘in stark contrast’ residential properties were not required to provide the same evidence.

She said that during Storm Babet there were 11 businesses that had internal flooding in Telford & Wrekin, but only two were eligible under the new criteria for flood recovery funding.

“Of course those now ineligible are those very businesses who are flooded multiple times in the last few years and therefore most in need of that additional support,” councillor Healy added.

“This situation is replicated in other local authorities including in Shropshire and Worcestershire.”

Councillor Jenny Urey supported the motion but asked that a new Strategic Flood Risk Assessment should be produced to allow informed planning decisions in the future.

She added that the last assessment was carried out in 2007 and since then thousands of houses have been built.

Councillor Rachael Tyrell said that not requiring evidence opened the scheme to fraudulent applications. She added that phone calls to insurers are recorded so it would be possible to receive evidence of a refused insurance application.

Councillor Nigel Dugmore added that it was ‘not unreasonable’ to be required to produce evidence to support a flood damage claim.

He said that it should be the function of the Environment Agency and Telford & Wrekin Council to alert businesses to changes on procedure and process of flood damage grants.

Councillor Lee Carter told those speaking against the motion to think about the trauma that people go through during flooding.

He said all the motion was asking for was a ‘simplification of the system’.

Councillor Healy added that businesses still had to prove evidence of internal flooding, but the issue is that they were not informed the change in legislation around proving they were denied insurance.

She said that businesses had not been notified and now left with a full financial burden of clearing up after the floods.

“We want the government to honour the previous system for the last two storm events and then we can move forward with that new criteria with businesses fully aware that they will need to evidence their insurance claim,” added councillor Healy.

Councillors voted in favour of the motion.