River defences across the north of England are under pressure following torrential downpours, with weather warnings issued across the country, but there are precautions you can take

More than 300 homes have been flooded in the north of Englandafter almost twice the average rainfall for September drenched parts of St Helen’s in Lancashire and Morpeth in Northumberland in 48 hours.Flood warnings and alerts remain in place in areas of the north and south-west of England.

The Met Office, Environment Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency all offer advice to the public on any threat posed by the weather.

 The Met Office warns the public about “severe or hazardous weather which has the potential to cause danger to life or widespread disruption” through its National Severe Weather Warning Service. Warnings can be issued for rain, snow, wind, fog and ice and are given a colour depending on how likely it is a weather event will occur and what impact it may have. Green means no severe weather; yellow ups the ante to “be aware”; amber means “be prepared”; red means “take action”.

 The Environment Agency issues flood risk announcements for England and Wales with three levels of severity: flood alerts (meaning “flooding is possible, be prepared”); flood warnings (“flooding is expected, immediate action required”); and severe flood warnings (“severe flooding, danger to life”).

 It issues these across seven regions: Anglia, the Midlands, the north-east, the north-west, the south-east, the south-west, and Wales. On its website you can look at specific flood risk locations and view maps. In Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agencyissues alerts on the same scale.

For those in areas liable to flooding, it makes sense to sign up to the Environment Agency’s Floodline, a free service which sends a message to your phone or email when flooding is expected.


What will the emergency services do?

Emergency services do not automatically have to act when a flood alert has been issued, but they will monitor potentially affected areas more closely. Local authorities work with the police, fire and rescue services as well as the Environment Agency to co-ordinate responses during severe flooding.

 If there is a major flood incident, it is the police who co-ordinate the emergency services and help with the evacuation of people from their homes where necessary (they will also issue warnings to motorists and close roads where necessary). The fire service is primarily responsible for saving lives, but it may also pump out floodwater (contact your local service to ask about this – there may be a charge).

 The emergency services advise people to listen to local radio and TV for announcements. You should also check with your local authority for updates. If the flooding is serious, be prepared for the emergency services and your local authority to evacuate you.

 There is a flood alert for my area. What should I do?

Tune in to the local radio station so you can keep up with what is going on and to check the local weather forecast. It might be sensible to locate a battery or wind-up radio in case the power supply is hit.

 Prepare a flood kit: home insurance documents, torch, warm waterproof clothing, first aid kit and prescription medicine, bottled water and non-perishable food, baby food and care items.

 Think about who will need help to get out of danger, including vulnerable neighbours and pets.

The alert has changed to a warning – what now?

Turn off your gas and electricity. Move family, pets, important and precious items (including other insurance policy documents, birth certificates etc) to a safe position (the highest floor/attic).

 Put any flood protection products you have in place, including airbrick covers, floorboards (to fit around windows and doors), sandbags (stuff pillow cases or plastic bags with earth if you don’t have sandbags) and sink and bath plugs weighed down by heavy objects to stop water coming up the pipes.

 If there is time also move other items such as expensive furniture, electrical equipment, lightweight rugs and carpets to the top floor in the house, and move your car to higher ground.

 Plug water inlet pipes with towels or cloths, and disconnect any equipment that uses water.

 I’m already flooded – what now?

The most important thing is to stay safe. Co-operate with the emergency services and evacuate your home if told to do so. Call 999 if you are in danger.

 If your home is actually underwater it is too late to worry about saving items, but you should think about what to do once the waters start to recede. Your first step should be to call your insurance company – most have 24-hour emergency helplines.

What if I can’t find my policy document?

Don’t panic, your insurer should be able to find you on its database. Look on its website or call a directory inquiries line to get its number. If you car is underwater you will have to call your motor insurance company as well. Bear in mind you will only be able to make a claim if you have fully comprehensive cover.

 What should I do next?

If you are able to stay in your property but need help to prevent further damage, speak to your insurer before arranging emergency repairs and keep any receipts for work done so you can claim for the cost. Where possible, take photographs to record the damage, as this could help with your claim.

 Remember that water and electricity don’t mix: if your electricity supply is not switched off, ask a qualified person to deal with this. Do not touch sources of electricity while standing in water.

 Don’t throw damaged things away, even if you will need to replace them, without first checking with your insurer. It is likely to want a loss adjustor to assess the damage and work out how much your payout should be. Use a permanent ink pen to mark how high water has risen in every room and make a list of what damage has occurred, including food touched by flood water and anything in your fridge and freezer.

 Keep a note of all phone calls with your insurance company, recording the date, time, name of the person you spoke to and what was agreed.

 Check whether the insurer will pay for the cleaning of your property, or if you are expected to do that.

 What if I’ve had to leave my property?

In the first instance, you may be moved to emergency shelter by the rescue services, but after that you may need to move somewhere else while work is done to make your home habitable again. Building and contents insurance will usually include provision for alternative accommodation if the damage is so great you are unable to stay at home. If you have both types of policy, your building insurer will be expected to take care of your claim for somewhere to stay.

 Most insurers will ask you to approve with them the accommodation you are moving to before your stay begins. Sadly, they are unlikely to stretch to the Ritz – alternative accommodation is supposed to be in keeping with your normal lifestyle, so for most people that will mean a standard hotel or B&B, at least in the short term.

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I really feel for people caught in weather like this – I know , as an Englishman it is our national pastime to complain about the weather – but some of these places are being hit for the third or fourth time . And all I have to worry about is a damp cellar . Personally my advice would be once everything is secure – go find a nice dry pub on high ground !

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