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Joint ABI and Flood Re report highlights the need for adequate maintenance of the UK’s flood defences

  • Every £1 spent on flood defence maintenance, saves £7 in spending on new defences.

  • River flood defences provide a financial benefit of over half a billion pounds (£568 million) a year. 

A joint report published today by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Flood Re ahead of the government’s consultation on its comprehensive spending review highlights the vital need to maintain the UK’s flood defences in good condition. Flooding is the greatest natural disaster risk in the UK, with an estimated 1 in 6 properties in England and Wales, 1 in 11 properties in Scotland and 1 in 34 properties in Northern Ireland now at risk of flooding. Six of the ten wettest years on record have occurred since 1998. 

The report, ‘Modelling the Impact of Spending on Defence Maintenance on Flood Losses’, was carried out by flood risk specialists JBA Risk Management. JBA evaluated the benefits of maintaining flood defences over a 30-year period for several different spending scenarios.[1] 

Key findings from the research highlight that: 

  • River flood defences provide protection to flood risk communities valued at £568milliona year. Without such defences the research suggests flood losses of approximately £958million a year. With defences, inland flood losses reduce to £388 million a year, saving £568million. 
  • Flood defence maintenance is very cost effective - for every £1 increase in maintenance spending almost £7 is saved in capital spending on defences. The report highlights that increasing current maintenance spending by 50% could extend the lifespan of defences by an average of eight years. 
  • Well-funded flood defences rarely breach. As long as a flood defence does not deteriorate to, and remain in, a poor condition, then it is unlikely to breach – which is why it is so important that flood defences are maintained in a good condition. Conversely, if maintenance spending is cut, flood defence lifespan reduces, and overall annual costs will rise.  
  • Based on the current state of existing flood defences, London and the South East have the highest estimated annual flood loss with 30% (£117. 4m) of the total, followed by the North West at 11%, central Scotland 8%

While this report focuses on flood defences and the important role they play in reducing the impact of flooding, with the country’s surface water flood risk increasing it is important to ensure that other flood risk management measures, such as clearing culverts, are also funded appropriately. 

James Dalton, ABI’s Director of General Insurance Policy, said

James Dalton“This report makes the compelling case for greater spending on the maintenance of flood defences on which our flood vulnerable communities depend. Our report makes clear that not properly maintaining flood defences reduces their lifespan and increases costs overall, so not investing in maintenance is a false economy. 

 “At the upcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, we urge the Government to ensure that adequate investment is allocated to flood defence maintenance projects as well as capital as part of the new funding cycle. The flood risk in the UK is only going to worsen as a result of climate change, so it is vital that investment in flood defences keeps pace.” 

Andy Bord, Chief Executive of Flood Re, said:  

Andy Bord“2014 saw the devastating damage and cost in failing to invest in flood defence maintenance. This simply cannot happen again. Our primary concern must be to protect communities and families from the impact of flooding. Today’s report shows that it is also financially reckless to do otherwise. 

“The Government must embrace the opportunity to commit additional budget to maintain our flood defences. If maintained, flood defences provide long-term security for communities which may otherwise be devastated by flooding.   Protecting against flood risk is also critical to ensuring the long-term availability of affordable home insurance for those living in flood-prone areas.” 

Simon Waller, Executive Chair, JBA Risk Management, comments: 

Simon Waller"The effectiveness of flood defences plays a significant role in the resilience of our communities and will continue to do so, especially with research suggesting that flooding is likely to increase in frequency and severity. We are delighted to have applied our flood science expertise in support of this important investigation that underlines the cost-benefit of investment in flood defence schemes.” 


Notes for Editors  

Enquiries to:   

Malcolm Tarling                  020 7216 7410    Mobile: 07776 147667   

Laura Dawson                     020 7216 7338    Mobile: 0772 5245838 

Sarah Aspinall                     020 7216 7412    Mobile:  0772 5245297   

Flood Re:                       Fran Hart at Headland Consultancy [email protected] or +44 78 2655 0797 

[1] The research project modelled four different spending scenarios, with maintenance investments ranging from a lower to an upper annual spend and the associated net benefit for each scenario. The study explored the relationship between inland flood defence maintenance and flood defence failure due to breaching (caused by structural failure). It also estimated the total benefit derived from river flood wall and embankment defences and the associated upkeep costs of these defences.

  1. The Association of British Insurers is the voice of the UK’s world leading insurance and long-term savings industry.  A productive, inclusive and thriving sector, we are an industry that provides peace of mind to households and businesses across the UK and powers the growth of local and regional economies by enabling trade, risk taking, investment and innovation.  
  2. About Flood Re
    Flood Re exists to promote the affordability and availability of flood insurance for households across the UK. Flood Re’s operation promotes a competitive insurance market that customers can take advantage of. Flood Re does not set consumer prices – this remains a decision for insurers to make. 
    Insurers can place the flood risk element of domestic property insurance with Flood Re at a premium linked to property Council Tax bands. Flood Re sits in the background, with the purchase of the policy and the process of making a claim being unchanged.  
    The scheme launched on 4 April 2016 as an independent body that is privately owned and operated, whilst also being publicly accountable, and insurers are now making use of it to benefit their customers.  
    Flood Re has a rating of A “stable” outlook by Standard and Poor’s, one of the world’s leading independent credit ratings agencies. Flood Re is regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority (firm reference number: 706046).  
  3. Skype and FaceTime are available for broadcast.  
  4. More news and information from the ABI is available on our web site, abi.org.uk.  

Last updated 16/06/2021