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Subsidence is when the ground beneath a building sinks, pulling the property’s foundations down with it. 

Subsidence usually occurs when the ground loses moisture and shrinks. This can be caused by a number of things including:

  • prolonged dry spells which cause soil to lose water
  • trees and shrubs which can absorb significant volumes of water from the soil

For information on making a claims for damage caused by coal mining subsidence go to making a claim for subsidence

Buildings’ foundations can also move due to other causes including:

  • heave – when the ground beneath a building moves upwards
  • landslip / landslide – when the ground beneath a building moves down a slope, taking the property with it  

The first sign of subsidence is usually the appearance of cracks in your home’s walls, either in the internal plasterwork or external brickwork.

Many properties experience cracking from time to time, but this isnot necessarily evidence of subsidence:

  • buildings naturally shrink and swell in response to changes in temperature and humidity, leading to minor cracks where walls and ceilings meet
  • new homes and recently built extensions often experience cracking as the structures settle under their own weight
  • fine cracks are also common in freshly plastered walls as they dry out

How to tell if your property is subsiding

Subsidence cracks are quite distinctive from other cracks.They usually appear suddenly, especially after long periods of dry weather, and tend to be:

  • diagonal, and wider at the top than at the bottom
  • thicker than a 10 pence coin
  • found around doors and windows

Subsidence may also cause doors and windows to stick as the building’s structure becomes distorted. 

For more information on preventing and dealing with subsidence damage see the ABI guide to protecting your home from subsidence damage (pdf 50.2kB)