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UK floods: What business owners need to know

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The terrible flooding Britain is currently experiencing is affecting businesses as well as homes. The least affected have staff unable to get to work and the worst are completely submerged with stock, equipment and personal possessions ruined. 

Here are some frequently asked questions about floods and how you can protect your business, answered by experts at property consultancy Vail Williams.

How do I know if I may be affected by flooding?
It may be too late for some to establish flood risk, however due diligence to assess whether your home or business may be vulnerable can be undertaken by visiting the Environment Agency website where you can enter your postcode and view the local flood risk map. This mapping however does not necessarily include flash flooding from other sources such as sewers, drains or groundwater in general.

What do I need to do if my business is at risk of flooding?
If your property is at risk of flooding, planning ahead is essential. In addition to sandbags and pumps there are many cost effective solutions including flood-resistance or proofing works which can reduce the amount of water entering the property and reduce flood damage by 50-80 per cent.

Contingency planning is essential for this and any other risk to property – there are many quick solutions available, from switching telephony; identifying alternative offices; serviced offices; home working or even self-storage to ensure staff can still be effective and goods can be stored safely.

Health and safety of staff is an absolute priority and if your business is in immediate danger of rising waters, electrical and gas systems should be isolated and any submerged live equipment must be avoided. Security also needs to be a key consideration due to risk of looting.

What do I need to do if my business premises have been flooded?
Before returning to your business premises you are obliged to ensure it is safe to do so. When you do return we would recommend that you take photographic records and make lists of damaged items to be provided to your insurers and landlord.

Contact your insurers and landlord as soon as possible and establish what cover is provided in terms of alternative accommodation and mobilise your staff in relation to to business continuity planning.

Once your insurance company has been informed they will need to send a loss adjuster prior to approval of rectification works. If you do not have insurance you will need to speak to your local authority for information on proposed grants in light of the Prime Minister’s announcement that those who are uninsured will be compensated for damage caused.

The clean-up operation will not be without risk – an initial health and safety assessment will need to be undertaken first. This will ensure that it is safe to make a more comprehensive survey and detailed evaluation of the extent of any damage and what repair work is required.

Floodwater is dangerous and may contain sewage; suitable protective clothing should be worn and all areas suitably disinfected. Further photographs can be taken when floodwater has subsided to record areas previously covered by floodwater. The degree of moisture content of the building will also need to be assessed and ventilation will be key to reducing the risk of mould growth.

Flooding is unlikely to lead to serious structural instability in modern commercial buildings unless there has been landslip or significant washing away of supporting ground. If this has occurred a survey by a building surveyor or structural engineer will be required.

Similarly, if repair or rectification works are required a building surveyor may be able to assist in identifying repairs, obtaining quotations and liaising with your loss adjuster. In news recently announced by the Prime Minister, businesses will be able to obtain grants up to £5,000 for future flood prevention.

What about my rent?
You will need to check the specific insurance and suspension of rent provisions clauses of your lease and we would recommend speaking to your legal advisors on the interpretation of these lease provisions.

Generally a business lease will provide that should the premises not be fit for occupation no rent would be payable until the premises are once again fit for occupation.

The insured risk clauses of the lease will define whether flooding is covered and there is a risk if a claim is made that the insurance risks covered may change on renewal and you may find flooding not being covered in the future.

Do we still need to pay business rates?
Businesses should, where they are affected by flooding necessitating full or part closure, contact their local council rates office in the first instance where initial rate relief may be granted.

In the longer term, the damaging effects that the flooding may be having – or may have in the future – to the property does present an opportunity to re-assess the business rates, in some more extreme circumstances enabling the rating assessment to be removed from the Rating List altogether.

Any business affected by flood damage to such an extent that its premises are no longer able to be occupied will qualify for 100 per cent void rates relief for a period of three-six months from the date of vacation, dependent on the type of property.

However the government announced last week that there will be 100 per cent business rates exemption for flood-hit properties for up to three months (potentially less relief than is already currently available for some unoccupied premises) followed by 50 per cent relief until such time as the property is re-occupied. No more information has yet been released covering the detail of the flood relief, the qualification requirements or how the relief will be applied.

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