INSURANCE firms will look at their use of costly telephone lines for customers calling them for help, ministers said after a flooding summit with the industry in Whitehall.
Consumer champion Which? raised concerns that claimants were often forced dial 084 or 087 numbers, running up bills of up to 41p a minute.
Floods minister Dan Rogerson insisted the industry had “got the message” about the helplines - used by 79% of home insurers including big names such as Ageas, Aviva, Axa, Churchill, Direct Line, Esure, Hiscox, Royal and Sun Alliance, and Virgin, according to Which? research - during talks in the Cabinet Office.
“When it comes to telephone numbers, yes, we raised that and the industry are happy to say that they are taking that back to their members to deal with,” Mr Rogerson said.
“We got the message across today that we would hope that they would address that and the Association of British Insurers and the members’ companies that are represented there - of course, they can’t speak directly for every single member company - but they took that away and they will be looking at that and we will keep that situation under review.”
Mr Rogerson added: “What we were focusing on today was making sure that people are out there on the ground and you saw that, that’s very reassuring.”
Labour questioned the motivation for the meeting, claiming it was a “vacuous PR stunt”.
Shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher said: “The Government’s transparent attempt to try to grab a few headlines does nothing for those affected by the floods. Three hapless junior ministers booking a meeting room does not constitute a serious response to the flooding crisis.
“But it is indicative of David Cameron’s whole approach - out of touch and totally complacent.”
Around £14 million has been paid out in emergency claims - typically between £500 to £3,000 - and £24 million has been paid out for emergency accommodation, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).
It said insurers dealt with more than 170,000 claims for damage caused between December 23 and January 8, but more recent figures were not available.
ABI chiefs described the meeting as “constructive” and said the industry would continue to hold regular meetings with ministers “as the process of response is delivered through the rest of this year”.
Aidan Kerr, the ABI’s head of property, said ministers had not made any demands on the industry about the response and refused to rule out a hike in premiums as a result of the floods.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “They were just asking for information about the process and in the meeting we just outlined what insurers are already doing and what they have been doing since the start of December.
“It was more that they wanted to be reassured about what the industry was already doing.”
Asked about the potential cost to householders, he said: “It’s far too early to say what will happen to premiums.
“The industry position is that there should be a zero-tolerance approach to inappropriate development on flood plains.”
Severe flood warnings - where there is a danger to life - remain in place on the Somerset Levels and there are also 109 flood warnings across England and Wales.
The Environment Agency (EA) said river levels would start to fall gradually this week, but warned the Severn posed a risk of continuing flooding in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire until Thursday.
Groundwater flooding remained a cause for concern in Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent and parts of London and there was also a risk of coastal flooding for North Cornwall and North Devon, and at Chiswell and Preston Beach in Dorset from Thursday through to Saturday, the EA said.
Mat Crocker, the EA’s flood risk duty manager, said: “It is an improving picture across most of the country, but we will continue to see the impacts of flooding for many days to come.”