Yorkshire landslip homes now face insurance nightmare

Homes under threat from coastal erosion at Skipsea on the Holderness coast. Picture: Terry Carrott
Homes under threat from coastal erosion at Skipsea on the Holderness coast. Picture: Terry Carrott
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RESIDENTS who have lost their homes to Yorkshire’s crumbling coastline are facing bills totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds for their demolition amid uncertainty over whether insurers will pay out.

Scarborough Borough Council is understood to have billed owners of the five demolished jetworkers’ cottages in Whitby’s Aelfleda Terrace at least £40,000 each after condemning them when their gardens fell away in November.

And residents of four doomed bungalows left teetering dangerously close to the cliff edge at Knipe Point in Scarborough following the landslip there last month are also expected to be hit with hefty invoices for the cost of knocking them down.

But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) told the Yorkshire Post yesterday that the council’s decision to demolish the properties before they succumbed to the force of nature could mean policy providers might not be obliged to pay out towards the work.

A spokeswoman said: “Landslides are generally covered but it doesn’t usually extend to cover demolition of the houses - that is something someone has decided to do and insurance is there to cover the unforeseen.

“The risk has to be activated before a policy can pay out, so if a council decides to demolish homes or buildings, that doesn’t trigger a home insurance policy - it isn’t an insurance risk.”

Insurers could also refuse to pay out if the landslip is deemed to be due to coastal erosion, which is a standard policy exclusion, the ABI added.

Yorkshire’s coastline was revealed to have been crumbling away up to four times faster than usual last year and the Holderness coast in East Yorkshire has long been renowned for having one of the fastest erosion rates in Europe.

The precise cause of the recent landslips in Whitby and Scarborough has yet to be determined but the heavy rainfall of last year - the second wettest on record - which left the ground waterlogged is likely to have been a factor.

Residents of both sites have blamed Yorkshire Water, however, claiming faulty pipework led to drainage issues that they believe contributed to the subsidence.

The council, which disputes the ABI’s claims, said some insurers of homes in Aelfleda Terrace had already accepted liability and paid out in full on owners’ claims - including the cost of demolition - and talks were ongoing with others that had not.

A spokeswoman said: “A small number of insurers have yet to confirm that policy cover is in place and we will continue to engage with these companies via the property owners over the coming weeks.”

Among those anxiously waiting to find out is Jude Knight, who was the only permanent resident of the cottages and had lived there for 26 years.

“It looks like they are going to pay out some money but whether they are going to pay out for the demolition of the property, I won’t know until the end of next week,” she said.

“The demolition alone is £40,000 per house, and in excess of that possibly, because we haven’t got costings for the site clearing and safety works - but we’re looking at a not inconsiderable sum.

“I haven’t got that amount of money in my back pocket.”

She said she had “absolutely no idea” how she would cover the cost if her insurers would not.

“I would have to declare myself insolvent,” she said.

“Each one of us has got varying levels of insurance cover so I think some will fare better than others.”

Ms Knight said the owners disputed whether they or their insurers should have to pay at all towards safety works at the site of the landslip, on the steep bank below the terrace.

“None of us own all of the slope and given that nobody knows who does, we are being asked to fork out to clear and make safe a site that we don’t own,” she said.

Ms Knight said at least three of the owners were now locked in litigation against Yorkshire Water over the “poor” drainage work they allege the company carried out there a decade ago.

“As I understand it, some of the insurance companies are also going to get involved in pursuing them,” she said.

“There had never been a problem before. The houses were solid.”

She added: “All of the owners on Aelfleda Terrace could have predicted there was going to be some disaster because of the state of the sewage drains - but I don’t think any of us could have anticipated it would be on such a grand scale.

A Yorkshire Water spokesman said the company was investigating the claims.

“At such an early stage, it would be wrong to jump to any conclusions,” he said.

“We’ll continue to liaise with all relevant groups as our investigations progress.”